Always celebrate your small victories. As I mentioned earlier in this interview, small progress is progress and I think it’s important to remember and acknowledge all it is that you’ve done and to not put celebrating off.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing J.D. Slajchert.
JD Slajchert is an American novelist, public speaker, philanthropist, and screenwriter. Three months after graduating from college, his debut novel MoonFlower was published in 2018. Following the rapid success of his first book, JD embarked on a year-long speaking tour where he talked directly about his career as a college athlete, his journey into becoming an author and his incredible bond with his best friend, Luc Bodden. In the twelve-months following the release of his book, JD reached over 100,000 people with his message, culminating with him delivering the UC Santa Barbara ICA Commencement address to the Class of 2019. JD Slajchert is the Director of Relationship Development for The LucStrong Foundation and a National Ambassador for The American Red Cross. JD Slajchert also co-wrote the original screenplay inspired by his real-life relationship with Luc Bodden, “Happy at You.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
First, thank you so much for this incredible opportunity. It’s an honor to be speaking with you. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and my parents got divorced when I was two years old. Growing up, I split my time with each parent completely down the middle, living in two separate households. As a kid it was a hectic schedule as I was basically shipped back and forth between houses. But ultimately, I think this experience provided me with an incredibly rich perspective. In fact, I consider myself lucky because both my parents eventually remarried, and I was then blessed with great stepparents. My huge family has now grown into this group of unique characters that have really become my team and support system. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I was raised.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Wow, it is so easy for me to remember the exact book and the exact moment it all suddenly clicked for me. It was like lightning. The book was Paper Towns by John Green, and each page of that novel felt like it was written just for me. I was reading it with a close friend, and we enjoyed the book so much that we recreated a segment of the book in real life where we played out a scene where two of the characters stayed up all night, causing havoc in town. We even pulled all off the same exact pranks. I started writing shortly after that epic night. It was the best night of my life. I’ve been attempting to taste the rush of that experience in my writing ever since.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define making a difference as being an example of what you wished the world looked like. I’m a staunch believer in the power of the little things, so making a difference starts off with that one, small, seemingly insignificant, yet forever powerful good thing. Because that small act of kindness will lead to even more acts just like it down the road. And no good act is too small. I truly believe that.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading a project that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and the project are trying to change in our world today?
I’m attempting to change our perception of how we categorize things like pain, misfortune, and loss. The past few years have been tough, to say the least. A lot of us have felt disconnected, sad, or wondering about our past and purpose. The “You’re Not Alone Letter Writing Campaign” encourages people to handwrite a “thank you” note to those folks who’ve made a difference in their life. You can write to a former coach, teacher, or even family member.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
The idea sprung from my latest novel, “Darling, You’re Not Alone,” where that theme plays a major role. The book and the campaign are about gratitude but also connection. No matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. We don’t always get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was the final trigger?
I remember watching all these incredible young people trying to change the world and asked myself what I was waiting for. Then my best friend passed away tragically. When his life was cut so short, I realized how little time we get in life. Simply put, I stopped waiting.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start something new. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
So often in life we become overwhelmed to the point where we paralyze ourselves and shut down by doing absolutely nothing. It’s important to not let that happen and keep in mind that small progress is progress. There really is no secret to it, you just must wake up day after day and lean against the mountain. Eventually, it will move. Pretty soon, you’ll be looking back and be astonished at how far you’ve come.
Can you share the most interesting story that has happened to you since you began?
The most interesting story that has happened to me since I began writing would have to be my unlikely relationship with my writing mentor, Mashey Bernstein. Mashey was my writing professor at UC Santa Barbara and, to put it nicely, he was my nemesis. Mashey was the kind of teacher that you’d turn in a five-page essay only to have him read just the first few sentence, circle it in red ink, and give it right back to you with a big “F” on the front. It was hilarious. But, in the end, he made us all better writers. I always appreciated his requirement for excellence. So, when I completed my first draft of a book four years later, he was the first person I called. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I handed him my four-hundred-page handwritten draft of a book. Not only did he end up becoming the champion of my first novel, but now he’s the first person to read anything I write. We talk nearly once a week. I love him with all my heart.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made while starting off my career was being oblivious as to the amount I’d exposed my softer sides and personal moments of myself by writing my first book, MoonFlower. That book was such a deeply personal tale, and I was completely naïve as to the eventual reach the book would have. I’d had readers all over the world. For the first few months after the book was released it felt like I’d been walking around town naked. That certainly has taken some getting used to, but now I like to think that I embrace those sides of who I am. I’m not afraid to be deeply judged by anyone that reads my work.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
To be honest, I feel like I have the best team in the world. My orbit is filled with the most magnificent supporters who constantly boost me up, and I rely on them daily for a myriad of different things. One of my most trusted advisors is someone who refers to himself as my, “underground manager” and he and I speak on the phone regularly following interviews I do or articles I write. I’d do anything to make him proud as his word holds a heavy amount of weight in any decision I make, and I’m honored to have his guidance. We laugh quite a bit too because normally we only get together in person when it aligns with his haircut schedule because he gets a trim near where I live. Other than that, I’m forced to only communicate with my “underground manager” through email or phone calls. He’s secretive that way.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
As I read this question, thousands of faces fly through my mind. This journey that I have been on these past several years has truly been extraordinary. I have been met by countless, young, inspired minds that have let me know just how touched they’ve been by my story. In fact, following nearly each talk I give, I usually have one or two people approach me and let me know that my story reminded them of their brother that passed in a car accident or their mom that passed due to cancer, but instead of being sad about losing a loved one, they feel inspired to remember them and honor them in some way. People all over the country and world tell me this exact same thing, sharing this exact same sentiment. I feel so lucky to have witnessed and met so many different people that have been impacted by my story in some way. It’s remarkable.
Are there three things community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I think in community, society, and politics we need to regain a certain level of common sense. I feel as though we’ve moved away from basic human interaction due to all the isolation and time spent away from loved ones everyone has dealt with these past several years. Personally, I just feel like we’ve gotten away from thinking rationally. But I also believe that as a society we need to be nicer to one another. We need to remember that everyone is going through a battle we know nothing about. We need to get back to believing in people.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Always celebrate your small victories. As I mentioned earlier in this interview, small progress is progress and I think it’s important to remember and acknowledge all it is that you’ve done and to not put celebrating off.
- Turn “no” into “on.” Failure, disappointment, and denial are all a part of the game; embrace that. I’ve learned that once you start getting “no’s” in your career, that’s an indication not that you’re a failure, but in fact that you’re aiming high enough and pushing the limits to what you are capable of. So, keep grinding.
- Don’t be afraid to work really, really, hard. It’s okay to be a little obsessed with success, don’t shy away from that. Lean into the fact that you will do whatever it takes to be great.
- Write things down. Take notes and write things down to hold yourself accountable. You’ll also remember more because of this too.
- How you do anything is how you do everything. This is something that I live by. I attempt to practice this discipline to prepare — each day — as if that next meeting, phone call, or email could perhaps be that life changing opportunity. If you live by this principal, when the moment eventually does arise, you’ll be ready.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that we often talk about how in life, if you make one mistake or have one terrible accident, you will send an endless number of ripples of bad things into the fabric of humanity. This is something we all know quite a bit about as it has been drilled into us since we were children. That concept gets shared with us daily even still. But I believe that the same depth of ripples is possible for one small good thing. I believe that the same evil that is capable of being spread from one small bad thing, is true in the exact opposite way for one small, good thing. That one small, good thing that each one of us can do. Saying hello to the person that you buy your coffee from each morning. Waving to your neighbor as you pull out of your parking spot. Sending a text or email to your friend to check on them. And if you think about the simplicity in that, and believe in it, then I think that provides each of us with the power to change the world.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Film director Richard Linklater. I think he’s a creative genius and I’d do about anything to have some eggs and coffee across from the man who came up with the “Before” trilogy. Those movies haven’t just impacted the style with which I write, but the style with which I live. I think he is so unique. I really look up to him as a storyteller. Please let him know I could be available any time for breakfast!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram at: JD_Slajchert
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
I hope those of you out there found some light in this! We must always find ways to inspire. Thank you for having me! I enjoyed every moment of the chat.
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author JD Slajchert Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.