Gabrielle Bosché became addicted to achievement at an early age. Her incredible drive helped her achieve early success (including publishing her first book at 17!), but it came at a cost to her health and relationships.
The unlock in her career journey was connecting her work to her life purpose. She intentionally crafted a career centered around her passions and founded two companies in the process – The Millennial Solution and The Purpose Company. She continues to share her learning with others and recently published her fifth book called "The Purpose Factor."
Gabrielle tells people to "stalk success" and learn as much as they can from the wisdom and achievements of others. She has followed her own advice and has channeled it into an extraordinary and fulfilling career.
Raised in an alcoholic household, Gabrielle became addicted to achievement because that was the only thing she could control. From self-publishing her first book at 17 to becoming an elite athlete to losing 20 pounds in 2 months to win a beauty pageant, Gabrielle found her identity as an "achiever." After extreme dieting caused her to lose chunks of her hair and most of her relationships, Gabrielle knew she needed a change. Her journey to discover her own purpose resulted in what is known as the #1 purpose discovery process in the world.
Gabrielle is one of the most booked Millennial motivators in the world. She has been called the "next generation of motivators" by Tom Ziglar and is a popular TEDx presenter, bestselling author, and co-founder of The Purpose Company. Her work has been endorsed by the likes of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Brian Tracy, Lewis Howes, and co-founder of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Marc Victor Hansen. Gabrielle has worked with everyone from presidential campaigns, the U.S. Navy and Air Force, and the top brands in the world. Gabrielle has been featured in major media outlets including NPR, Sirius XM Radio, Bloomberg Radio, Glamour Magazine, Business Insider, and Los Angeles Times.
Gabrielle quit her job at 23 to launch her first company, consulting major brands and the government on how to reach Millennials. Her breakout moment came when at a networking meeting she introduced herself as a "Millennial expert" to someone who would end up being her first client (the U.S. Navy). Gabrielle has written 5 books ranging from Millennial motivation, next-generation entrepreneurship, and how to find your purpose. Gabrielle's approach to life, love, and business is the self-deprecating deeply wise and insanely practical solution we need right now.
Beth Davies, host: Welcome to Career Curves, where we talk to people who have interesting careers and explore how they got, where they are. I'm your host Beth Davies.
Today we're joined by an achiever, Gabrielle Bosché. She's the founder of two companies – The Millennial Solution and The Purpose – the author of five books and a sought-after speaker. She's also in her early 30s.
From an early age, Gabrielle became addicted to achievement, but it came at a cost. Her health and her relationship suffered, so she knew she needed to make a change. The change wasn't to be less driven – that's obvious, right? She's doing all the things she's doing – but to discover her purpose and make sure her work was aligned with this.
I'm thrilled to have Gabrielle with us to share her personal journey and what she's learned about the power of discovering your purpose. I couldn't ask for a better guest to start the new year and Season 3 of Career Curves.
So, welcome, Gabrielle.
Gabrielle Bosché, guest: Thanks so much for having me, Beth. I am very honored to be joining you here and having a discussion just about careers and my own personal experience for your audience.
Beth: When we first connected, you described yourself as addicted to achievement, and you said that this has been going on from a very early age. So what I'd actually like to do is go back to that very early age and to your childhood. Tell me about your family and where you grew up.
Gabrielle: Sure, so I was raised in Northern California in the Sacramento area. I was raised with a family that was fairly middle class with, I think, probably upper-middle-class habits and tastes.
I grew up with parents that were entrepreneurs. My dad and my mom were restauranteurs and owned roofing companies and construction companies. So I think you can say that entrepreneurship was in my veins, although I fought it tooth-and-nail as long as I possibly could.
But, in my family, there was almost this expectation to perform. I think a lot of us are either trying to prove our parents right, or prove our parents wrong depending on how it is that you were raised. And in my family, there was a very high standard for achievement, whether it was being the best in the class when it comes to my education or the best on the team when it comes to sports. So I think that certainly was a big influence on my life early on.
Beth: So there are a couple of things that you said that I want to pick up on. The first was that you said that we can either go the route of proving our parents right or proving them wrong. Did you ever go that other way and rebel and say, "Look, I don't like this idea of being so driven and needing to be excellent at everything," or were you always on the path of proving them right?
Gabrielle: I wish I was that cool. Rebelling against your parents sounds a lot cooler, but unfortunately that was not me.
Beth: I think you're pretty cool though. (laughs)
The other thing that you said was that you fought the entrepreneurial spirit tooth-and-nail. I think that was how you said it. Why did you feel the need to fight that spirit?
Gabrielle: It's really interesting. Growing up in a family of small business owners, entrepreneurship is something that you experience differently as a child. I remember what it was like for my parents to show up two hours late from picking me up from elementary school because something had happened at one of the business locations. Or going on vacation with my family to Hawaii and having to come home after two days because payroll wasn't being met. So I remember really the challenges of ownership of entrepreneurship, while also certainly enjoying the benefits of entrepreneurship that my parents had flexible work schedules. They certainly were there for me when I needed them to be.
So for me, when I was deciding what route I wanted to take professionally, I kind of looked at the options in front of me and I thought, "What is the opposite of entrepreneurship?" And I was like, "The government. I will go and I will work for the government," which is ultimately what I ended up doing.
Beth: See, so you were cool and going to rebel against your parents because you were going the other way, just not so much about excellence. Before we talk about going and pursuing government and school, I've got a couple more questions about childhood.
While your parents were the entrepreneurs that they were, were they giving you any other kinds of messages about what you could be or should be when you grew up? What ideas did they have for you and how did you internalize that?
Gabrielle: I think my parents did what many baby boomer era parents did, which was the mindset of, "You can do anything that you want and you can be anything that you want." Because of that, I had, I think, a very almost inflated sense of ambition and confidence, but I didn't necessarily consider what my skill sets were, what my passions aligned with.
And so early on, I was encouraged to do things that made me happy. My parents would recognize if there was a trend. If I was interested in one particular sport, they would buy all of the equipment that I needed or a coach or put me on a team. I think that they were really wanting me to find my way.
And for some folks it happens where they find it and they click and they say, "This is what I'm supposed to do." But I think for a lot of people, that's not really the case, especially the achiever types, which is what I raise my hand, both hands, up and say, "that's me." I could see myself doing a lot of things. So it actually took me a little bit longer to ultimately do what I do now, because I think I didn't necessarily have that narrowing experience that some people maybe have earlier on in life.
Beth: There's so much gold in what you just said and I just want to hold onto it and package that up. I especially love what you're saying about this double-edge sword, that you could be anything and yet that's so scary, because "I'm a kid. How am I supposed to know what these anythings are?"
That's probably a good transition to thinking about jobs. Did you take any jobs while you were in school – high school, junior high – that were giving you any insight into what you were interested in?
Gabrielle: I really took a more transactional approach, especially to my first few jobs, which was, "I need money." So my first job was at a frozen yogurt shop. (I definitely pursued my passion and in that I am still very passionate about frozen yogurt. Nothing's really changed. I think maybe more so.)
Pretty much every job I've ever had, I could probably say actually every job I've ever had, I've truly enjoyed. I think part of that is the perspective. I recognized what it was. I wasn't pursuing a career inside of the frozen yogurt shop. I wasn't going to become the manager. I knew what it was and that I needed to show up and I needed to work for four and a half hours and scoop some ice cream and swirl some frozen yogurt. And that was going to be our relationship.
So I think that I had a good perspective, at least when it came to my early jobs that I'm not going to have it all figured out right now, but I need money
Beth: At some point high school was going to come to an end and it was going to be time to go to college. Tell me about what plans you were making for yourself at that point. You already mentioned that you were thinking about government. So tell me, what was the choice? What was driving you?
Gabrielle: I remember early on in high school, they have you come up and talk about what your career trajectory is going to be. And with utter confidence, I remember, maybe it was in an English class or something, I got up and I told everyone I'm going to be a United States Senator and I'm going to be in an aerobics instructor, preferably at the same time. I was convinced that my passion for moving, and health and wellness, was going to somehow marry this passion for politics and government that I was starting to really discover early on in high school.
Going from high school to college for me was a very interesting time. My parents were starting a process of getting divorced. My parents... Something I didn't mention at the beginning is my dad's a wonderful guy, but he struggles with alcoholism. And so, because of that, I was really trying to find my way through a family that was falling apart. We were staying in hotels because my parents were about to lose their house to foreclosure. My sister had left the house. It was a really tumultuous time.
I also, too, was not aware of the process of how to apply to college. My parents: very smart, very driven, very successful. Neither of them went to college. And so, my sister and I were the first people in our family to get a college degree. So no one sat me down and said, "Gabrielle, you're a junior in high school. It's time to start applying for colleges." I had no context.
So I'm graduating and I think I did pretty well. And I remember finishing high school and getting to meet with everybody after you graduated. Everyone's saying, "Where are you going to college? And where are you going to college?"
Beth, I didn't know that you were supposed to apply to college like two years earlier, so I'm like, "I'm not quite sure yet."
And they're like, "We've all been accepted 6 months ago, 12 months ago." So, I ended up finishing high school, having no idea. Having to start over. I was in this broken home. My mom and I had to get a place together. I was trying to figure out not only what am I going to study, but where am I going to go?
And so it was this really interesting time, and I'm so thankful for that moment because it really caused me to think critically about what it is that I was going to do. I think I took a very interesting approach to college. Whereas most people see college as kind of your next phase of life, I saw it as my key to survival. If I was going to be able to make it out, to be able to find something, to provide for myself and provide for my mom at the time, I was going to have to find something that was going to work within my work schedule, that was going to be aligned with what I ultimately wanted to do, and something that was going to be close to home.
So I took a really pragmatic approach. It wasn't, "What are your dream schools and are you accepted?" It's, "Who's still accepting students and is it within driving distance?"
Beth: And where did that end up taking you?
Gabrielle: Listen to this. It was just such a crazy coincidence of affairs. I grew up in Sacramento. My dream was to get away from Sacramento, but here I am. I find out about this school, which is about 15 minutes from where I was staying at the time, called William Jessup University. I'd never heard of the school. I think it was two months before classes were going to start, like the middle of summer. I walk on campus. I end up meeting with a counselor. They were very accommodating and absolutely wonderful to work with. I ended up getting a partial scholarship. The whole thing was really just this beautiful event of moments that really caused me to realize things are really working out here a lot better than I really expected, but it was definitely one of those unexpected miracles for me during that time in my life.
Beth: Thank you for sharing all of that. It's just really an incredible story of the strength that you really had as well as your ability to problem solve and persevere and find your way in that tumultuous time. Did you ever have thoughts at that point of not going to school and almost throwing your hands up and saying, "Look, the world is beating me down. The world's gonna win"?
Gabrielle: When you're younger, you have more of an unexpected grit where you're not really thinking philosophically about things. Like a little kid falls down, you're not sitting waiting for them to be like, "Why do I ever even try to get up? What was I thinking?" I think when you're younger, and even when you have that younger mindset, you're more likely to bounce back from things because you're not comparing what is to what it should be.
So for me, I had no context for what my life was supposed to be like. I was 17 years old. It was really just how do I adapt to what was going on in my world at the time? As a child of an alcoholic, this is very textbook. Children of alcoholics or anyone who has a substance abuse are very adaptable because they're constantly reading the situation: How do I make sure that person's taken care of? How do I make sure that my parents are supported? How do I make sure I'm not the one who's causing the strife or the frustration today? And so I think one of those really challenging points that I had in my life, I call it My Origin Story, actually gave me a lot of the superpowers that I'm thankful for today that caused me to be extremely, extremely adaptive to situations and kind of choose my perspective.
Was I constantly in a great mood and like, "I'm so glad this is happening"? Of course not. I remember, in particular, there was one morning... So I got accepted into William Jessup University. I was a public policy major. I was making friends, enjoying life on campus. My second semester, the first day of class, my mom walks into my room and says, "Gab, I'm so sorry, but you can't go to college. We can't pay the other half of the tuition."
That's the day that I'm getting texts from my friends, "Hey, are you coming to class?" and "Hey, where are we going to lunch?" I was on crutches for whatever reason at this point. And I'm realizing that the situation is not what I wanted it to be. That was one of the first times I can really remember being 18 years old and feeling sorry for myself. Like this sucks. This isn't how it's supposed to be. I shouldn't have to worry about this kind of stuff, that we can't afford my college tuition.
I remember I had a pity party for myself for about an hour and a half. Then, I came out and I sat down at the kitchen table with my mom and she said, "Okay, well, what are we going to do about it?" I got in the car with my crutches and I drove to the nearest community college. I sat in on classes and I filled up my semester with classes that I had just audited or sat in on, and ended up doing a couple of semesters at community college, because that's all I could afford.
Beth: At this point you're studying public policy. I know before you mentioned that your jobs had been really transactional: "I just want to make money." While you were in school, were you taking any internships or jobs to test the water on public policy and government, and this idea of being a Senator and testing out whether this was going to be the right path for you?
Gabrielle: Absolutely, that was something that I was really intentional about: taking on internships. Because again, as an achiever type, I'm also trying to put as many interesting and impressive things on my resume as possible. So for me, it almost became this challenge of how many internships can I do. It ended up being a really great experience in that I got exposed to communication firms, I got exposed to some local media, I got exposed to a law office, I got exposed to local government. And so I was really intentional.
Every summer I had an internship that I was engaging in and that really came from relationships. It was either through a relationship that someone in my family had or someone at the school had, because I knew... I mean, I'm 18, 19 years old at this point. I know no one, and just knocking on someone's door and saying, "Hey, will you take me in and pay me to shuffle papers around?" wasn't really going to work. I started to recognize early on just the power of relationships and relying on relationships early on in my career.
Beth: Through these different industries, different internships and jobs, how was it starting to coalesce for you, the idea of what you wanted to be doing or not doing in the public policy, government space or even beyond?
Gabrielle: I started to recognize the type of career that was possible for me. I started to recognize that it was the problems within government that I was interested in solving. And not just general problems. I was interested in, "How do you get young people involved and interested?" I looked around and said, "I'm young. I like volunteering for campaigns and talking about politics and researching. Why do my friends not like that?" So that was a problem I wanted to solve.
I was very passionate about education. I had been homeschooled. I had gone to private school. I went to public school. But I recognized that there are different types of school and depending on where you live... I actually lied and used my cousin's address in a different county so I could have a better education at that public school, and I thought, "That's not fair," so I started to look at the problems of education. I started to recognize that it wasn't just government and the idea of government that was interesting to me. It was problems that I really wanted to solve. That started to help me home in on what it is that I wanted to study.
Luckily at the time, I'm a huge fan of mentorship and I had one of the best mentors in the world, who was the head of the Public Policy department, really take me under her wing and help me understand that every single assignment that I was doing should help me further my career. That really helped me utilize my time, even as a college student, to become more proficient and develop an expertise in something, rather than just checking the box of writing an essay or doing a report.
Beth: I love that you just refer to "mentors" and the power of mentors. One of the things I've seen some people do is expect that others are going to create mentors for them. And so I'm curious, if you remember, how you formed your relationship with this particular mentor or even other mentors who really took an interest in you and helped you?
Gabrielle: When it comes to mentorship, the phrase that I use even now is "stalk success." So I stalked success by putting myself in the arena of other people who can demonstrate what it means to be successful. You can stalk success by reading. So that could be anything from getting mentorship by someone who has been dead for 50 years or 200 years. You can stalk success by working for someone who's successful and has the kind of lifestyle or impact you want to have. You can stalk success by listening to podcasts of conversations of people like you and understand how does this person think?
Oftentimes, I do think that young people in particular are very entitled when it comes to mentorship. They expect to show up on a job or in an education space and say, "Here I am, come mentor me. Who wants to come help me achieve my dreams?" without realizing that most people are busy in their own worlds. They have their own deadlines, their own kids, their own duties, and their job is not to mentor you.
What you want to do if you're young is to be able to articulate what mentorship looks like to you. Are you wanting to be mentored on finances, on relationships, on your career? Are you wanting to be mentored on something specific, like how do you get from point A to point B in your career? We oftentimes don't articulate what we need and, just like any relationship, if you don't clarify expectations, you're going to be disappointed.
So for me, I knew even in every job that I had, I sought out mentors. I recognized that any job I was going to take, it was either going to be because of the education that I received, the exposure that I was going to have, or the experience that it was going to have. I was really intentional about looking for those three things, even in a mentor to say, "What is it that you're exposing me to? How are you helping me? And ultimately, how can I help you as well?"
Beth: What's so powerful about what you just shared is the idea that there are multiple mentors in your life, maybe even simultaneous. I think some people expect that there is this magical person out there who is going to be their mentor, their single mentor, as opposed to, like you're saying, "What is it I want this person or this book or this other experience to be able to teach me?" So thank you for sharing all of that.
As you were getting ready to graduate from college, what kind of a plan were you putting in place for yourself as your next steps after college?
Gabrielle: At that point I had really solidified my interest in politics and government, and I had known that my next step was certainly going to be in that political sphere. But I was also, too, graduating in 2009 when it wasn't exactly the most popular time to be looking for a job. This was not the time when you were showing up and saying, "Hey, I have a poly sci degree and I minored in theology, look how employable I am." That wasn't exactly my tagline on my resume at the time.
So, again through relationships, I had lined up three different jobs that I was pretty interested in. And I think something that happens to many people is, when you have multiple directions that you want to go, you almost feel stuck in place because you start creating these scenarios in your head of, "what if I choose the wrong path?"
I remember being stuck in this scenario where I had these three different paths. One was working for a technology startup where I could help with communications and marketing. One was working at a political consulting firm where I could work on campaigns directly. And then another one was more focused on the academic space where I could learn more about the education arena that I ultimately wanted to impact.
So for me, I had to almost take myself out of this kind of instance of, "What if I make the wrong decision?" and do what really felt right when it came to the kind of impact that I wanted to have. Because again, I said, I'm looking for education: something that I can learn from. I was looking for exposure: who can I get myself around? And then I was certainly looking for experience: how can I develop myself as an expert or increase my experience in one arena? Ultimately, I chose the consulting firm as my next step, which ended up being an absolutely incredible experience because I got exposure to a whole world and learned rather quickly what it is that I liked about politics and government, and what I certainly didn't like about it.
Beth: How long did you stay with this consulting firm? Where did that take you?
Gabrielle: I ended up being there for just about a year, maybe a year and a half, and this was really during an interesting time where I had kind of solidified, "Yes, I really am passionate about politics. Yes, I want to be more involved," but I didn't want to be the one who was outside of government influencing it. I really wanted to be inside of government.
So like many young people, they look at the world and they say, "I want to change the world," and so I thought, "I'm going to do that through campaigning and getting the right people elected." And then I was in the campaign world for a while and I said, "I want to change the world, but I want to do it, not getting people elected, I want to do it by helping people inside of government make right decisions." And so I made a really calculated decision to actually take a fellowship, which was an incredible opportunity.
I was a California state fellow, which was a huge honor to be able to get enlisted in this kind of elite internship program and ended up doing that for a year. Something funny happened when I made that transition. I am terrible at confrontation. I'm certainly a lot better at it now, but 23-year-old or 22-year-old Gabrielle was not good at confrontation. I could not tell my boss that I was leaving. I loved this boss. He was just the epitome of a great boss, and so I kept putting it off. Lo and behold, my boss was at an event with the director of the fellowship who ultimately brought up, "We're so excited Gabrielle is joining our fellowship."
Beth: Oh my gosh.
Gabrielle: I know it was the absolute worst. It was like my nightmare come to life.
When my boss, who again, is the most gracious man came to me and said, "So I heard that you are leaving us at the end of the summer," I just melted. It felt like I'd completely disappointed him. It was one of those moments that you realize that you're well-intentioned, trying to formulate the perfect response, actually hurts people more.
I ultimately was able to salvage that relationship. He's still a wonderful person, but I recognized in my own youthful ignorance, I was really trying to protect myself, even though I was pretending like I was trying to protect him.
Beth: One of the things I also hear from people early in their careers is that their early job choices are heavily driven by money, especially coming out of college and being saddled with some debt. How was financial security influencing your decision-making?
Gabrielle: For me, being a bleeding heart, wanting to go into government to change the world, I would have paid to do it. I wasn't concerned really about that whatsoever. I knew what it was like to eat, basically spinach and an apple for lunch. I could go bare bones. I could figure out what I needed to do to cut back on my expenses, because I think I saw the season of life that I was in as a season of sacrifice to help me get to where it is that I ultimately needed to be.
Beth: At some point you decided to go to grad school and get a degree in government. Tell me about that decision. Why did you decide to pursue the advanced degree?
Gabrielle: Well, it was really a strategic decision because when it came to my position, when I was working in the California State Senate, everything is tiered based. And I recognized the only way to really get ahead when it came to salary or opportunity was to be able to have an advanced degree. So it wasn't necessarily that I felt that I needed to have the validation of a degree. I didn't necessarily need the income of it. I just saw how it was going to be pivotal for me to be able to advance myself inside of this system that just looked at you based off of the numbers. How many years have you been there? Who it is that you've worked for? Who have you rotated around and certainly what's your level of education?
What was interesting, is it was also during a time where... Again, not a lot of people were looking for hiring more folks in 2010, 2011, when I went back to grad school, which I did online on the side. So for me, I was in the midst of this, I call it the "Arms Race of Education," where everyone was just pushing for more and more education. More degrees. Can't find a job? Go back to school. So at this point, we're all competing with each other over who can have more education versus who can develop an expertise in something.
Beth: I really appreciate hearing that you were doing the degree at the same time that you were working. Tell me how you managed both of those.
Gabrielle: Looking back, I have no idea. My simple answer is minimal social life. That is a key theme, perhaps, looking back at the first 25 years of my life. Because I am so purpose-driven and mission-oriented, I've had a mindset, and being an athlete as well, is short-term sacrifice equals long-term success. That's something that I've had drilled into me from a very young age. So I knew, "Okay, I'm in this year and a half long program to get my master's in government. I'm working full time because I want to graduate debt-free. And, I also had another job, just for fun to be able to increase my expertise in the education arena."
I'm working extremely hard. I'm living on my own in what I thought was a cute apartment. Looking back there had to be a cockroach festival going on outside. It was really dingy and grungy. I should've gotten the sign from the universe that it wasn't exactly a safe place to live, but I loved it. It was mine. It was my first little apartment on my own.
So I think I just jumped in and said, "I'm making this choice for myself. No one's making me do this. And I'm just going to have to get through it, however I get through it and hopefully we'll see yourself on the other side of this."
Beth: Speaking of the other side of this, so here you are, you're very driven. You're an achiever. You are clearly making strategic moves on this path that you're on. And then somewhere around the time that you were 23, you really took a left turn or a right turn, but you took a turn, and started to pursue a completely different path. Tell us about that. What happened?
Gabrielle: I think for some people, those – I call them "quarter-life crisis" – that quarter-life crisis moment happened for me, not by my own choosing. I was happy in my career. I had a great community of friends. I loved what I was doing. I felt like I was making an impact and I had felt like I'd made it at 23 years old.
I was working in my dream job and I had gotten an email from my boss and he said, "I'm not running for election again," and in political-speak, that means you're about to be unemployed. So I had this moment where I was finishing up my grad degree at the time, and I had this moment where I had to decide, what is it that I want to do with my life? Do I want to go back? Because I could certainly go back into my old workplace and find another boss to work for, or find another Senator, or jump on a campaign. I could have made it work, but I kind of took it as a sign that, you know what? What if I had a choice? What if this moment presented itself as kind of a stop sign to say, "I'm not saying you're going to the wrong direction, but let's just stop and think about this for a moment," because so many people wake up when days turned into decades and realize that they didn't necessarily choose the path that they're on, their path kind of just chose them. I never wanted that to happen to me.
So at 23 years old, I started considering what else could I do and digging deep into what else do I have inside of me? I started to spark this interest in millennials. I'd written my first book about millennials when I was 17, going into college, focusing on how leaders can really understand the next generation, because again, I was this curious kid saying, "Why does everyone complain about the next generation? I think we're great. I have a great relationship with my parents and older generations. Why do they not want to have a relationship with us?" So it started off as curiosity about how do I bridge the generation gap for my parents' generation to better understand me.
And then through college, I started studying millennials and the impact that they had on politics and politics on them. Here I was, at 23, realizing how passionate I was about my generation understanding truth and really becoming the best version of themselves. And so, lo and behold, I get a call from someone who had connected with me at a conference...
A huge piece of advice I always tell young people is go to conferences as often as you can. Get inside the overflow of information that happens at these events. You meet amazing people. You're outside of your circle of influence. It's a great way for you to get away from a computer and start to recognize that there are people who are on the same path as you that you may not have ever met unless you get in the same room as them. So I had done that.
I had gone to a conference in Washington, DC. I showed up. It changed my life because of not anything I learned, but because of who I met hanging out in the hallways, connecting with people, going to the happy hours. That's what happened for me. I connected with this young guy and his friends who were starting this startup, which was supposed to be a media entity focused on millennials.
So in the midst of me deciding what to do next, this guy contacts me and says, "Hey, we're starting this startup focused on millennials and getting them interested in politics. Are you interested?" And I was like, "Boy, am I?"
Beth: How much time had passed between when you met him and when he called you to say will you get involved?
Gabrielle: About nine months. So quite a bit of time had passed at this point and we hadn't stayed in touch. We hadn't talked at all. It was just this fluke. He had connected with me and said, "Hey, what do you think about this?" so I said, "That sounds great."
And he said, "Great. We're based in Virginia Beach."
And I said, "I'm a California girl. Beaches sound great." I don't know if you've been to Virginia Beach. It is a very different experience than a Manhattan Beach which was what I'm used to, or Laguna Beach. So I was a bit culture shocked showing up in Virginia Beach in November.
I showed up and it became very apparent very quickly that the startup wasn't starting. There was the desire, but there wasn't the execution.
I was sleeping on a mattress on a floor. I couldn't afford any furniture. I was using my leopard – I really was into leopard at the time. Beth, please don't judge me, but all of my suitcases were leopard. And so I had them all around the bedroom as my dresser, because I couldn't afford a dresser at the time.
I ended up having to get a job as a recruiter for a university just to make ends meet. I thought how funny I wanted to get out of California for so long and here I am. I thought this was going to be my next dream job, and now I'm not doing anything that I want. I have no money. I'm sleeping on the floor. I was like, "I wonder what's next."
So I ended up meandering on the university that I was working at. There was a giant sign one day and it said, "Find your calling," and I was like, "I need that. I need to know what it is that I'm doing in my life." I walked into this lecture hall. There was a gruffly old guy that looked a little bit like Santa Claus speaking. I just walked up to him after he spoke and learned more about his organization. It was a nonprofit, and it was focused on economics, and I thought that that was really interesting.
I said, "Are you hiring?" And he said, "We can be," and that started this new chapter of my life, where he hired me as a director of development when I didn't know what development was. He said, "I think you'd be great for development," and I said, "I don't know what that means, but I hope it doesn't mean asking for money," which is exactly what development means. It means you're a fundraiser. So I became a fundraiser for a nonprofit and moved to Washington D.C. all within the span of about eight months.
Beth: And how long did you stay in this role that sounds like it was not a fit for you?
Gabrielle: Oh, it was beyond not a fit for me. It was fascinating. I worked there for two years and it was amazing because I learned so much from my boss. I got to work with him directly, which again, back to exposure. I knew that I didn't want to start a nonprofit. I didn't want to run a nonprofit. I didn't want to work at a nonprofit. But I was here because of the exposure.
I remember just looking at what am I doing right now and what can I learn from what I'm doing, because I couldn't see a way out of it. It was clearly what has been provided for me to get my way out of sleeping on the floor in Virginia Beach.
I took a really intentional approach of, "No matter who it is that you're working for, you're going to learn good and bad and chronicle that." And so that's really when I started to focus on what am I getting from this exchange? What am I learning? What am I giving? It really caused me to be pretty intentional about choosing my future bosses, if I was going to have one. To realize, I'm going to either replicate or rebel how I'm being led right now, and I don't want it to be subconscious. I want to know exactly the type of leader that I want to be based off of how it is that I've been led. So I really started taking an intentional approach to learning about leadership by working at this organization,
Beth: There's a theme of being intentional throughout everything that you're talking about, even frankly, going back to the yogurt shop when you were a teenager. You were saying that then, you were transactional. At that point, you needed money. There's a bit of that same way of thinking here, which is maybe not transactional about money, but still being able to say, "Look, in any experience I'm having, I get these choices about what am I taking from it? How is it furthering my purpose? How is it further enriching my life? How is it further allowing me to meet my goals?"
You started off by saying that this really was the wrong role, and yet it sounds, so far, like it may have been the role that you were at the longest since you were there for two years.
Gabrielle: Interestingly enough, it really was, and I wasn't planning on being there that long. Beth, I was the worst fundraiser. I mean it. I literally would tell people, "If you want to give you can. If you don't want to, no hard feelings. It's totally fine."
But I found a role that I was good at, which was connecting different relationships, strategizing on outreaching to people, blogging. So anything I could do outside of actually raising money, I was really good at. The one job I was hired for, not so great, but I think I added enough value that my boss decided to keep me around. So even though the job itself I didn't like, I found elements of joy and purpose outside of the role that I took.
Beth: And make an impact still on that organization.
So after two years, what caused you to decide to leave that organization?
Gabrielle: It really happened in a moment. It was really quite fascinating actually. I was at one of those conferences. I was in Hawaii and it was just a pivot point for me, where I had really felt a little less than enthused. I had always had a plan. I always knew what I was working towards. And here I was, two years into this job, and I didn't have an upward trajectory. There was nowhere for me to go. I didn't want to do what I was doing in a different organization because I didn't like what I was doing, but I didn't know what to do.
I started to think curiously about where else I could apply. I kind of put out "lazy feelers", because you don't want to sound like you're looking for a job, but you're also looking for a job. You kind of mention it in passing.
I was doing all of these things realizing, "I don't know what the heck I want to do." So I had kind of a second-tier quarter-life crisis – this is all before the age of 25 – that I got to this point where I felt like I had lost my voice. I had spent my time building other people's campaigns, pushing other people's bills, raising money for other people's organizations. And I lost my voice.
It was at this moment, I was at this conference in Hawaii and there was a guy on stage speaking and he was speaking about millennials. In that moment, I saw this man doing what I wanted to do, and it felt like jealousy. I thought it was – that I was jealous of this strange man I'd never seen before – but it wasn't. I wasn't jealous of who he was, I was envious of what he was doing because that was the first time I'd ever seen someone with a message similar to mine, have a platform that was actually impacting other people.
And so for me, I needed to see that man doing what it is that I'd always wanted to do because I was looking for permission and I was looking for a paradigm to see if it was even possible.
A lot of people tell me, "Oh my gosh, Gabrielle, no one's doing what I want to do." Well, that's probably not the case. Maybe not how you want to do it or to the extent that you want to do it or not with your flair. That's perfectly fine. That's you. That's your purpose. But there's probably a paradigm out there that you can start to pattern yourself off of. And that's what happened for me.
He got off the stage. I ended up talking to him. We had a great conversation. I asked lots of questions and he said, "You know, you could probably be doing this." And that's when it hit me that I had been waiting for permission, apparently from the stranger who I saw speak for about 35 minutes, to tell me I can do it.
This gentleman then asked me a strange networking question. He says, "What one word makes you smile?" I was like, what a weird question to ask.
Beth: I love this question though. How did you answer this?
Gabrielle: Without even blinking, Beth, I said "generations." And he looked at me like, who says generations and why would that make anybody smile? And I kind of surprised myself, like where did that come from?
I said, "I'm really passionate about generational reconciliation. I think it's powerful when I see people of different generations working together. I think we're better together. I think it's a crime when I go into an organization and they put all the young people in one corner and they don't actually engage with them in an authentic way. That makes me angry."
A lot of times when I'm helping people identify their passion, I ask what upsets you? So that's what was upsetting me. And then what pulls me? What kind of problems do I like to solve? I like solving people problems.
As I was talking to him, he said he had a second question. It was more of a challenge. He said, "What are you going to do about it?"
I said, "I'm going to write a book," and I don't know why I said that. I hadn't been thinking about writing a book, but I felt like if I was going to make a difference, I would have to develop an expertise. I couldn't have an opinion. I had to develop an expertise. I'm 24 years old, I had to do something.
So I went back to Washington D.C. and I spent the next three and a half months writing this book. Self-Published this book. And I realized at that very conference that I had a choice.
Beth: What were you planning and thinking you were going to do with this expertise once the book was done?
Gabrielle: Oh my goodness. I wish I was that visionary. I just looked at what do I need to do next? I think I would've scared myself silly if I would have thought, "At the end of this, I'm going to start my own company, and then I'm going to start speaking, and then I'm going to get a TED talk," and I'm going to do the things that ultimately happened. It was just, "What's the next step?"
Beth: But all those things did happen for you. You did become a TED speaker. You did become the owner of your own company. So how did all of that happen?
Gabrielle: Well, again, back to moments. I remember I went to this networking event that my friend hosted and there's a woman there and she turned around and introduced herself and gave what we call "the DC handshake." It's "Hi. Who are you? What do you do?"
I started engaging in this conversation and instead of saying what I did, I said who I was. And so instead of saying, "I'm a fundraiser," I said, "I'm an expert in millennials."
Without skipping a beat, she said, "You know, we could really use you where I work."
I said, "Where do you work?"
And she said, "Oh, the Navy."
And I said, "Oh, of the United States?"
And she said, "Yes, of the United States," and that ended up being my first client, my first speaking engagement.
That one engagement turned into two, turned into seven, turned into 15. That created an opportunity for me to get a quick win as a young entrepreneur, that I had a name that people trusted and believed in.
I tell people all the time, don't do work for free, but discount your price if you're going to for an opportunity that's going to help get you the exposure that you need to be able to take it to the next level.
Beth: At some point you did decide to double down and just go after the expertise that you now had and go into this space. How did you manage that transition to go out on your own?
Gabrielle: Oh, it was messy. I remember I had just started dating my now husband and I had this moment where I'd introduced myself as who I was, as this expert in millennials, but I hadn't mentioned, "Oh, by the way, I also have a full-time job and I just don't want to talk about that. I'm trying to leave, but I'm not really quite sure how that's going to work."
One day he called me out on it. He said, "You never told me that you have a full-time job working somewhere else."
I said, "Yeah, because I'm kind of developing my expertise over here," and he said, "Why are you not being true to who you really are?"
It was one of those moments that I had to realize, "You know what? Am I going to be consistent with who I am or am I going to be fearful?" And I said, "that's it. I've got to make a jump." I do not endorse jumping without a plan, because I had no idea how to build a business. I am not lying to you when I say I Googled "how to start a business." I was pulled by the desire to live consistently with who I was. I just knew I couldn't stay where I was at.
I remember going in to tell my boss that I was quitting. And I said, "Hey boss, I'm leaving," and he said, "I saw this coming." And then he said, "Are you scared?"
And without skipping a beat, I said, "Yes," but I said, "but I'm also more afraid of what will happen if I stay."
That really helped me navigate the next few months of not having consistent income, of looking for consulting gigs and not knowing how to price myself, of pitching myself to organizations. In my line of business, it's referrals. Who can you get in front of and how do you develop a deeper skillset when it comes to speaking and training and developing an expertise that people see and respect?
So I did as many luncheons as possible. I did as many speaking engagements as possible for Chambers of Commerce and groups of influential individuals who could help open the door for me,
Beth: Making the jump meant that you were becoming an entrepreneur, which was, when you were a kid, something you said you didn't want to do. Do you think that there was any voice inside of your head or anything inside you that was pulling you and restraining you from taking the move earlier because of that entrepreneur message and tape that got created when you were a kid and your saying, "I don't want to be an entrepreneur"?
Gabrielle: Of course, it absolutely held me back. I had a tape running in my brain of, "Entrepreneurship is scary and it's volatile, and it probably won't work out. So hold yourself back." I think I had to fall in love with the transformation I was providing my clients more than falling in love with the perceived money or the perceived opportunity or the freedom that comes with entrepreneurship. Those things are luxuries. They're not standards in entrepreneurship, so I had to be more focused on how was it that I was helping people, and being more focused on that, versus focused on my own fear of losing the stability that I felt that I had as an employee.
Beth: It sounds, too, like you were taking a very evolutionary approach to the business that you were building, that you are taking very deliberate steps and then leaning into them and going with them, as opposed to saying, "I need to stop and write a 20-page business plan that is going to tell me every move, and I can't act until I have a business plan." Is that accurate?
Gabrielle: Oh yeah, I didn't have a formal business plan. It was very much seeing the market and responding.
Beth: Somewhere along the way you started a second company, the Purpose Company. Tell me about that. What led to the Purpose Company?
Gabrielle: The Purpose Company really happened out of a need, I think, in the marketplace, which was pretty interesting. So through all of this, I met my husband and we got married. He was running a company at the time; I was running a company. I was writing books; he was writing books. And my husband and I loved helping people get clarity about their purpose.
Just from my own journey, I'm really passionate about helping people decide what to do next, because I think that a lot of times achiever types get stuck on a hamster wheel of opportunity thinking through, and overthinking, what they could do. I've kind of solved this for myself. I love helping other people. So does my husband.
So we'd have people over for dinner and we created this process of how do you find your purpose? And it's really four simple steps.
Gabrielle: Brian kept saying, "I think that purpose is really important in business," and I said, "yeah, but no one's going to pay for it."
I'm an ROI girl. Unless I can show them how much money they're going to make from it, I don't think anyone's going to pay for it. Boy was I wrong.
So over the course of two years, we started developing this Purpose Factor Leadership Training inside of companies. Then we started teaching it to the military. So we taught it to the United States Air Force and Naval Sea Command. How do you help people, number one, find their purpose and number two, connect it to what they do?
It started to take off and so then we recognized, "I think that we've really got something here."
Brian and I run the Purpose Company together. We do corporate training where we come into companies and help people individually discover their purpose. Purpose is what you have inside of you to help other people and connect it to what you do every day. And we also help individuals. We have a program called Purpose Mastery that helps individuals who are in transition, who feel stuck, who are trying to figure out what to do next, get clarity about their purpose and use it to live a life of fulfillment.
Beth: Do you think that anybody can find purpose in their work?
Gabrielle: Absolutely. Purpose is actually vocation agnostic. You don't have less of a purpose if you're in between jobs, or if you're staying home with your kids, or if you're retired. For me, oxygen equals purpose. If you're still on the planet, you've got a purpose.
And purpose is beyond just what you're passionate about. Purpose is beyond just providing for yourself and your family. Purpose is what you uniquely have to help other people.
Sometimes companies will say, "I don't know if I want my people to find their purpose..."
Beth: Because they might leave the company. They might decide this has nothing to do with what they're doing.
Gabrielle: That's exactly right. What's so interesting is it really comes from a place where people I don't think quite understand that #1, if someone feels that they're outside of their purpose, they're not going to be engaged in their work. It's not like in their finding their purpose, all of a sudden they're going to realize, "Oh crap. You know what? I don't like this job. I thought I loved it this whole time and this whole process made me realize how unhappy I am." Of course, that's not how it happens.
But #2, it's them not realizing everybody wants two things. Number one, to know that they matter and, number two, to know that the work that they do matters. That's all finding your purpose means: understanding what core elements of who you are can connect to the work that you do, so that way you find fulfillment. Because purpose is what you have inside of you to help other people, but fulfillment is the result of helping other people with what you have.
Beth: What I've noticed about you is that you have this almost special power of knowing yourself and being reflective. I think some people are afraid to ask themselves those types of questions. So just like you said, to turn that superpower of yours that you've used for yourself, and now be able to share that with others is just really exciting to hear. So I really wish both of you tremendous, tremendous success with this newer venture that you have.
And are you still running the Millennial Solution as well?
Gabrielle: Yes. Through all of this, we have been running Generational Leadership Training, which includes everything from helping millennials lead, which is a whole lot of fun because our generation leads very, very differently, helping other generations understand how to lead millennials, and now with Generation Z coming in, we've got this whole new layer of generational dynamics. So we've been providing leadership training and organizational training through all of this as we are also running the Purpose Company, which is a whole ton of fun.
Beth: I'd like to move into asking our final four questions. What would you say is the smartest career move that you made either intentionally or accidentally?
Gabrielle: Well, of course, starting my own company. I think that was definitely the smartest career move, where I fired my boss and inherited a new boss that was going to be more challenging, more frustrating, and more fulfilling than I think I ever thought possible.
Beth: What about the flip side? If you could have one do-over, what would it be and why?
Gabrielle: My do-overs all have to do with relationships. I think bungling some early opportunities that I had, whether it was mentorship or being directly managed by someone who I think would have really been key.
One of my biggest ones I think was one of my mentors, who I absolutely love, actually talk about her in the book, The Purpose Factor that we just came out with. I wish I would have relocated to just be in her sphere and really follow that advice I gave earlier of stalking success.
So, I wish that I would've taken more extreme measures to get around the kind of people who are having the kind of impact and influence that I ultimately wanted to have.
Beth: If you could go back and find the Gabrielle who was in Sacramento as a kid, what career advice would you give to her knowing what you know now?
Gabrielle: I think it would be more focused on learning some of the lessons I think I was forced to earlier, which is recording wins and failures of leaders around you. Rather than complaining I had a bad boss or being frustrated that maybe my boss didn't see me, because I think that that would have made me a better leader faster.
Beth: And then my last question, how do you define success for yourself?
Gabrielle: Success for me is transformation. Really, for me, the most fulfilling moments of my life are when I get texts from students in our group who haven't had any sort of breakthrough on what they should do next. And they'd been kind of swirling in this kind of indecision smoothie realizing, "Oh my gosh, this is what I should do next. Or this is how the elements of my purpose all work together. And now I feel like I finally have momentum," or a company realizing, "Wow, we've really been silencing our young employees when in reality, we should see them as an asset, not a liability."
So having that kind of real-time feedback of knowing that what I'm doing is transforming other people is the most powerful thing that I do not take for granted at all. And that is what success looks like for me.
Beth: Well, I am confident that there are going to be people who are going to be listening to this podcast and hearing your story and hearing the rich valuable advice that you have given and say that the things that you are saying are transforming them. So even though you may not be able to hear it from them directly, I know that you're going to be having that impact by sharing your story with us.
So thank you so much for spending the time with me today.
A quick epilogue… To learn more about Gabrielle’s companies and her latest book, The Purpose Factor, visit our website, CareerCurves.com, where we’ve placed links.
While there, be sure to check out our past episodes. Our new search and filtering tools can help you find the right episodes for you. There’s also a link you can use to rate this podcast and leave a review. We’re always looking for more listeners and your review can help make this happen.
That’s it for this episode. As always, thanks for listening.