JOANNE LEE MOLINARO: “Failure is a necessary component to becoming successful. That is absolutely, 100 percent true. And so you have to learn to embrace the discomfort of some failure in your life in order to figure out what it is you are meant to do.”
INTRO: I’m Amy Porterfield, ex-corporate girl turned CEO of a multi-seven-figure business. But it wasn't all that long ago that I lacked the confidence, the budget, and the time to focus on growing my small-but-mighty business. Fast forward past many failed attempts and lessons learned, and you'll see the business I have today, one that changes lives and gives me more freedom than I ever thought possible, one that used to only exist as a daydream. I created the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast to give you simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies to help you do the same. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur, or one in the making, who's looking to create a business that makes an impact and a life you love, you're in the right place, friend. Let's get started.
AMY: Well, hey, there. Amy, here. Before we dive into the show today, we have some exciting news. As of this month, Online Marketing Made Easy is officially part of the HubSpot Podcast Network. Something we love about the HubSpot Podcast Network is all of the inspiring shows that are dedicated to helping professionals learn and grow, especially online entrepreneurs. If you love our show and want to check out other shows like us, we definitely recommend checking out the Goal Digger Podcast and My First Million. Check out all of these shows and more at hubspot.com/podcastnetwork.
My guest has completely revolutionized how recipes are shared on social media. She takes you on a journey with her as she shares a voiceover of her recounting stories of challenging relationships, family trauma, strength, and immigration while creating visually pleasing vegan recipes. It's beautiful, intriguing, and leaves you wanting to laugh and cry and stand a little taller. Her name is Joanne Lee Molinaro, and she's also known as the Korean Vegan.
This lawyer-turned-full-time creator and New York Times’ bestselling author is a child to immigrant parents, who, at times, found themselves in near-starvation situations. She shares about this, among many other heroic tales, through her social-media platforms. And with over 3.5 million fans, it's clear that her storytelling and vulnerability are something others are craving, along with her tasty recipes.
Joanne and I chat about transitioning and pivoting and life and careers. We talk about this idea of reinvention and how it's never too late to align with your idea of what it means to create a life that lights you up. We also talk about storytelling and being vulnerable and so much more. So grab your favorite beverage and maybe even a box of Kleenex—you may need it—and kick back and enjoy this beautiful conversation. You'll also hear audio snippets from the videos that she shared on social media. They are absolutely beautiful.
And this is one of those episodes that is not just about marketing and online funnels and webinars and course creation. It goes so beyond that. So I think you should share this with a loved one. So many life lessons in this episode, so I think it can be enjoyed by all. So let's get to it.
Joanne, thanks so much for joining me here. I truly appreciate it.
JOANNE: Well, thank you so much for having me, Amy. I'm very excited about our chat this morning.
AMY: Oh, my goodness. I have been looking forward to this. I know it might sound a little creepy, but this is a dream conversation with me. I am a huge fan of yours. I’ve been telling everybody that will listen that I get to do this interview today. And the thing is—well, I'll get into a little bit why I'm such a big fan as we get through the interview.
But actually, let's start at the top. First of all, congratulations on your beautiful new book.
JOANNE: Oh, thank you so much.
AMY: Ah, it is just a work of art. I want everybody listening to grab this cookbook. It's so much more than a cookbook. But, also, congratulations on your transition from law into a full-time creator, and I really want to start there. So what's it been like to make such a huge transition?
JOANNE: I think that there are a couple of things happening at the same time. On the one hand, it's incredibly liberating. It's exciting. It's fun. I'm sitting here right now during a thirty-day vlog challenge where I literally post a vlog almost every single day as I work my way through my own meal planner and try to get back into running shape. And it's been really, really exciting to know that I wake up and I get to do this—this is my job now—because it's so much fun.
But on the other hand, there's this sort of lurking latent anxiety that sort of peeks through every once in a while. I think so much of it has been tamped down by how much fun I'm having. But, then, every once in a while, that anxiety will manifest itself in sort of these weird, unexpected ways. Like, I'll start freaking out about my YouTube views, like really obsessively. And it’s honestly because it's, like, well, this is my livelihood right now. It's not just fun and games. So it's a little bit of that kind of a little, you know, mostly good and a little bit of stress. But you know what? I'm very much looking forward to throwing the full Joanne behind something I'm so passionate about.
AMY: Ah, I'm so excited to hear that.
Now, I want to talk about reinvention because you've reinvented yourself in a few different ways. So you reinvented yourself from when you moved away from sharing recipes on social media and began telling stories while creating the recipes and after your divorce, and then now you’re going through a reinvention from being a partner at a law firm to a creator. So, can you speak to the beauty and strength that comes from reinventing yourself to align with what feels right? And as you talk about that, so many of my listeners are curious, how do you know when it feels right or when it's time or that little voice is saying, “You got to do something different”? So can you talk a little bit about your experience with reinvention?
JOANNE: Let's answer that second question first, because that is a tougher nut to crack, which is, well, how do I know if this is the right time, how do I know if this is the right path for me, and how do I even know what it is that I like? You know? Like, sometimes it's really difficult to figure out what your “passion” is. And somebody asked me that the other day. “You're so passionate about what you do. How did you find your passion?” I'm not passionate about anything.
And the truth is, about ten years ago, I used to say the same thing about myself. My husband, he's a concert pianist, and he's been a musician since he was three years old—literally staring at a picture of him playing piano when he was three years old and could not even get onto the bench without a box in front of him—and that’s all he’s done his whole life. And when I first met him, on our first date, I remember saying the same thing. I said, “I admire your passion for you music, and I wish I had something like that in my own life.” And at the time, I was toiling away as a senior associate at the law firm, and I really did nothing else. And I was wondering, what is my passion? And I used to say, “Well, my passion is my family.” I love my mom and my dad. I love my brother. I love my cousins. And everything I do is centered around making sure that they're protected and that they're loved. And ultimately, what I discovered was if I went back in time to even when I was a little girl, the thing that I really value is feeling safe and, thus, providing safety to the people I love, and that began with my family. And so my passion was simply taking that concept and extending it to a much bigger and broader family.
And so when you think about, you know, how do you find your passion, how do you find that thing that calls to you? it can start as close as your mom, your dad, your kids, your husband. You know, what are the things that you like to do with them? What are the things you like to do for them? Because presumably they are the sort of center of your universe, as they should be. Your family should be the people who kind of keep you anchored in that way. And maybe if you start there and broaden the scope of what you do for them, that could easily be something you would become very passionate about very quickly.
I think in answer to the second question, which is sort of reinvention and the beauty of reinvention, is I don't want to romanticize it, Amy. I think that that's one of the things that people enjoy about my content is that I can come off as sort of tough love Aunty vibes. Like, I don't tell you what you want to hear. I tell you what it is.
And the thing is, sometimes reinvention is ugly, sometimes it's scary, sometimes it's painful, and sometimes it's boring. You know? There are a lot of aspects to reinvention that maybe aren't as facilitative of that romantic narrative, but those things are just as important as actual beauty in reinvention. And the reason I say that is that I think a lot of people, the reason they don't try new things, the reason they don't go beyond that comfort zone is they are afraid of failing. That is the thing that's out there that keeps us from maybe pushing these boundaries. I'm a good example of that. The reason that I've been so successful at so many things that I do is that I don't pick things that I know I'm just going to fail at, you know? And while I think that might be good strategically, in some sense, how limiting that has been from a strategic standpoint, well, how do I absolutely know that I'm going to fail at this if I haven't even tried?
And I think a life-changing shift in perspective for me, you know, I was reading this book called Range, and it was talking about this concept of it's okay to be uncomfortable with failure and it's okay to not want to fail and want to succeed. But it shouldn’t be something that you are so afraid of that it prevents you from trying. Failure is a necessary component to becoming successful. That is absolutely, 100 percent true. And so you have to learn to embrace the discomfort of some failure in your life in order to figure out what it is you are meant to do.
AMY: Mm. So very true. I love that you talked about the fact that you're not passionate about any of this, and I feel the exact same way. I teach people how to create digital courses and they'll say, “So you must be really passionate about that.” And no, I'm not passionate about teaching online marketing or list building or digital-course creation. I am passionate about teaching people what is possible and moving away from what they don't want into a life and a business they absolutely love. That stuff I'm passionate about. But that can show up in so many different ways. So I love that you brought that up.
But you said something very interesting where you are passionate about feeling safe. And I don't know how someone goes from a seventeen-year law career to being a content creator if you want safety. Please talk about how that would even happen.
JOANNE: Well, Amy, you are very, very nuanced because that's 100 percent true. I think that, like I said earlier, my anxiety has been manifesting in sort of really strange, like, random ways. I'm like, “Oh, my god. This is my anxiety coming out.” There are a couple of things. I really believe in justice, and I believe in doing the right thing. I believe in integrity. These are things that are so powerful to me conceptually that I've been living by them unconsciously since I was a very little girl. And I was thinking about this one book called Sparketype, which I love that book.
AMY: Jonathan was on the show. He is such an amazing writer and friend.
JOANNE: Oh, my gosh. And his writing is so clear. It really makes it easy for me to—I listen to 90 percent of my books while I'm running, and so I was listening to his book, and it really talked about how if you want to figure out what your passion is or what really makes you spark, the sparketype, you could probably trace it back to when you were five or six years old. Like, what were you doing back then? And my test scores revealed that I was an advocate and I was a counselor. I was an advisor, which, of course, makes a lot of sense given what my profession was for seventeen years.
But I thought about it, and I was like, You know what? There was this incident when I was nine years old. I was a little girl, and I was in the playground, and I saw another boy my age getting bullied by somebody much older. Like, he didn't belong in the playground. He was really big. I think he was from high school. And he was bullying this boy. And I remember there was nobody else there. It was just me kind of riding around on my bicycle and these two kids. And I decided this is not okay. I can't watch this happen. So I remember I went up in between them, while riding my bike, and I said, “You have to stop this. You're so mean. What are you doing? Go away.” And I remember being so proud that I did that. And I went home, and I told my mom, and I thought my mom would be so proud of me, and she was so angry. She was like, “This is not your place. You could have been hurt.” And immediately, in her mind, she was thinking of danger that I could have brought on myself because he was a much-larger boy. And I didn’t even think of that.
And I think that what that reveals are the two sides of safety. From my parents’ perspective, they're always worried about safety for me. And this happened when I told them I was going to quit my job as a lawyer and be a full-time content creator. They were very against it because they were worried on my behalf. Whereas for me, I'm always thinking about safety for everybody else. Who's going to get hurt? What can I do to protect them? That happens in my mind before I think about protecting myself.
But my parents’ sort of trauma that they carry from being children of war, being refugees, and this sort of survival mechanism that they have kind of given me, fed me, from the moment I was born, that, also, is a very compelling, very strong urge that, again, manifests itself in sort of these weird anxiety moments where I'm like, my views aren't as good as they need to be, or I need to be on top of my newsletter, or I need to compulsively listen to every single DIY, make-it-yourself entrepreneurial business audible out there. So it does come up every once in a while.
But like I said, this instinct for safety has two sides to it. There is trying to provide safety for me and my family. But then, of course, broadly speaking, what does it mean to be safe for everyone else out there?
AMY: Mm. I love that. I would have never guessed that that's where it was going, so that's really cool to hear.
Now, you were telling a story about being on the playground, and it literally is, all I want to talk about is your storytelling. It’s just like, I can't wait to get to her storytelling.
First of all, anybody listening who hasn't yet watched one of Joanne's Instagram videos or TikTok, you must do it because you will fall in love with this woman the minute you do. And not only will you love everything about how she does it, but just in the way she makes you feel. So I just want everyone to know that. I hate to set the scene for everyone, but I have to because you just got to go watch.
But because of what I've seen online, the storytelling specifically, I have to know, first of all, how did—and this is going to be a silly question because I'm going to guess you're going to say it wasn't learned—but I need to know, how did you learn to tell a story like that? How did this even happen? Like, I need you to kind of walk me through how it went from posting recipes online to these beautiful stories while you’re making these beautiful meals?
JOANNE: I started learning to story tell by reading. I started reading when I was a very little girl. My mother brought me my very first copy of Anne of Green Gables. And—
AMY: Oh, yes.
JOANNE: —and Jane Eyre and all of these wonderful classics when I was only nine. And she also gave me a diary at that time, my very first one. So I'm reading some of the greatest literature ever written while also writing in my diary, “Dear Diary, I went to school today, and I saw such and such boy…” So, I mean, it really does begin there. And I feel like, again, I try to make things as simple as possible for people. You know, if somebody out there wants to be a storyteller, wants to be a better writer, or wants to be a better content creator or even a better advocate or communicator, it really does start with something as simple as you just have to read. That's what you have to do is you have to read more. So I don't think it's a situation where, oh, you have to be exceptionally talented in order to do this. I think anybody can tell a story if they understand the basics and the fundamentals.
And then, of course, throughout high school, throughout college, I took a lot of writing. I got my B.A. in English. So, again, was exposed to great writing and was also asked to do a great deal of writing. And then, certainly in law school and as a practicing attorney, I learned how to structure compelling narratives. That is my job is to write a four-paragraph letter that explains to the other side why they're going to lose. It is my job to put together an opening statement or closing argument that tells the jury or the judge why I win. It’s messaging. Marketing, sales, content creation, it's all messaging, and that's what it was for me. And so I have two decades’ worth of writing experience that I am now able to put together and distill into sixty-second videos.
AMY: Now, when you started this, when you were—okay, you're still at your law practice and you started to post different things online, when did it get to the point—two questions—when did it get to the point that it shifted over to this beautiful storytelling? How far into it? And did you consciously do that? Did you think, “Well, this would be cool. No one else is doing it like this”? Or was that organic? And then the second question is, when did you get to the point that you're like, “I think I need to quit my law practice? I think I need to do this full time”? Tell me about those two things.
JOANNE: Well, in terms of the first question, it was in 2017, and it was absolutely deliberate. It was very purposeful. It was not like, I think I’m going to start doing that. It was in response to a specific situation. I was very—rattled is an understatement. But I was very, I think distressed and lost in 2016 after the election here in the United States. I simply didn't recognize the country that I woke up to. And everyone was so angry. Everyone was fighting. Everyone was yelling at each other. And I am a very solution-oriented person, and I thought that the yelling and the divisiveness would get us nowhere. Actually, it would make things ten times worse.
And so what that election revealed to me was that there are people, who I call my fellow citizens, who literally understand nothing about my life. They do not understand what it's like to be an immigrant family here. And I knew this because of my conversations with my husband, who is a, you know, heterosexual, cis white male. And he could not understand why I was so upset. He couldn't understand why I thought that what was happening was a serious problem for our country. And I literally remember saying to him, “What's going on right now is against everything that my family stands for.” And it was such an eye-opening moment for me to realize that he didn't understand that. It was not something that he could take for granted or that I should take for granted.
And so ultimately, what I decided to do was to contribute to the discussions that were happening across the country but were happening in a very divisive way. I wanted to contribute in a way that was completely non-divisive and in a way that was intended to bring people to my table instead of asking them to leave. And so what I started doing was everybody's got to eat, so I'll continue sharing my recipes. People like my recipes. People like my food. But then with that, give a little dose of, “Hey, do you want to know what's happening beyond this dining table? Move into my living room, move into the family room, move into the kitchen, see what it's like in my home and my family with my past.” And the hope is that doing it in that way, I’ll build connection and build trust, which was not happening in the other conversations that I was seeing.
I think in answer to your second question, when did I know that it was time to move into content creation full time and away from what I was doing as a lawyer? I would say that there were a lot of points along the way. I mean, it's different for everyone. Some people say one conversation they had changed their life for the rest of their life. For me, again, because I am very risk-averse, it took a long time for me to get comfortable with that idea. And there were a lot of seeds that were planted over the past five years, I would say. You know, a lot of my fellow content creators, they had been doing it for a long time, and they're like, “Joanne, come on. Get on with the program. We both know that this is where you're headed.” And in my head, no, I didn't. As most recently in November of 2020, I was like, “I'm going to be a partner at this law firm forever.”
JOANNE: “I am going to do this, and I'm going to kick ass. I’m going to bring in new clients. I'm going to do it. What a safe and comfortable life that will be.” That's what I remember thinking. And it really wasn't until I met with my hero, Rich Roll—he's why we went vegan. And he's a former lawyer himself, and he's very open about his own transition to being a more creative career—I met with him for a podcast and was so inspired by him and his team and the people that he works with every day, but mostly just my conversation with him. And about two days after I came home from L.A. after my podcast with him, I called my boss and I told him, “All right. I'm going to be out of here. It's just a matter of how we're going to figure out this exit strategy.”
AMY: Wow. That had to have been a very big moment when you finally put it to words.
JOANNE: It was. It was, Amy. I mean, I'm sure you've had these moments yourself when you were kind of actualizing your classes or even just putting into practice what your dream is. And for me, making that phone call to my boss, I mean, I literally got off the phone thinking, I don't think I've ever felt this liberated and happy in a very long—like, not since I was single-digit child.
AMY: You knew this is the right direction just by how you felt in that moment. That's pretty amazing.
And I think about all the stories that you tell, and some of them, I think, “Oh, my gosh. I can't believe she's sharing that,” or I think, “That must have been hard to share, or “That's very private.” And a lot of people listening, they're building their businesses online. They're their own personal brand. And there's a lot of questions in my community about how vulnerable should I be, or do I need to be vulnerable or open, or share all my stories? How did you get to the point, or did you ever even consider like, “Am I comfortable sharing these stories? These are my childhood stories. These are my parents’ stories.” And how did you get to that point that you were so vulnerable and open?
JOANNE: I think I've always been a little bit that way. I realized that empathy and vulnerability, those are my superpowers. Everyone has different superpowers, right? And those might not necessarily be yours. But whether you call it a superpower or a curse also—it can be that—and I've always known that empathy for me was something that was very important in my life and was sort of a defining characteristic for me. And I sort of accidentally, almost, kind of started channeling my empathy for kind of affirmative action. People think of empathy as simply a feeling. And my goal in life is to show people, you can actually channel your empathy. Use it as a tool to be a better advocate for lawyers. Be a better counselor and adviser for therapists out there. Use your empathy to be a better salesperson, to understand the problem that needs to be solved and the problem that your product actually does solve. Use empathy to be a better marketer and promoter. So I feel like, for me, empathy was a huge thing. And vulnerability, my ability to share my feelings, was sort of an extrapolation of that empathy. So these are things that I've had in my life all the time.
That said, I think as my audience gets bigger and bigger, there is a little bit of trepidation that comes with now sharing so openly, because now, especially in this day and age, people have no compunctions about giving you their opinion on what you've just shared. They do not care about being sensitive or being polite or making sure your feelings aren't hurt, even though you've kind of taken yourself out on a limb and put yourself out there with the hope that you'll engender trust and engender goodness. Sometimes it engenders negativity and trolling. So there is a lot of that.
And to answer the question, how vulnerable do you need to be?, in my opinion, with what I'm seeing out there in our universe, with the advent of social media and how ingrained social media has now become in all of our lives and especially in the midst of a global pandemic, vulnerability is now becoming something incredibly valuable to people who are sitting at home, watching their phones, watching YouTube, not feeling connected with the rest of the world. This is something that brings value to people in a way that perhaps ten years ago it did not.
AMY: Absolutely. I was hoping you were going to embrace it and encourage more. And I think people listening, hopefully you feel as though you're going to be more open to being vulnerable. And the whole side of empathy, we don't talk about that enough on this show, and so I'm glad that you got into that in a very specific way.
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When you were talking about it, you brought up trolls and people that aren’t going to love everything you do online. And, I mean, because I'm such a fan of yours, I'm like, what? Everyone has to love everything you post. I can't imagine any different. But if you're on TikTok especially, you're going to get some of those trolls. And so you have a video where you're making banana and peanut-butter toast, and you talk about how sometimes you have a hard time with the idea that people don't like you, and you were talking about this concept of what that means. And at the very end—and I'd love for you to kind of tell us your thoughts on this—but at the very end, to get to the punch line, you said, “Start liking people for who they are and not for who you are not.” Do you remember that post you did?
AMY: Okay. Can you talk a little bit about that, because many people on my podcast, including me, just want to be liked. We work so hard, and we put ourselves out there. We just want everyone to love us. And when they don’t, we take it really hard.
JOANNE: Yeah. I am that person. That’s why I make these Aunty videos a lot of times talking to myself.
AMY: Amen. I hear you.
JOANNE: Yeah. So, I am that person. I remember when I was in kindergarten, some girl didn’t share her gummy snacks with me. And it wasn't that she didn't share them with me. It was that she shared them with other people but didn't share them with me.
AMY: Oh, yes.
JOANNE: You know? And so I was being singled out. And what that signified to me was that this girl didn't like me. And I started crying, crying, and crying. And teacher was like, “What's wrong?” And it wasn't that she didn't—I didn’t say, “She’s not sharing her gummy snacks with me;” it’s, “She doesn’t like me. Why doesn’t she like me?” And that hurt me so much. And that was something that this instinct that I have, like, “Everyone needs to like me. You can't not like me.” You know?
And I think what I ultimately discovered, especially when I was in college, was that this urge to have everyone like me is really meant to cover up the fact that I don't like myself. That's what it was, that there were things about myself that I found ugly and unlovable, that I didn't find attractive, so that when somebody did find me attractive, notwithstanding what I knew about myself, it was almost like I was so grateful to them. “Oh, my god. Thank you so much for liking me. Thank you. Thank you for liking me. I'm going to like you back because you like me. Not because I actually like anything about you, but just because you like me. Thank you so much.” That's what it was.
And I was like, that is really messed up. It's disrespectful to you, and it's disrespectful to them, because it's a transaction at that point. What do you do for me? You make me feel better about myself, so I'm going to like you back. That's not really cool to anybody.
So, ultimately, what it begins with is the hardest thing you'll ever do. The hardest thing you'll ever do is to figure out how to love yourself first. It is single handedly, for some of us, the hardest thing you'll ever do. And once you master that, then you can afford to be more discriminating about the people you allow into your life, because then it's a function of respect for yourself, for your time, for your resources, because they are absolutely limited, and not everybody can get it. And so, to me, this desire to get everyone to like you, a lot of times it just means you got to do that homework to figure out why it is that you don't like yourself.
AMY: Oh, that’s like a punch in the gut, but I love that kind of tough love. That’s what we need. I need to hear that, so I appreciate that.
JOANNE: Me, too.
AMY: Oh, my goodness.
When I was watching your videos—I watch them all the time, but in preparation for this, I wanted a really big, immerse myself in all of them—and I can't help but think as a course creator and content creator, and so many of those listening are exactly that, how do you do this? So, first of all, when you're on video, I'm assuming you're not reading a script. It sure doesn't look like you are.
JOANNE: I am.
AMY: No way!
AMY: You just blew my freakin’ mind. You have a teleprompter in those videos?
JOANNE: I don’t have a teleprompter, but—I don’t even think you’ll be able to see it—but I do have my phone propped up somewhere, usually against a vase. So you’ll almost always see a vase of dried flowers in my videos somewhere. And part of that is esthetic because that is kind of my style, but it's also so that I can prop my phone up without anybody being able to see it. And, I mean, it's not that hard to memorize sixty seconds’ worth of whatever it is that you're saying. A lot of times, though, I do not have time to sit there and memorize it. I will probably, like, if push came to shove and somebody put a gun to my head, I could probably spit it out. You know?
AMY: Right, right.
JOANNE: But I like to have it there just in case. And I’ll often do multiple takes of it. But absolutely. I, first of all, I write it.
AMY: Okay. That's what I was going to say. So you must write these out—
AMY: —and then—okay. I appreciate you being so transparent with this because what you're doing, it feels very unachievable. And, of course, I always get insecure in these moments, and I think, “Oh, she's just natural at just being able to talk about anything without having to plan,” because, Joanne, I plan everything, just for the record.
JOANNE: Me, too.
AMY: So to hear you say that, I'm like, “Wow! I forget that other people are human, and they're doing it certain ways that I have no idea.” So that's beautiful to know. You're writing it out, which I think makes it even more fantastic because you're thoughtful. You actually spend the time to write it out, these stories. I think that's why they're extra beautiful. And then you put it in front of you. And sure, I think you could totally riff off that, but you don't do that. And that's so good to know, your style, because I want everyone to hear, everyone's got their own style. And it's not cheating if she's reading it. She actually put the time and the thought into writing it, which goes the extra mile. I guess I just wanted to point that out because we all have these insecurities. Like, we're not doing it right, or we demand too much work to get it done.
JOANNE: I completely agree, Amy. I remember when I was a junior lawyer, there was one guy who said that he wrote the first two words of every closing argument, and that was it.
AMY: Oh, those are the ones that freak me out. Like, what?!
JOANNE: I agree. And I was, like, well, that’s not me. I literally write every single word, down to, “Hello. My name is Joanne,” all the way to, “And thank you for your time today.” That is my personality, and it works for me. I’m a big believer in non-wastage, and I think that when you don’t plan and when you don’t write things in advance, at least bullet points, what ultimately ends up happening is you waste a lot of time and words getting to the point. And with TikTok, you do not have time; you have sixty seconds. So that’s why I write everything down word for word, and it’s also why I’m able to do one of those Aunty videos in literally five minutes as opposed to thirty. I’m not doing take after take after take, saying things over again, rewriting things, or “That's not actually what I wanted to say.” I don't do that. That all happens in the writing process.
AMY: Ah, that’s so beautiful to know. I love that you shared that. And I also think it's important that, something you said, that's not you. I think the more we accept who we are and we own it, the better we are as human beings. I have some friends that tease me about my planning ways, and I always kind of like—this is going to be arrogant, and I can't even believe I'm saying this—but sometimes I look at my bank account and I think, “Well, it's working for me.”
AMY: “This is working. My business is successful. So you can tease me all you want, but my planning ways have gotten me to where I am.” And I think we kind of, in a little bit of an arrogant way, sometimes need to own that kind of stuff.
JOANNE: I don't think it's arrogant. I think that that's confident, I think that it's reassuring, and I also think that what a beautiful message it is for other people. Whether you're a planner or not—I'm a huge planner. I am definitely INTJ big time—I'm a big planner, but not everybody is. And I think that the worst thing you could do to sabotage yourself in whatever it is you decide to pursue is to do something that is completely at odds with who you are. If you are a planner, then plan. If you're not, then don't. You know? That to me is a very easy-to-understand rubric for success.
AMY: Oh, so good, yes.
Okay. So, I want to transition just a bit and talk about this beautiful cookbook, The Korean Vegan Cookbook, and I want, if you don't mind sharing with us, you actually were a resistant vegan. That is not something that you have always been. And so I thought that was a really fun story, and I was hoping you would share it with everyone.
JOANNE: Yeah. Resistant is a very nice way of putting it. I was reluctant, resistant. I was actually belligerent. I was not happy about it. I really didn't believe veganism was healthy from a health standpoint. I was the exact opposite. I was paleo, which literally is the exact opposite.
AMY: Wow. I didn't know that.
JOANNE: Yeah. I was paleo at the time, very low carb, high animal protein, high animal fat. I mean, literally, I was eating bacon for dinner. That was the way that I operated for so many years, and I completely bought into that as healthy living. So from that perspective, I was against it. But I think more personally, I was against it because I didn't see a way to be able to eat Korean food while also being plant based. And I really did take it as sort of a threat to my Korean-ness.
I think, of course, if a Korean person had suggested it to me, I would have looked at it very differently. But again, the person who suggested it to me was my, then, white boyfriend, and I was like, “You don't know anything about what it's like to be Korean. I mean, clearly, we've had these discussions before in other ways. You don't know what it's like. And for Korean people, especially members of the Korean diaspora, who are not native to Korea but are experiencing it in a very different way here in the United States, Korean food is one of the few things we have left that marks us as Korean, that we identify with and take pride in. And now you want to take that away from me?” Like, that was kind of how I was feeling. Of course, it was very silly, as you know, proven by, now, six years of creating Korean vegan food. So it was that sort of fear and anxiety.
Ultimately, though, after watching so many movies, again that my boyfriend forced me to watch with the hope that I would join him in this adventure, I was willing to give it a try, largely because I didn't want it to become a wedge between us, notwithstanding all of the different things that our lives brought to the relationship, the different viewpoints, the different experiences. This was one area that I felt, well, maybe I can make adaptations to the way that I currently eat without jeopardizing my sense of cultural identity and kind of furthering this relationship that I see so much potential in.
AMY: So you became a vegan. And how many years were you a vegan before you started showing other people how to do this, in terms of the Korean Vegan?
JOANNE: It was not years. It was—
JOANNE: It was, like, days.
AMY: You are a natural content creator. That is something that runs through your blood. Oh, I love that you shared that. That’s really cool.
JOANNE: Yeah. I don’t know if it would be natural. I think it was just a challenge. My boyfriend wanted to get me really on board with his vegan thing, and so he was laying it on thick. He’s like, “Man, you’re such a good cook. You make such delicious vegan food. You should start a YouTube channel called the Korean Vegan and share all your recipes with everyone.” It was, like, a transparent ploy to get me to stay vegan. But I was like—
AMY: That was smart.
JOANNE: Yeah, very smart. He's a creative, obviously, himself, and so I was like, “All right, sure. Why not?” So I started the Korean Vegan that night. I had a YouTube channel, Instagram, and a Facebook all ready. Like, I think it was February of 2016.
AMY: Okay. So, you're a quick start. You're out there doing it, making it happen. I love that. Would you say he's one of your biggest cheerleaders today?
JOANNE: He is my biggest cheerleader. He is.
AMY: I thought so.
JOANNE: Absolutely. I firmly believe in this—one of my mentors, if you will, informal mentor, she said something to me that is so powerful. She said, “I've had the most success in my life when I've been surrounded by at least one person who believes just a little bit more in me than I believe in myself.” And I am very fortunate that I now am with a partner who provides that to me every single moment of every day, and it is honestly one of the reasons that I have been feeling safe enough to do the things that I now do.
AMY: Okay. I love that you shared that. I, on the show, talk a lot about my husband, Hobie, and, definitely, that man believes in me more than I believe in myself. And he literally thinks I could do anything in the world, and we joke about that all the time. But how lucky, how grateful are we that we get that opportunity? Not everyone has that, especially the entrepreneurs that are starting businesses that follow this podcast. They don't always have that biggest cheerleader, so I feel very fortunate.
JOANNE: I 100 percent agree. I agree that not everyone is fortunate enough to have that every single day, and the hope is that you can find somebody in that for you.
AMY: Yes. Yes. Amen to that. I love that.
Okay. We’re going to do a rapid fire in a minute to wrap it up. But before I do that, tell me this: when you think about everything you've done—the transition that you've recently went through, the amazing success with your book, and the amount of followers you have, all of that—what do you think the goal behind all of this is for you right now? Like, why do you do what you do?
JOANNE: Amy, that is such a tough question.
AMY: I know. And I almost didn’t ask it, because I don’t want anyone to ask me that. Okay. You can answer that question, or you can even answer it in this way: what gets you up every morning? What are you most excited about?
JOANNE: You know, it is a tough question, but it's one that I forced myself to grapple with earlier last year, right around this time, actually, last year, because my views weren't doing as well, I wasn’t getting as many followers as I was used to, all these things that if you become a content creator, especially if it falls into your lap rather rapidly, which although I had been doing content creation for four and a half years, I gained a million followers on TikTok in just a couple of months, so it was all very exciting but new to me, and I wasn't prepared. I didn't think about why I was doing anything. It was a hobby for me at that time. You know, it was just a side thing that I was doing for fun. But all of a sudden I had this huge platform.
And when I came across my first hurdle, I was very, very taken aback by how I responded to it emotionally. I was so depressed. I was so sad. I was so upset. I wanted to quit everything. I didn't want to do this anymore. All of those things, very, very, you know, the hackneyed response to this type of stuff. And so I was like, “Why am I acting like this? And how do I stop acting like this? How do I stop feeling so bad?”
And I realized one of the answers to that is to figure out, well, why are you doing what you're doing? If you don't have a purpose for what you're doing, why are you posting on TikTok? Why are you creating this platform? Why are you expanding it? What is it to you? It's clearly more than just a hobby to you now, right? which ultimately would lead to me quitting my job. But why is it that you do what you do?
And ultimately, I'm at that point in my life—you know, I'm forty-two years old; this is the second phase of my career; and so from a personal level, I want to do something with my life that I’m passionate about, that I love to do, that gets me up in the morning, that gets me excited every day.
I told my mother when I was going to leave the partnership, and she was just like, “No, don't you dare! Don't you dare?” I told her, “I've earned this. I've earned this.”
AMY: I have chills. Yes.
JOANNE: You know? “I've been doing this for twenty years, toiling and working so hard. I've done all the responsible things. I’ve got a nice amount in my retirement account. I socked away a year's worth of living expenses if all goes to crap. But I've earned this, Omma. I've earned this part of my life, so let me just try it. I'm not saying that I'm going to make the career out of this that we all hope for the next two decades. But you know what? I think I've earned the right to at least try.” So that's part of it, you know?, personally.
I think broadly, what is the why behind the Korean Vegan? it's about compassion and empowerment. It goes back to, why did I start sharing the stories in the first place? because I see a problem in our country. Our country is broken. It's absolutely broken. We're not talking to each other; we're yelling at each other. And that hurts me. I don't like that. How do I fix that? Well, I want to create a model for everybody who's as disillusioned by things as I am to talk to people, to open their hearts to people. I want to empower you. I want to empower everyone to start making more compassionate decisions in their life for their own good and for the good of our country. So that’s the why behind the Korean Vegan, which is very strange for a food blog, I realize that. But it is what it is.
AMY: Which makes it so magical and so unique, so I’m loving that you’re sharing that.
Okay. So, this is the part of the interview where we do rapid fire. And so I'm just going to go through five quick questions, first thing that comes to your mind. Okay?
JOANNE: Okay. I’m ready.
AMY: What is one recipe you can make over and over again and never get tired of eating?
JOANNE: Doenjang-jjigae. I’m making it for dinner tonight. It’s fermented soybean stew. It’s so good, so easy. It’s literally on the menu of every Korean restaurant out there.
AMY: Tell me it’s in the cookbook.
JOANNE: It’s definitely in the cookbook.
AMY: Good, good, good.
Who is someone that's inspiring you at the moment, and why?
JOANNE: I would say the person who is inspiring me at the moment—oh, god. Okay. I'm going to go with the first person that comes to mind. It's my friend Dylan Lemay. He’s like, I don't know, twenty-five years old. He's about to open his new ice-cream company. He's a fellow TikToker. He went from being a manager at a Cold Stone and now has, I don't know, like, fifteen million followers, and will be opening his own ice-cream store in New York City in just a few months. He inspires me on every level, but mostly because he is a compassionate, kind, incredibly intelligent, brilliant person.
AMY: Oh, I can't wait to find out more about him. We'll link to him in the show notes so other people can find out more about him as well.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
JOANNE: Hm, the best advice I ever received was one I didn't listen to, unfortunately. And this is not for business or anything. It’s just an honest answer. My mother told me right before I married my first husband, “Sometimes love isn't enough.” And I didn't believe that. I thought she was full of it, and I wish I had listened to her.
AMY: Wow. That’s powerful, and I totally agree.
Okay. So, what is your favorite memory of cooking, growing up?
AMY: So many.
JOANNE: Yeah, there's so many, but, you know, I didn't really cook a lot until I became vegan, so I actually don't have a lot of cooking memories, but I do remember this one time. I wanted to make cupcakes for my class the next day because it was my birthday, and I didn't want to show up empty handed to class. You know everyone else, when it's their birthday, they bring cake or they bring cupcakes, you know? And I wanted to do the same thing. And my mother was working so hard at the time. She's a full-time registered nurse in the emergency department of the hospital here. So she was working really late that day, but she had promised that she would help me make cupcakes. And sure enough, she came home late, and she's like, “You know, Joanne, I really don't want to.” And I threw a total fit, you know, completely not understanding my mom. And I remember she had said, “No, no, no, no, no.” And then when she saw how disappointed I was, she changed her mind. We stayed up really, really late, frosting all these cupcakes for school the next day. And even then, as a little girl, I knew I was being selfish and I knew that I wasn't being very kind to my mother. And I knew that my mother was being so amazing, doing this for me, even though she was so tired. And I remember thinking those were the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten in my life.
AMY: Ah. I love that you knew in that moment—there's so many moments that I didn't realize how much my parents were sacrificing for me. And the fact that you had that ability to know this is special, that's incredible. That's a beautiful story.
Okay. Final question. Any advice on how to embrace vulnerability? We talked about this a little, but any other little nuggets you can share?
JOANNE: Embracing vulnerability doesn't mean that you go on your Instagram and tell your life story.
AMY: Thank you. Yes.
JOANNE: That's not what vulnerability is. I mean, it can be for some people, but that's not what it needs to be for you. I think vulnerability simply means being open—being open, open the door, let things in, and you can also let things out. It doesn't mean it needs to be a floodgate. It just means that you're being open to opportunity to learn. It means that you're being humble, that you’re basically admitting to the universe that there's still so much out there that you don't know. And I think that is a fundamental of vulnerability is that humility that you live with every day. If you want and if you feel compelled to, then, share, you certainly can. That's a different kind of vulnerability, but it's not the only kind.
AMY: Mm. So very good.
Okay, my friend. Thank you so much for your honesty and your vulnerability, and congrats on your beautifully written book and on your new transition. I can't wait to see what you do in the future, but I'm just enjoying everything you're doing in the present. So thank you for sharing that with all of us.
And please tell my listeners—they're going to want to know—where can they find you? Tell them all the places.
JOANNE: Well, you can find me at thekoreanvegan on basically every single social-media platform, at least every major one. That's YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook. And you can also find a lot of information about me on thekoreanvegan.com.
And Amy, thank you so much for having me and this really delightful discussion about basically all the things.
AMY: So, it's been so fun. Thank you so very much. Take care.
JOANNE: You, too.
AMY: Wow. Joanne is doing big things, and I'm so grateful that you came along for this chat. I literally felt like I was just sitting there talking to a new friend. Those are my favorite kind of episodes. I knew she'd bring immense value, and I knew they were going to be moments that I felt like maybe I could just start crying, and there absolutely were those moments. When Joanne talked about having the conversation with her mom and saying, “I earned this. I earned the ability to make the pivot and experience something new and change things up. I've earned that,” I felt that to my bones. Just looking at my own experiences and my own journey, I got what she meant there, and I just thought that was so powerful. I hope you found your own little slice of inspiration in this podcast. It definitely was a very special one.
And I'm so glad you're here today, so please take the time to share this episode with someone you love. I think that they would find meaning and inspiration in it as well.
So again, thanks for being here. I'll see you next week, same time, same place. Bye for now.