Yesterday I talked about Bonnie St. John, who’s featured in the November issue of “O” magazine. It was so great to see her again. I interviewed her in 2004 and went into my archives to share the article with you. Hope you enjoy!
I first learned about Bonnie St. John one overcast and humid Saturday afternoon in May when I casually perused a magazine for which I had been sent a free trial issue. As Saturday is my traditional “relax and recoup” day, I was thrilled to have something brand new to sit back and sink my teeth into, and since the magazine was all about mothers I flipped through each page with great interest and excitement. I was poised to briefly enter the lives of the moms who had been featured in the issue and jot down some of the advice they shared and grab a brilliant idea or two here and there along the way.
During my third run-through of the magazine I was finally struck by a medium-sized sidebar Q&A interview, nearly hidden, on the bottom left side of a page placed in the middle of the issue. I remember clearly that two distinct things immediately grabbed my attention. One: the woman being highlighted was a black mother and two: there was a photo of her, microphone in hand, grasped to perfection, smiling and confidently giving a speech to an audience that I couldn’t see but could imagine was undoubtedly packed to capacity.
After closely reading the entire interview — which was far too short to satisfy my curiosity — I discovered that this woman was a motivational speaker and also a home schooling mom. As a home schooling mother too, her responses in only a few words piqued my interest and I knew then that I wanted to feature her life and story in Mommy Too! magazine. Although I was excited about the prospect of highlighting a black mother who I could tell was creating her life’s dream and succeeding at her calling, little did I realize that I would meet one of the most extraordinary women I’ve met in my life and will probably ever meet during my entire lifetime. Her name is Bonnie St. John, a truly extraordinary mom.
Generally when I write about the lives of people and report about what makes them interesting, I purposely avoid using adjectives that may taint the greatness of their work or at the other end of the spectrum give banal platitudes for that which they have accomplished. After learning more about Bonnie St. John there was no way possible that I could use watered-down, trite words and phrasing to describe how extraordinary she truly is. After all, she graduated from both Harvard (Cum Laude) and Oxford, was a Rhodes Scholar, an Official on the White House National Economic Council, an award-winning IBM sales rep as well as the author of not one, but three books, a business owner, and now tours the country as a motivational speaker to corporate clients, universities and associations throughout the world and is a well sought-after coach.
As if these accomplishments aren’t enough, she is also the holder of a silver medal in downhill skiing which she won in the 1984 Winter Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria. And did I mention that she accomplished all of these extraordinary feats with only one leg? St. John became an early amputee at age five, but you wouldn’t know it based on the things that she has already achieved in her life.
With this amazing and heavy list of accomplishments, one might prematurely imagine that St. John is far beyond the daily trials and rigors of everyday motherhood that we all face, but she isn’t and makes no airs to that effect. In speaking candidly with her one recent morning via telephone, she in New York and me in North Carolina, I learned a valuable lesson; one that I have sought to implement in my own life. With a gentle yet fully in control and confident manner, she spoke matter-of-factly about pushing through obstacles and taking risks and doing what’s right for you. I took this to mean that she has herself lived these inestimable lessons and has applied them aptly to her life’s experiences. In all, she is like every one of us — an everyday mom who has to put life events and responsibilities into priority lists. But she views life differently than most and although there may be obstacles in her life as a woman, as a mother, as a business owner, as a human being, she pushes through until she reaches an effective outcome. “Doing all of these things you can be successful,” St. John says.
Being a champion is Bonnie St. John’s motto not only because she gracefully dons the golden sash of authentic success, but because she has masterfully tweaked her role as a single mother to maximize the life and opportunities for her daughter while still remaining true to her entrepreneurial spirit and drive to succeed. One way in which she has accommodated both she and her daughter is by home schooling.
A mom who travels frequently for her own speaking, writing and coaching business, an entrepreneurial risk she admits taking to stay at home with her daughter, St. John decided when faced with the education issue that the best option was home schooling although it wasn’t her first choice.
Before the momentous decision to home school when her daughter was still enrolled in kindergarten, St. John light-heartedly recalls the many times her daughter was marked truant for being out of school when she traveled with her on business trips. To avoid her daughter being labeled perpetually absent the obvious choice at that point for St. John was home schooling. “I was driven to it because otherwise I had to change my career,” says St. John. “I chose home schooling for purely selfish reasons.”
Although stressing and admitting to choosing home education so that she could simultaneously concentrate on her business while also ensuring that her daughter receives a stellar education, St. John soon realized that her work with its wealth of opportunities provided an enriching education in itself. Traveling and seeing new places and meeting new people afforded St. John the opportunity to incorporate her work with daily learning lessons for her daughter. In fact, one of the main points that St. John emphasizes is the importance of allowing children to benefit from their parents’ career. “Teach your child values by using your work,” she says. “Teach them the value of hard work, excellence, passion and how to make a difference by letting them help you and by expecting them to contribute. For example, take them to work with you.”
This principle of incorporating children into parents’ careers is one element in the overarching theory that St. John has developed called the “blending principle”. Explained in greater detail in her latest book, Getting Ahead At Work Without Leaving Your Family Behind, St. John stresses the point of blending family and work. Most experts talk about balancing work and family but according to St. John, balancing doesn’t always cut it. “I don’t call it balancing work and family because balancing implies that you have to give up something to get something,” says St. John. “Work and family are not mutually exclusive.”
A busy, home schooling mother who is frequently featured on several national and international news outlets such as the Discovery Channel, Lifetime and the BBC and who stays busy coaching her clients and inspiring roomfuls of people, Bonnie St. John is quick to emphasize that mothers should take the necessary time to nurture themselves. “You should always do something that’s just for you so that you can have something just for you,” she says.
On the Net: www.bonniestjohn.com