Gillian Culff is a writer, editor, and writing coach. She teaches classes in writing for personal growth, and coaches authors one-on-one to write memoirs and nonfiction books. She grew up in the New York City area and lived most of her life in rural Hawai’i, where she was a high school English and creative writing teacher. She now works with clients remotely from the east coast of the U.S. She has taught creative writing to women in Afghanistan, and is a staunch supporter of women’s freedom and independence. In her free time, she loves to walk in the woods.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I grew up in northern New Jersey, in a suburb of New York City. From the time I learned to read and write I was telling stories, and I wrote my first book—a collection of fables illustrated by a friend—at the age of 8. I was an avid reader and envisioned myself one day becoming a successful writer. I lived in a neighborhood where kids roamed freely, and my parents always gave me a lot of space to explore. My teachers recognized me as a leader of my peers, and I enjoyed teaching my friends and younger children. If I had a role model as a child, it was probably Nancy Drew, the girl detective in a mystery novel series that was very popular in the US when I was young. I admired Nancy’s courage and determination to press on in solving mysteries in the face of people trying to discourage her from finding out the truth.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
As a child I loved to perform skits with my friends. By the time I was 12 I had decided to become a famous actress. I started taking evening acting classes with a local theater company. When I was 18, I selected a college that was known for its arts programs, and I began to study acting. But in my second year, in my scene study class, my enthusiasm waned. Acting had always felt like lighthearted, imaginative play to me, but now it was now becoming hard work. While that effort is essential for anyone pursuing acting as a career, I found that taking it so seriously killed the joy for me. Also, in my directing class, a student admitted to having cheated as a competitive ice skater, and the teacher validated her, matter-of-factly saying people routinely cheated to get ahead in the theater world. This was the final straw for me. I dropped out of the theater. That was a decisive moment in my life because it left me feeling confused and unmoored for years afterward. The dream I’d carried for almost ten years was no longer guiding my life. I began to study political science and psychology, including psychology of women, and I thought about becoming a professor or therapist. I didn’t wind up doing either of those things, though I did eventually become a teacher, and I do enjoy helping others, especially women. I have gone back to that decisive moment many times, wishing I’d received better guidance in navigating my career path.
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea that made you start this brand? How did such a unique idea strike you, and what motivated you to “YES, go for it?”
I was working as a high school teacher, and though I loved my students, I felt burned out by all that was being asked of me. After ten years of giving my all, my enthusiasm and energy were waning. So, I retired from the classroom and worked on turning a longtime side hustle in writing and editing into a full-time business. I also created class offerings for adult writers, sometimes incorporating spiritual lessons I had learned in my study of yoga and meditation.
Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?
People—women especially—often don’t show themselves the same loyalty and respect they would show an employer, client, or family member. By that I mean, with so many responsibilities at work and with our families, it can be hard to show up for ourselves with the dedication that’s required to write a book, especially if others around us belittle our dreams or dismiss them as unimportant. As a coach, I help others make space in their lives to write a book. I also help my clients level up their writing in a way they are unable to envision on their own. I’m also developing a course to help women in the second half of life work through fear-based obstacles and make big changes in their lives. The course is underpinned by writing exercises that encourage self-reflection and includes techniques I’ve developed for working with fear and uncertainty in ways that allow our courage to break through and carry us forward.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
My biggest personal obstacle is that I’m too easily discouraged. You wouldn’t think this was the case upon meeting me, and even lifelong friends don’t realize that becoming discouraged is a part of my process. I naturally show up in the world as a determined person with a high level of self-belief and perseverance. But it doesn’t take a lot to derail me and make me feel like giving up. The most important practice for me has been learning how not to stay in that discouraged place, that place of low self-belief, for very long. I’ve developed tools for shifting my internal narrative, energy, and mood. These tools are the cornerstone of my ability to persevere through challenges and obstacles. In the past, a setback might have left me feeling discouraged for weeks or months. Then it became just a day. Now, I can usually shift that feeling in a matter of hours. I teach some of these techniques in my upcoming course.
Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?
I’ve won some teaching awards. I was recognized by Stanford University for excellence in teaching—specifically student empowerment. When I was my former school’s yearbook advisor, my students and I won quite a few awards for writing, photography, meeting deadlines, and overall book design and theme development. I’m still very proud of the yearbook and student council programs I built that taught students in a hands-on way to take initiative and accomplish their goals. I also collected my students’ creative writing into online and print collections and helped a number of students get their work published in a magazine. And I’m proud of the way I’ve navigated the past six years as a single, divorced woman keeping my business going while living nomadically. It’s been challenging, but it turns out that, despite moments of discouragement, I’m pretty tenacious in the long haul.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
I’d like to see the redistribution of wealth from all of the billionaires and obscenely rich corporations to end world hunger and homelessness. No one should ever have to go without. It should be every human being’s birthright to have a good solid home, nourishing food, education, and opportunities for personal and professional betterment. We have the resources to end poverty and inequality worldwide, but we need to stop allowing a few rich individuals and corporations to hoard all of the resources. It boggles my mind the way so many of the individuals who wield the majority of the world’s economic power fail to care about their fellow human beings.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
Where attention goes, energy flows. What you put your attention on, what you believe to be true, and what you say about yourself and what’s possible for you—all of these things together create your reality. I strive to live my life in a high vibrational way, follow experiences that capture my interest, be patient, and have faith. It’s a practice, and the goal is not to reach some endpoint but to understand that the path IS your life. I do my best to notice and appreciate where I am in the current moment and have gratitude for both the joyful, uplifting experiences and the challenges that help me to evolve spiritually. I try not to give into the duality of good and bad. Everything, no matter how uncomfortable or even downright miserable, is for our growth. Life happens FOR us, not TO us. I get to choose how to respond to challenges.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
I am inspired to see women in leadership roles, especially in politics and government. In the US, we have a lot of younger women—many of them from underrepresented minority groups—stepping up, running for office, and winning races against longtime incumbents. They’re being put to the test and showing that they have the determination, vision and resilience to take on the old guard and help to create a new and more relevant path forward that recognizes our worldwide interconnectedness. I want to see leadership reflect actual percentages of the population, both in terms of gender and in terms of racial and ethnic representation. Only in this way can we have governments, corporations, and organizations that truly reflect society and benefit from essential viewpoints that have traditionally been underrepresented. I would encourage young women who are thinking about going into leadership roles—whether in business, government, education, or nonprofit—not to allow others to discourage you. Go for that dream that burns inside you. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young or that women don’t do this or that thing. And remember that it’s not just for you. When you achieve your goals, it ripples outward and helps other women.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
Spend time developing your connection with your higher self and intuition. Keep surrendering to what the knowing voice inside you tells you is true. Tune out the voices of people who want you to do things their way or who have their own agenda that doesn’t align with your goals, beliefs, and desires. Create boundaries and let go of people who suck your energy, don’t reciprocate, or aren’t aligned with what you envision for yourself. When you need to confide in someone, make sure it’s someone trustworthy, someone who is discerning, supportive, and inspiring, and who has your highest good in mind. Above all, trust your gut. If a situation or person doesn’t feel right, it isn’t, and you don’t need to wait around for validation. Save your energy and collaborations for people who respect you and treat you as an equal.