Everyone should know that they are capable of expanding their own cultural fluency and causing less accidental harm through their thoughtless words and actions. We need to be more intentional about our personal development and have grace, both for ourselves (because we WILL mess up) and for others.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tiffany Jana.
Dr. Jana is a non-binary best-selling author, B Corp founder, and pleasure activist. They have written 5 books and are a globally recognized thought leader in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI). Dr. Jana is a TEDx and Inc.com Top 100 Leadership speaker.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I come to JEDI work by way of family business. My mother was a pioneer in the diversity field and I followed her in her entrepreneurial path. I was also born in El Paso, Texas on the border of Mexico. As a result, I spoke Spanish before I spoke English with my friends and babysitters. By the time I was seven, my military father was stationed to Germany. I attended school in Bavaria and by age 8 was fluent in three languages. On the weekends that my father was not on call at the hospital, we drove or flew around Europe and the world. By the time I was 12, I had seen much of the earth. At a very young age I was profoundly aware of the differences in people and culture, but what struck me more than anything else was the similarities in the human condition. It is this particular set of experiences and orientation that gave me a heart for the world and a heart for this work.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The first time I visited Australia, I visited a very affluent family with deep business roots adjacent to my field. At dinner I asked the host’s wife about the state of the Aboriginal/Indigenous community and their current civil rights. I was utterly bewildered when the host responded that the indigenous community of Australia “never had a civil rights movement.” She implied that they were doing just fine, except for the alcoholism and abuse common to their communities.
The next day I was out exploring Downtown Sydney on my own. Lo and behold, I walked straight into the Aboriginal Civil Rights museum. Not only had they had a civil rights movement, the indigenous community of Australia was still lagging woefully behind in their civil rights. A successful half aboriginal and half white Australian man later explained to me that his country never had a galvanizing figure like a Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King,Jr. He educated me about a set of laws that forbid any tribal representative to speak for anyone outside their own tribe. A legalized system of divide and conquer prevents them from obtaining rights for all. I will never forget the statement that followed, “We were better off when we were protected under the flora and fauna act. White Australians love their plants and animals.”
It was this experience that really woke me up to the fact that most countries outside of the US absolve themselves of systematized racism because they may not have engaged in transatlantic slave trade like we did. The reality is that every nation has diversity issues. It’s just the flavor and tone that’s different from continent to continent. This was the moment that sparked my focus on doing this work globally.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
Navigating the creative process with my first co-author was my biggest writing challenge. We had very different approaches to organizing, structuring, and completing the writing process. I’m extremely regimented in my writing. It’s one of the areas that I have the most discipline. I find it to be such an important expression of my work that I will prioritize it over anything, anywhere. I was literally writing my first book with headphones on at the Thanksgiving table at my in-law’s house with five or six kids running around making noise. I was actually concerned that he was going to get a byline without really contributing anything. Fortunately he decided to leave town, get a hotel room, and produce his portion of the book over the course of a couple of weekend retreats. Needless to say, I have since sought other co-authors! Collaboration style matters.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My most embarrassing mistakes tend to happen in the areas of the diversity, about which I write. I think the fact that I’m able to share my own vulnerability and failures in my books is precisely what makes them relatable and useful. One of the stories that I don’t think ended up in any of the books also happened in Australia. I had taken some time to stay on a nature preserve so that I could connect with the wildlife in their own habitat. As I was waiting for the ferry to leave my week on the reserve, I suddenly needed to lotion my ashy legs. One of the legs of my suitcase was broken in transport, so I asked my companion to hold up my bag while I lotion my legs. Halfway through the application my companion asked me if I was done. I responded loudly and with great irritation, “No, I have TWO legs!” Did I mention there was a man standing across from us who only had ONE leg? Yeah. I picked it up in my peripheral vision and managed to still make that insanely insensitive comment like a full on idiot. Needless to say, it was a LONG ferry ride back to the main island.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
After commercially publishing four books, I launched my first self published title. I published a book of poetry exclusively to Kindle. It’s called “The Mile-High Poetry Club: Long-distance love poems.” I launched that because people are at home and they need some love. You don’t have to have a Kindle to read it, just the Kindle app. And if you have Kindle unlimited, it’s free! I’ve also written a multi-season Afrofuturist sci-fi TV series that I’m now launching as a graphic novel. Covid shut down television and film studios, so the pilot will be the first graphic novel and my 6th book. My 7th book will represent the intersection of speculative fiction and my organizational JEDI work. That’s what I’m writing now.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
People seem to really be taken with the story about a Black man giving a keynote and being called articulate by a white audience member. Those of us familiar with that particular paradigm understand why it’s problematic. But for people encountering that narrative for the first time, it opens their eyes to the fact that Black professionals, even President Obama, are often referred to as ‘articulate’. Seems harmless, right?
What people don’t always understand is that it is a demonstration of their personal bias when they say it out loud.
The implication is a lack of expectation that Black professionals are intelligent and well-spoken. Why wouldn’t a president or a professional speaker be articulate? Is it that they don’t fit your stereotype of what Black people are supposed to sound like? It’s a subtle act of exclusion that we hear over and over again. “Articulate” is not used nearly as often to describe white presidents or white public speakers. Think about it. You just EXPECT those folks to speak well.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
Everyone should know that they are capable of expanding their own cultural fluency and causing less accidental harm through their thoughtless words and actions. We need to be more intentional about our personal development and have grace, both for ourselves (because we WILL mess up) and for others. My co-author, Dr. Michael Baran, and I deliberately peppered the book with examples from our own lives of when we failed at being inclusive. We give examples of our own micro-aggressive behavior. What we want people to know is that even diversity professionals mess up from time to time. It’s not a reason to give up. None of us are perfect. The best we can do is learn as much as possible and always try to be a better version of ourselves.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Always schedule daily or weekly time to write, and don’t break your schedule. If you have to break your schedule, reschedule, don’t cancel.
2. Find your rhythm. Whether it’s the rhythm of your writing space, or the rhythm of your work life balance. Everyone needs to identify and honor the rhythms of their life. The more you can stay in sync with what you need to be creative, happy, and full, the better your work product will ultimately be. This will profoundly affect your contribution to the world.
3. Own your narrative. I believe that regardless of the kind of writing that you are known for, it’s important to own your story. The more connected we are to our own truths, the more authentic our voice will emerge in any genre.
4. Cultivate a gratitude practice. Whether you are journaling or meditating, it’s important to take time every day to express gratitude. Gratitude practice will emerge as greater creativity in your world and greater connectivity to the people in it. Artist types are frequently drawn into the darkness and the lower vibrations. Some of us even believe that we are more creative in those wavelengths. But the reality is that our mental health, our sustained contribution, and our highest creativity will only be amplified by gratitude.
5. Cultivate Joy. As a self described Pleasure Activist, I strongly encourage people to be led by their joy. If you’re able to identify the aspects of life that compel you towards the orgasmic yes (as Pleasure Activism author Adrienne Marie Brown puts it) then you will continually feel rewarded and enriched by what you do.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
I love to talk and share ideas! People tell me my writing is approachable because I write the way I talk. Even though I’ve written a doctoral dIssertation, I write my books in a lighthearted conversational style. That makes my books fast and easy reads despite the fact that the concepts are challenging your personal development.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I love self-help and social justice books. Most recently, I have enjoyed the writings of Adrienne Marie Brown, Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would pass on the tenets of my Awareness Artistry: the creative embrace of humanity with arms wide enough to leave no one out. I would call on people to tap into their greatest potential and connect with their entire human family by remembering that there are no differences between us that justify mistreatment or marginalization.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
SOCIAL MEDIA: (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, etc)
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!