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Advocacy, Storytelling, and Chronic Illness

We all have stories. Our stories are what make us unique. They’re what sets us apart.– Shaun Bernstein

Shaun Bernstein has navigated life with hemophilia since birth. Despite the challenges that come with living with a chronic illness, Shaun has flourished thanks to the support of his parents and their emphasis on normalizing his condition.

His journey has led him to become a lawyer, a journalist, and eventually, the founder of his own copywriting agency. Shaun’s dedication to helping others share their stories, along with his warmth and compassion, make him an inspiring figure for anyone living with a chronic illness.

Discussed in this episode:

  • Embracing vulnerability and storytelling as a means of achieving inner empowerment
  • Why Shaun found himself at a lucky time in history.
  • Using storytelling to achieve greater clarity and relevance for personal and professional branding.
  • Shaun’s own story about thriving with a chronic illness and advocates for others.

Guest Spotlight: Shaun Bernstein

Guest Shaun Bernstein sitting behind a dest, wearing a black The Write Stuff tshirt.

Shaun Bernstein is a journalist turned lawyer turned content writer. He left his legal practice behind in 2019 to open The Write Stuff Agency, a content writing agency that supports businesses of all shapes and sizes in better telling their stories.

Part of Shaun’s own story is living with a chronic illness that often guides him through his decision-making process, but has not stopped him from achieving his goals.

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NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by an AI tool. Please forgive any typos or errors.

Shaun Bernstein

[00:00:00] Andrea: I'm convinced that there is life after having a chronic illness, even when you're born with one. I've seen it just way too many times to deny it, but as much as we'd like to be whatever our heart desires, sometimes that dream of ours is shaped more by our chronic illness than we would've hoped. This week's guest points out that his body is built like an American football player.
But being born with hemophilia means that he will never play football, but he didn't grow up in a bubble. His parents made sure that he had as normal of a childhood as possible, but he still didn't pursue any contact sports. Instead, he went down a path of intellectual pursuits. He became a lawyer, then he became a journalist, and he is now running his own copywriting agency and helping others write their own powerful stories.
These are stories that can help people with their business or for speaking engagements, and these are stories that also people can share to help others that may be experiencing similar challenges. Shaun Bernstein was so easy to talk to. His warmth and compassion came through. He talks about his experiences growing up with a debilitating illness, the toll it took on him mentally at times, and about the lucky place in history that he found himself in.
So please enjoy this week's episode and visit Andrea Hanson for more on Shaun Bernstein resources that we talk about in the show and transcripts from today's episode. You can find the link in the episode description. Welcome to the Live Your Life, not Your Diagnosis podcast. I'm Andrea Hanson, author, motivational speaker, and master certified coach.
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was told I would never reach my goals, but I did and I'm on a mission to prove that life with a chronic illness can still be expansive and quite remarkable. Everyone has their own unique path. I'm talking to people living with a chronic illness that come from different backgrounds, have different points of view, and are achieving amazing life goals of all kinds to inspire you to achieve what you thought was impossible.
These stories are raw, uncensored and judgment free. Listener discretion is advised. I'm here today with Shaun Bernstein. Shaun is a journalist turned, lawyer turned content writer. He left his illegal pre, he,
[00:02:30] Shaun: I mean, most of what I did was legal, what my clients did. You know, that's another story, but that's what they did was legal too.
I love it. Okay. We have to leave that in now. You can't edit that out.
[00:02:41] Andrea: I know. I, I'm all for it. So he left his. Legal practice behind in 2019 to open the right stuff Agency, a content writing agency that supports business of all shapes and sizes in better telling their stories. Part of Shaun's own story is living with a chronic illness that often guides him through his decision making process, but has not stopped him from achieving his goals.
Shaun, welcome.
[00:03:08] Shaun: Thank you so much, Andrea. I'm really
[00:03:09] Andrea: glad to be here. I am so glad you're here. I am totally leaving that in. I'm glad. I love leaving in the bloopers. You did not, in fact, have an illegal practice. No,
[00:03:23] Shaun: no. That would be some underground law. No, my, my practice was all above board. I'm grateful to say,
[00:03:29] Andrea: Let's just go ahead and clear that up.
So I actually start a lot of the times by asking people about what their life was like before their diagnosis. But your diagnosis was at
[00:03:42] Shaun: birth, came from birth four days old, so I can't really tell you too much from the before times.
[00:03:47] Andrea: So what was it like? How was that? You have severe hemophilia.
Hemophilia, yep. Hemo. Theia. I can't talk today. This is insane.
[00:03:58] Shaun: That's okay. It happens. Hemophilia.
[00:04:01] Andrea: Hemophilia. So talk a little bit about that. How was that growing up? Because you didn't know anything different. Yeah,
[00:04:09] Shaun: that's, that's the interesting part of growing up with a diagnosis and, you know, haven't been diagnosed with other things later in life.
They're challenging. There's an adjustment period in learning to live with things and learning to kind of, you know, adjust your lifestyle. But in terms of the bleeding disorder, it really has sort of been with me forever. And one of the things that is done really well, especially by my parents who were all stars, is try to find ways to normalize that existence as much as possible.
Because I think when you are diagnosed with a chronic condition in infancy, There's certainly, you can go through life with othering, being ostracized by others, fear Miseducation, et cetera. And look, I had plenty of that. You know, it comes with the territory, it comes with school-aged kids. It happens. But my parents were really phenomenal about trying to make sure that I had as normal a life, especially for a childhood as possible, and I give them, Full credit for it.
I'll give you an example. One of the things that they did really well that I just still commend is their kids who are growing up, especially at the toddler age, they're running, they're jumping, they're crashing into things, they're exploring the world, and one of the approaches was pad the child or pad the world.
So that's why, especially, you know, the image from the eighties that most people think of with hemophilia kids is we've seen them in helmets, you know, almost like Michelin man style foam padding. And, you know, you see these kids looking not quite like the boy in the bubble, but I guess that's probably not a bad analogy.
And my parents instead decided to pat the world and let me explore. So I never had the helmet, I didn't grow up except, unless I was playing sports, I didn't, you know, grow up wearing the pads. But the corners of, you know, the tables and the corners of the fireplace and everything, you know, had, and still at my parents' house have the markings from the duct tape of the foam pads on them.
But it was brilliant. It let me go off and explore and be a normal kid in a slightly altered world, and I am so grateful today over 30 years later that they did
[00:06:09] Andrea: that. I, I do think it's important to normalize things even now. I mean, yes, you do it with children, but even as adults, I think it's so important to normalize things like our illnesses or our, you know, if we have limitations or things that we can't do, it just makes it feel.
More. Okay. To have a difference, to have something that you can't do or are severely limited doing to feel better about it and give yourself more permission to be gentle with yourself and to really allow yourself, like you said, to go out and explore and enjoy as much as you can without feeling like you're totally different.
And. As we get older, we have these feelings. Like everyone's looking at me, everyone thinks I'm different.
[00:06:59] Shaun: I think you know, today the big discussion is to be about language. I'm a wordsmith. I'm a writer. Yes, I'm all about language, but we're so, I'm not going to get under a hold. We're so sensitive. Ran today, but we've taken on this new sensitivity towards how we treat language, around medical issues and diseases and conditions that I'm not a hemophilia act anymore.
I'm a person living with hemophilia or a person affected by. Hemophilia. I don't want to discount anyone else's experience. I don't want those words, and those phrases are really important for some people, and I get that. That's never really been part of my identity. For me, it's about the day-to-day. Using very careful language may help some, there's no question, but it doesn't really change how we treat others on a day-to-day basis.
Is that language just empty and performative? Or are we actually acting in accordance with that and make things more normal and more accessible to people who have. A different experience.
[00:07:56] Andrea: I think there has to be intention behind that language and changing that language. And I was just talking to somebody else on another episode and she talked about how she really had a hard time using the handicapped spaces in the parking lot.
She was very hesitant and there was just this stigma with that word for her. And so she's like, you know what? I'm just going to call it an ADA space. It's my ADA space. I'm just going to use that. And that was such a difference to her. But what that did was, Create that compassion for herself of taking care of herself and saying like, Hey, I really need to use this.
I understand. I need to use this. I'm going to take this stigma out. And I think when we have more compassion for ourselves, we in turn have more compassion for others. And I think that's where I. The change can be made when it comes to changing things, even as simple as language.
[00:08:49] Shaun: I have an accessible permit.
I only use it. I'll be able to street park with it, which is a nice little perk, but only use an accessible space when I'm incapacitated on canes, crutches, what have you. And that certainly happens from time to time, and sometimes it's visible, sometimes it's not. But I'll use it when it's necessary. But I certainly used to, you know, hide the past.
Especially when I, back in the day when I was dating or, you know, meeting new people I didn't love kind of, you know, having on permit display. And thankfully, you know, when I met my wife and she certainly got used to living with a partner with a chronic health issue and it didn't bother her one bit, I said, forget it.
And I, you know, I have it on permanent display and it's just part of my vehicle and no one really looks twice and no one asks questions. So, It's not nearly as big a deal as you make it up to be in your mind sometimes, but it's nice to kind of have someone that gets it and doesn't other you for that.
[00:09:41] Andrea: So you said a little bit about what childhood was like, and I think people mostly know what hemophilia is, but why don't you just give like the ten second overview of what it is for you and how it affects you.
[00:09:55] Shaun: Sure. Yeah. And you know what it is in the public perceptions of it are different really depending on how old you are, quite honestly, and what you grew up with and you know what your memories of it look like.
So hemophilia is a bleeding disorder just very quickly where blood does not clot on its own. There should elements of blood called clotting factors, usually for hemophilia. One of those can be one of a variety of them, but one of those is either depleted or missing. And so it's like a domino chain. And if you take a domino out of a chain, the rest of the dominoes don't fall and blood doesn't clot on its own.
So, you know, a hundred years ago it was blood transfusions and a prayer and people didn't live till adulthood. And then over the decades, treatment had gotten better and better and improved, and they were able to really synthesize the missing piece and find a derivative version from blood product of that they could infuse, which was great.
And then the eighties happened, and then blood happened. And you saw the, you know, in can sounds the tainted blood scandal and it was a big problem in the US as well, uh, where the blood supply was infected with H I V, which really decimated the hemophilia population. And there is certainly a time that's a real scandal here, where it was known to have des to have infected the medication and the meds were still used.
And it was a really dangerous couple years because, you know, therapy had finally improved to the point where people were able to live normal lives. And then we're dying from the treatment that was saving them. And it's a pretty horrific history that really they got rid of the problem for the most part at the end of 85.
And I'm born in the middle of 87, so knock on my wooden desk and kissing the ground every day. And I still was lucky that I missed some other illnesses that were bloodborne, that were infecting the medication. But I'm incredibly fortunate and I'm really from this sort of new generation. We're, you know, we're living fairly normal lifespans and we are largely unaffected by some of the horrors that are blood brothers, so to speak, who are not that much older than us.
You know, five years my life would be a different story. That's not a long time, that's not generation generations, that's a couple years. So I'm incredibly grateful. You know, I've had really amazing access to. Medication that has given me a very normal quality of life, which is incredible. And then, you know, I certainly have issues today, there's no question, but when I look at the kids coming up today, well, I don't have children personally, but the generation that would be of my kids, their medication is tenfold better than mine ever was.
The medication is improving by the month where there's new drugs coming out that are reducing frequency of any need for medication. They'll have a life aside from a couple needles, mostly unaffected. And so it really is a wild scenario. So that's why I say, you know, when you don't talk about explaining hemophilia, you kind of have to look at it as a period piece almost, and sort of, you know, time by time because my life is different than, you know, the fellas a couple years older than me and the young guys today will have a completely different existence than I did.
[00:12:57] Andrea: I love looking at the next generation. I can do something similar with ms. With multiple sclerosis. I was in that point where when I first was diagnosed, there was maybe three drugs. And one of which had been on the market since like the seventies. And so it was like, okay, but not really.
And it could only treat one type of ms. But now, and especially the generation after me, , they have so many different drugs to choose from. They have so much more understanding. And it sounds like for you it's, it's this kind of, this. Understanding of what it is and science and the research and you know, let's be honest, the money that goes towards getting close to a cure, dare I say?
[00:13:38] Shaun: to give some perspective, I mean I've been on a replacement therapy on a regular basis since I was three years old. That's meant regular injections and I mean at its greatest frequency. I was never on daily, but I was on alternating days. I'm year doing IVs to for myself every other day. The new meds that I'm on are half that, so I'm doing every four days, and that to me is a game changer.
Mm-hmm. We're looking at products that are currently in trials that will put me towards every two weeks or once a month, and that is an absolutely surreal thought. Yeah. Uh, given what I've come from or what I've seen, it's, you know, when you, when you look at someone who is, my grandfather's close to a hundred, but even someone who's, you know, a hundred years old and what they've seen in their lifetime and, you know, the changes they've seen.
It's almost akin to that kind of timeframe of, you know, what have I seen in my own lifetime versus what I'll see next. They might well cure it in my lifetime, which is. Surreal. Never thought I'd live to see it.
[00:14:36] Andrea: Yeah, let's hope so. You have gone through quite a few? Very. I don't know. I would at first, I would say very different.
But when I really look at it, I think they're all kind of connected. But the different careers that you went into, so you. Started in journalism.
[00:14:55] Shaun: So I started in journalism. Yeah, I mean I, you can frame it any which way you want. I joke that I can't hold a job, but all kidding aside, I've had some interest career paths and a little bit of bobbing and weaving sometimes, cuz that's what you have to do.
So I was always curious, I was always a curious intellectual kid. I was the editor of the elementary school newspaper, remember grilling the head of the parents association at my elementary school, you know, in this like hot ski style interview. I think I was 11. That's hilarious.
[00:15:23] Andrea: What was the hot
[00:15:24] Shaun: topic? Oh, I think funding for a new building was a private school, but uh, you know, gave her the Woodward and Bernstein treatment.
I guess I was the Bernstein in that equation. It was aggressive. And then I was the editor of the high school newspaper and that was kind of, you know, my thing and interviewing people and really getting out there. And I had started college for journalism and actually left. I took I with something else and then as I was deciding what my next steps were going to be after my undergrad, someone had advised me to go back and I did a postgraduate program for journalism, print and broadcast, and loved it.
Loved every second of it. Loved the newsroom, loved the variety, loved the intensity, loved the access, the questioning, the whole process. It's a hard job. It can be really tough, but I enjoyed every second of it. Unfortunately, the job market didn't love me, so I had, you know, this great internship with our national broadcaster that I loved.
Was doing what I thought was my dream job, which was no finding guests for shows, not a similar to this one, and doing pre-interviews and you know, my background is radio, so that's why I love podcasts, but not a great job market coming out of that. So, you know, spent a couple months looking and was coming up pretty short and thinking, okay, what am I going to do next?
[00:16:48] Andrea: next was
[00:16:50] Shaun: law school. So, uh, had a little bit of intermission, ah, what was the intermission? Spent a year as a foreign recruiter hiring foreign workers to come to Canada from overseas. Hmm. Which was a wild gig. I'm good with people, so I keep getting pulled back into HR and a friend's mother had a family business.
Initially it was a nanny agency, and then they started doing staffing for businesses across the country. And he was looking to hire and he asked me who I know, and I said, I need work. Hi. I took the gig. I did it for about a year while law school was kind of in in the back burner, and it was wonderful and chaotic and eye-opening and very educational.
I had to totally redesign their process and I designed a 10, 11 month, 85 step process for how to bring someone into Canada. Involving multiple languages, four different government agencies here. Just a whirlwind of chaos, but a great training ground. And that whole time, I'd written the LSATs already once or twice, but decided to give 'em another go when I realized this job wasn't sort of my lifelong pursuit.
And eventually I scored well and I threw my hat into the ring and I got into law school.
[00:18:07] Andrea: So what made you, for all the things that you could have transitioned into, why law? Was there a specific type of law that you were interested in?
[00:18:16] Shaun: So law was always the plan B. My mother had gone to law school in the eighties and practiced for a little bit until I came alone.
And then raising a chronically ill child in the eighties was not an easy feat, so especially as a young female lawyer and she never loved law anyway, so she left. But I was always kind of taught that law was a great. Training ground to do something else. It was always sort of put forth that it was a great background into business or into exploring sort of something else entirely.
So I went in with that approach with the HR background and sort of the recruiting background. I thought that, you know, employment law might be interesting. I thought I had come in with, you know, a strong employer side bias and then sort of learned the employee perspective and really loved that work as well.
In Canadian law schools, you don't specialize. It's a three year. You can take certain courses that you can elect, you know, later on, but you really do learn a little bit of everything and then you can sort of focus yourself a little bit as you go up. But I really fell in love with the employment world and sort of learned a lot of labor and employment law.
Which for your American listeners is very different in Canada, so I
[00:19:25] Andrea: can imagine. I love talking to people in different countries because things are so different.
So when you're looking at things and, and this really can, I think, translate to your journalism background as well. How much are you thinking about? Your own diagnosis and being someone living with a diagnosis and living in the world and having to adjust to the world, how much is that in the back of your mind when it comes to who you're interviewing or who you want to help, or how you want to help things?
Does that drive any of that?
[00:20:02] Shaun: So it does in a lot of ways. It certainly drives career choice to a point. Look, I felt like a football player if you do air this on video. Yeah. Uh, football was never within my wheelhouse. Mm-hmm. I'm not athletically inclined to begin with. So, you know, I don't think it was a lost dream per se, as it certainly is for some guys with what I have.
But I knew that I was sort of going to be headed for more safer career choices, more sedentary pursuits. Even as a journalist, I'm not exactly going to be running to war zones. I'm not going to be first one running into danger. I didn't get that far in my career, but that certainly would've been a consideration.
Not that I can't show up at a crime scene. But if there's a fight around me at a party or a bar, I'm walking the other way. Mm-hmm. I don't want to get into that scuffle because I won't farewell. I can probably, if you throw down if I had to, but I don't think I can take it very well. So, you know, I don't want, I'm, I'm a lover, not a fighter, but I don't want to, you know, play those games anyway.
So that certainly weighs on your mind as you think about that. The law I think is really deeply connected because, and there's actually a number of the hemophilias, even around my age and a little older who have gone into law. Funny enough, it's a fairly common path because I think we're born advocates.
We're really sort of born advocating for ourselves. We get to know the medical system and the patient experience, and we have a lot of empathy usually. Especially for someone else living with a chronic condition. We get it at school. We often bond with the diabetic kids because we're both using needles and so we have that kind of shared commonality there.
But as we grow older, we do have these sort of strong voices for advocacy. And I think law is a bit of a natural career path. So I'm far from the only lawyer in that group and there is more still do I think it's a great reason to go to law school. It's a bit of an expensive piece of paper, but I definitely see the connection and I see where it has unformed a lot of my choices.
A, the ability to kind of be sedentary and kind to my joints as needed, but be that advocacy bent is is strong within me. Regardless. And so I've been able to make use of it to help others. Yeah,
[00:22:12] Andrea: I mean cuz a lot of advocacy is being able to tell other people's stories.
[00:22:16] Shaun: Very much so. And that came from me.
I was, I'm not the first journalist to go to law school. There's certainly a couple, I think English law class and it is a good marriage and that's, you know, what you said, it looks like a lot of different careers, but it does kind of weave together in that way because that's exactly it. You are being hired as an attorney.
To help tell someone's story and help put their story in the best light and really kind of analyze and dig down and find the truth. That's what law's all about and that's what journalism's all about. Now, journalism, you don't exactly have a side. You're really on the side of the truth. So the advocacy piece is a little bit different, but that fact finding truth hunting mission, I think is pretty parallel through both.
[00:22:56] Andrea: So you're in law school and you're loving it. You're finding your spot, you're finding your lane. How long did you practice law or did you after graduating?
[00:23:09] Shaun: I definitely did. I actually wasn't bad if I can say so myself. I was,
[00:23:14] Andrea: I'm sure you were fantastic.
[00:23:17] Shaun: Probably wasn't bad at it. So I finished law school up here.
You do a year, they call Art Clean, which is basically an apprenticeship in order to get your degree. There's a couple different ways of doing it, but I was with a small firm that was wonderful and kind of gave me a full service experience. I crossed multiple areas of law. They were very small. I knew I wasn't headed back there.
I had a job offer coming out of, you know, that year that fell through. So suddenly I, you know, was a lawyer with nothing to do and spent a few months looking. I wound up with a couple opportunities fall into my lap. After a few months of looking, I took a job with a very, very small firm outside of Toronto that was just hiring their first associates and trying to sort of build something up off the ground.
Which excited me. I love business development, so I thought that would be, you know, this great opportunity to help build a book of business. I don't think I realized at the time how hard that is to do as a new lawyer without any sort of knowledge of what you're doing. It is the next to ipo, people do it, but it's next to impossible.
So after about five, six months, the colleague and I that were both hired, both said, yeah, this is not for us, and we left and I was sort of back out and doing a little bit of contract work on the side. And I loved some parts of the profession. I liked the loved being able to help clients, love being able to kind of guide them through.
Using the knowledge came to me to explain things, but the stress of it was not for me. And I said, okay. Gave it a college, try whatever. It's fine. I'll find something else. And I wound up taking a marketing role. After a while, I did some contract legal review work that helped pay the bills. In the interim, took a marketing role at a huge law firm, which was an experience.
They wanted a, a lawyer who could write. So I raised my hand and said I'd love to do that, and I spent eight months with them, which was actually a great experience. Totally not where I thought I'd see myself, but it worked out really well and my dream firm called in that time and I firm I'd been trying to get into for a long time.
An employment law firm near Toronto, and they said, the fellow that I knew quite well, I had been looking for the opportunity to join them. And it was never there. They were a fairly small shop themselves and he sat down with me and said, we're now looking. Are you interested? Or do you know anybody? And at first I told him no because I had this great job that I was not going to walk away from.
And then I changed my tune and said, you know what? Let's give this a proper try because if I don't, if I don't try this again, what's the point? So I went in. I was there for about a year. We can talk about that.
[00:25:54] Andrea: Yeah, I absolutely. You give me a, a lead like that.
[00:26:00] Shaun: So it was interesting. Aside from the physical issues I have dealt with anxiety.
Hmm. You know, some other mental health issues over the years. It probably led to the illnesses that took me out of journalism school the first time at like 17. So it's something that I've sort of been cognizant of in my day-to-day and how I make decisions. And it doesn't, I, I, I, I've not medicated, I have been through, uh, rounds of cognitive behavioral therapy that have helped and I have a pretty good toolkit.
I know myself fairly well, but the year that I spent in practice was incredibly taxing on my mental health. I don't blame the firm. We're still on great terms. It would be nonsense to blame them because if I went somewhere else, the same thing would've happened. It is seriously issues inherent in the profession that are just.
Disastrous for a lot of lawyers mental health, it's a conversation that really has opened up in the last couple of years. You are really effectively being paid to take someone else's stresses and put them on your plate. And it's pretty hard to turn that off at the end of the day. Some people manage, but I don't really know how.
So my mental health started to really take a dive at about the six month mark. It was almost ironic. I was a workplace mental health lawyer in Practic employment law, dealing with a lot of workplace mental health, watching my own collapse, almost sort of looking inward going, what's going on here? I don't actually know how to deal with this as much as I know what to do here.
I also don't, at the same time, it's, it's a bit of a, a wild ride. And I had gone on my honeymoon. I said, okay. I just, you know, I had done some therapy, but my therapist said, you should go take your vacation. Go enjoy, you know, get away for a little bit. My honeymoon was wonderful. Went to Europe, had a great time.
Mm, came back very refreshed and within four days I was back to being nearly catatonic. And I, you know, had worked with professionals who knew me and I said, I don't know how to handle this. What should I do? And they gave me some great guidance and I wound up leaving practice after close to a year, honestly, leave and didn't return.
[00:28:05] Andrea: Look, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. And sometimes it sounds like the nuclear option of you have to leave, but. Sometimes it's almost the simple answer because you realize that this is the environment that is creating.
[00:28:21] Shaun: It was purely self preservation. People ask why I left.
I tell 'em I had no choice, and I know that sounds bleak. I was not at a point with, you know, where there were strong ideations or anything like that. But I was getting there. There's no question I was getting there. I was newly married. I had just recently bought a house. I had built up a social, we moved, you know, the year prior building up a social circle in a new area.
And I was hidden the point where I wasn't able to turn it off. It was not just though, you know, that work sucked. But I could come home at the end of the day and be fine. It was to affect my relationship, starting to affect my family relationships, starting to impact, you know, my friendships. And I really was at the point where I was no longer finding joy in much of anything, and I'm.
So grateful that I was rational enough to be able to know, okay, you have to go. This is, this is not going to work for you. Because had I la had I forced myself to stay any longer, I don't think it would've been a great outcome, I'll be honest.
[00:29:17] Andrea: Yeah, I, I know sometimes we can feel like, you know what, it's all about mindset and let's just look at this differently and let's just tough it out and we can, we can make this into something different and not let our environment affect us and that kind of stuff.
But I think there's a time and a place for that. But I think there's also a time and a place to say, you know what? Let's leave this environment. We don't need to use this environment in this situation to practice. And like sometimes you just have to get out and it's for our own benefit. It's for our own mental health, it's for our own safety, and it's not worth trying to make it better.
[00:29:57] Shaun: That's exactly it. You know what I, I wasn't sort of about to be a hero. I was trying my best to really make sure that it didn't bleed, pardon any pun, bleed into my work. And by the end, I mean my work was starting to suffer. And at that point I'm no longer a good advocate and I'm not doing well in other areas of my life as well.
And by that point, I'm not being of much help to anybody. So something had to give and I'm grateful that I, again, had the wherewithal to say that was really sort of, you know, what it came down to is, Their, you know, law's a tough profession to begin with. It is not meant for everybody. I don't believe that mental health should be dissuading anybody, but it is worth a serious consideration because it's just not right for a lot of folks.
And it certainly wasn't right for me. And as much as I could have said at the time there are issues with the firm, et cetera, the answer really is that if I had gone anywhere else, I would've had the same thing happen. It wasn't them. It was to usually break a line. It wasn't them. It's me.
[00:30:58] Andrea: You know? I mean, as funny as we put the castanza kind of slant on things, but I actually think it's a very courageous and brave move to make.
[00:31:09] Shaun: I appreciate that. I've heard that from people before. You know, the courage that I had to leave and frankly, yeah. I think it kept me alive. Yeah. You know, without being too glib, I think it really did. It's hard now and thankfully to it as well as I am to even think about how bad it was, but that's exactly what it was.
[00:31:29] Andrea: So when you left, you left law. When you left that firm,
[00:31:35] Shaun: for the most part, the work guy down on the side with some contract legal review, which basically to make a lawn boring story that you'll cut short, lawyers are often sort of hired to do this due diligence review you picture, if you've ever seen, you know, suits and rooms full of bankers boxes and you know, reviewing files for massive litigation.
Now it's all AI based and everything's on computers and it's all emails and online documents. But wow, there are still sort of teams of lawyers hired to basically do a last minute scan of these. Documents for big files and it's project by project based work. A lot of lawyers in the US as well will end up doing it kind of at the start of their career when they can't find something in between jobs as they're winding their career down.
And I dove into that. I dove into it the first time when I left practice and I still have contacts at the firm and I let them know, Hey, do you have anything, any room at the end, so to speak. And they gladly sort of took me back with. Open arms and I had done that really a good chunk for about a year and a half plus after that, as I was A, leaving law and then B, getting my business started up.
[00:32:44] Andrea: So what made you turn and see, okay, what I really want to do is, Start my own business, what I really want to do, this idea of the write stuff, was this a calling or something that you wanted to do, or did you kind of fall into it like, I fell into my business, so I don't know. I I totally understand that. Some people fall into it, some people have the idea.
Since infancy, how was it
[00:33:09] Shaun: for you? No, I completely fell into this. I was always a writer. Look, I'm journalism train, newsroom train. I knew that. I knew how to tell a story. I had run a blog when I graduated, was called to the bar, became a lawyer, and couldn't find work. I started my own blog called News from the Break Room, which was sort of meant to explain law in plain language with that kind of, you know, journalism, storytelling, bent I calling no for employers, employees, and everyone in between.
And that was great. That was a just a fun passion project. Exercise. Never monetized the penny. I won a couple national blog awards up here. It was pretty well renowned in the employment law world, and it certainly, I think, helped get me the jobs that I had next. So I'm grateful that I did it, even as, you know, a fun exercise.
But I knew and I did a little bit of content writing on the side after journalism school. I knew that I knew how to tell a story. I knew that I knew how to write for a broad audience. And I thought, you know, maybe there's something here. And I had written for firms I was with, and I tell clients today, my wife elbow be in the ribs and said, you're a writer going right?
And it was the best advice that I could have gotten. I had said, you know, that I had a bit of a habit cuz I, I'd made some odd career choices. And I joked that I had a bit of a habit of betting on their own horse sometimes. I said, look, when I bet on myself, I can't lose. Hmm. And I never wanted to be an entrepreneur.
I never thought that I had what it takes. I joke that I started a marketing business with no background in marketing or business. My wife has an mba. I don't, I have no entrepreneurial background say for it does run in the family, but I sort of threw it together and in an afternoon I said, you know what?
Maybe there's something here. And I threw up the world's worst website and a single post kind of announcing that, Hey, The thing that I'd never done was ghost, right? I had written for a whole lot of people, but I was with my name attached. I never had the lawyer's ego. Thankfully, I had the writer's ego, which was probably worse because the writer's ego says, I don't care what you pay me, don't pay me.
Don't do me any favors, but don't you dare take my name off, my words, my name, and my words are everything. They're all I have. And you realize very quickly that doesn't make any money. So when I checked that at the door and was able to actually sort of offer ghost writing services, people knew that I could write.
I had a really amazing social circle where I have tried over the years to help as many people as I can and put a larger good energy out into the universe. And I think a lot of it came back to me and it's still coming back to me in this business. So people started asking, Hey, oh, I see you're doing this.
Can you do this? Can you do this? Can you do this? And I said, sure. I said, let's give it a shot. And I started with a really random assortment of projects and fell in love and it went from there.
[00:36:03] Andrea: That's amazing. I love the the writer's Ego. It's, I am no journalist, although sometimes I feel like it when I'm doing this podcast,
but I'm absolutely not a journalist and it's a great way to
[00:36:15] Shaun: make four figures a year. So, you know, if that's what you're after.
[00:36:18] Andrea: Fantastic. , but I'm barely a writer with my books, but it's like you put something out into the world, especially like writing a book for me that was such a.
For each one of 'em. It was such a big deal. And so, yeah, to think of like my name not going on it, it gave me like a little bit of like a Ooh, when you said that, I know if I have the writer's ego, but I totally get it.
[00:36:44] Shaun: No, and I've never actually published a full book of my own that I think will come probably later this year, probably next to be if we're being honest.
But you've done something that I have not dared to do yet, so kudos on that.
[00:36:56] Andrea: Yeah, it's fun. You totally have a book in you. I can tell. I
[00:37:00] Shaun: do, and it's there. I think at this point now it, it's no longer the fear of doing it. It's the making the time to actually sit
[00:37:07] Andrea: right. Yeah. That was a big thing for me. Was, yeah.
Making the time, like I said, like I don't, in looking at these different careers and these different things you did, I actually see a pattern there. Right. I actually see this through line of you are about storytelling. Even if it gets probably pretty dry when you're looking at like contract work. It's my guess with law, But through journalism, through advocacy, even through HR work, it is all about telling people stories.
So tell me how are you doing it? Because I think that when, I think we all have stories, right? I think every one of us have a story. I think not all of us know how to articulate. Our story, we don't necessarily know how to pull it in. We don't necessarily, sometimes it's hard to organize because our stories are our stories, and so we have like a lot of data in our heads rolling around and it's hard to organize.
But I think when we can do that and when we have someone like you help us do that, it can be so cathartic to really have that story laid out and understand like, wow, this really is where I've come from, what I've gone through, where I am.
[00:38:24] Shaun: 100%. You hit the nail on the head a couple times. We all have stories.
Our stories are what make us unique. They're what sets us apart. If you are in any sort of business or professional services, you're probably not the only player in your field. I'm sure there's other competitors out there and other companies, and what sets you apart is you and your uniqueness and your story in a world full of robots, which is something that I'm, you know, writing about currently in the world of Chad, g p t and everything.
What makes you unique is you and your story, and being able to actually tell your story in a way that can help others. So much of storytelling is partly cathartic for sure, but if we really want to use it, you know, for a certain purpose, it's telling that story in a way that others can connect with and can relate to and can say, Hey, that sounds like me, or, I understand that cause that's happened to me.
Or that's happened to someone really close to me, that's happened to my brother and my sister and my cousin, my, you know, so-and-so what have you. And that's a huge part of it as well. So if we're really trying to sort of explain something with a purpose and with either a goal to drive business or a goal, you know, for some sort of call to action.
We want to have a story that's not just a story, you know, rambling on for its own sake, but one that is really informing, educating, engaging, entertaining our audience with them in mind, with clarity, with a clear trajectory, with a point, and with something that kind of gets into sit up and take notice and go, Hey, that sounds like me.
Oh wait, I can do this, or I should do this, or I can seek help from this person. Or this could really help me, whatever it is you're trying to do. So it's huge in business, but it's huge in life. Mm-hmm.
[00:40:11] Andrea: I think one of our basic needs is connection. And storytelling has been used for connection for since humans
[00:40:20] Shaun: began.
It's one of the world's, the histories of all oral traditions, indigenous cultures, and other cultures that go back tens of thousands of years. Just so ancient and so crucial to, or can be thousands of years that really are so ancient. Go back to so that the core of who we are. And how we share information and connect with each other.
In business, they say fact tell stories sell, but it's true that, you know, if you're just going to sort of bark information or bark through pros about why you're the best, or what you do is the best, or you know, puff your chest out, no one wants to hear that. People really connect to stories, especially ones that resonate with them, where they can see themselves.
Or they can understand it. They can even, you know, put whether it's happened to them or not, they can put themselves in those shoes. That's where people really latch on.
[00:41:10] Andrea: Yeah, and I think there's a certain amount of, it's not just telling a story, it's the honesty and. That vulnerability that comes from sharing your story.
I think there's a certain amount of openness that people can connect with because they can tell that you are being open with them about something that is very personal or close to yourself. And I think that is also what really draws people in with that story. And
[00:41:38] Shaun: I think to really resonate, it's again, not just for its own sake.
Yes, it could be cathartic to share your story, there's no question. But even the people who have you know, the most. Traumatic stories and are finally sharing them are usually doing so for the purpose of helping others or helping others to come forward with that sort of openness. So, you know, being modeling for its own sake usually doesn't do much.
It really, there has to be kind of a greater goal to that storyteller, whether again, you're encouraging others to do the same or you're encouraging someone to take action because it's something so close to you. So you're opening yourself up, you're being vulnerable, there's no question, but you're not just doing so for the purpose of your own.
Healing generally. That's often what therapy is, quite honestly, when you're doing it, you know, with others in a broader audience, you're doing it with, you know, a broader purpose of helping others besides just helping yourself.
[00:42:27] Andrea: , I think that's an interesting point a lot of times when it comes to telling our stories, no matter what they are, I find that it can be in stages, and I think you're right.
I think there is sometimes that. Depending on how charged that story is and how much we maybe are just looking at it for the first time or voicing it for the first time. It happens on a very small level, and maybe it is with your therapist or with your partner or someone, and you're really just voicing it for the first time, and that's when it's cathartic, but then it transitions very quickly into something where you want to give it to that broader audience and have it turn into something that is helpful.
[00:43:09] Shaun: Exactly. Exactly. And you know, and there's room for both. There's no question. You know, if you have a, a story to tell or a story of primary trauma to tell, and it's coming from an incredibly vulnerable place, the first times that you're sharing that story are going to be. Probably with a very intimate audience and in a very sort of narrow setting, and one where you can really trust the other person to let yourself be that open.
And that's wonderful. I don't want to shoot that down for a moment. That's really important. But if you're going to take that story broad, you're generally not doing it. It's probably not the first time you're telling that story. You're probably not just doing it to sort of clear your own, not conscience, but you're doing it sort of, you know, it's not just doing it for your own sake.
You're doing it for the purpose of informing, educating, engaging, and really helping to support others when we see, you know, especially, you know, in Hollywood and public figures, but so many people who come forward with stories of trauma, for example. Yes. There's no question they're sharing, you know, a deeply intimate and personal and often horrible moment, but so much of that is, whether it's illness based or trauma based or what have you.
They're doing it to say, this is okay for me to share. It's okay for you two and it's okay to be public about this things. It's okay to come forward. It's okay to find support. And that's incredibly powerful. So maybe to an outsider, it looks as though this person sort of speaking for its own sake, but they almost never are.
Mm-hmm. They're doing it with a broader intention of that audience in mind of saying it's okay to talk about
[00:44:35] Andrea: this. Yeah. And, and often that broader intention is to normalize it.
[00:44:41] Shaun: Exactly. When we look at, I mean the Me, me Too movement is just an example about how many people came forward with stories they'd never told before.
I never felt comfortable telling before about things. You know, that they've been so ashamed that they felt only happened to them, and realizing how many people have gone through a similar experience. So just one example, people with chronic illness and diagnoses and diagnoses that may. Still have stigmas attached or folks of varying gender identities or varying sexualities who are coming forward and talking about things because it, you know, as much as we might sort of roll our eyes when it's a celebrity and it, it might feel like an attention grab, it really isn't, for the most part, it's mostly someone saying, I'm able to say this and I'm able to say this publicly, and you have my support and you can say it too.
And that has opened the door for so many people to live their authentic selves no matter what form that takes. So
[00:45:41] Andrea: there are people listening I know that are thinking, this is amazing. I know I have a story. I can kind of think of what it is, but I don't necessarily have it all nicely packaged. I don't really have it, have it sometimes even organized.
What are some easy first steps that people can do when they're looking at their own story to help them start to formulate what their broader story, their broader message
[00:46:05] Shaun: is? So number one, I'd say get a pen or get a keyboard and start writing it down and just start writing and just start telling your story to yourself and get your facts down, and it's not what you had for breakfast every single day.
It's not how you felt about your third grade teacher, although it might be part of it. But as you look back on your life, you see the really defining moments and the really sort of clear game-changing inflection points in your life that have led you to where you are today. And those are all part of your story.
They say that we can't control what happens to us. We can only control how we process it and how we handle it. You may not have had much control over that third grade teacher, but you can definitely. Might have had some control over how you react and how you reflect on it. It's all hindsight brings a lot of clarity in terms of how you're putting your story together.
So I think getting it down on pen and paper or a computer screen is cathartic number one in terms of repackaging it. That's where things start to get interesting because if you're going to put it out there, what is your goal of putting it out there and what is it you're ultimately trying to do? Back 20, 25, 30 years ago, we all had blogs.
I had a Geo Cities blog as a kid, just, I had a live journal, you know, I was a teenager. Just this stream of consciousness, rambling nonsense that we dig cause it's cathartic. Same with, you know, reason why people keep journals and everything else and that's great. Journals are usually a very private writing exercise and telling your story that aren't, unless you're really famous, meant to be shared with others.
But if you're going to come forward with your story, Why? What's your goal? Who are you hoping to help? Who are you hoping to influence? It doesn't need to be about business, it doesn't need to be about sales. And then what is your audience going to be? How are you going to get it to them? What are you going to do?
Whether it's sort of publishing, self-publishing something, or turning it into part of your, you know, professional brand identity. Your personal brand identity. There's a lot there that you can do once you kind of have a clear narrative and idea of where you want to take it.
[00:48:14] Andrea: I think that helps a lot of people who, cause I know a lot of people who especially listen to this podcast, think about that, what their story is, especially when it comes to their chronic illness and how they've overcome things and wanting to help other people overcome things.
It's kind of, I think, a lovely part of this community where it's, it's all about helping other people overcome our challenges and maybe learn from how we handled this. I think that really helps a lot of people. That are listening.
[00:48:39] Shaun: That's exactly it. Especially with a chronic illness or some sort of health concern.
You're not really sharing your story for the sake of, usually not for the sake of sympathy or pity or anything like that. There's great social workers and cognitive therapists and other folks you can have those conversations with. Yeah. Usually when you're sharing those health journeys and those stories, you're doing it.
Say, Hey, I have this and I did that. I have this, and I have lived in spite of it to do x. And even if you're not a celebrity coming forward with a diagnosis, you're still able to help empower others by saying, this is who I am. This is part of me. Mm-hmm. It's not all that defines me. And here's the bigger picture.
[00:49:21] Andrea: I love it. I'm going to just go ahead and snip that whole thing because that's like the whole reason for this podcast.
[00:49:27] Shaun: Perfect. Love it.
[00:49:28] Andrea: Love it. Well, thank you so much for coming and sharing so much about your journey, your story, and. How you are helping people now with their own stories. I, I really appreciate it.
I'm going to have all of your information in the show notes, but for people who don't want to go to the show notes, I understand, share really quickly where they can find you and anything that you have coming up.
[00:49:54] Shaun: Sounds great. Yep. You can find me. I am the right stuff. Agency, W R I T E stuff Agency. So the site is www dot the right stuff.
Dot agency. Again, W W R I T E. I'm on Facebook as the Right stuff Agency. I'm on LinkedIn, both as myself and as the right stuff agency. I'm on Instagram as the Right stuff agency, so I am around, I'm not that hard to find. I'd love to chat. If I can help you tell your story, whether it's, you know, for your business or for some other purpose.
That's great. Let's have a conversation and see how we can help get that story out there.
[00:50:32] Andrea: Amazing. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing all of this. I really, really love talking to you. Thank you
[00:50:39] Shaun: for having me, Andrea. I really appreciate the opportunity.
[00:50:42] Andrea: If you like the show, don't be shy. Please give us a five star rating and review.
Follow us on Apple Podcast, Amazon music, or wherever you're listening right now. To see complete show notes and resources mentioned in this episode, visit Andrea Hanson Thank you for joining me, and until next time, take care.

About Live Your Life, Not Your Diagnosis

Live Your Life, Not Your Diagnosis podcast

Hear inspiring discussions with people living with chronic illness. These people went after their passions and big goals -even when everyone told them they couldn’t. Listen to stories of resilience and gratitude in the face of uncertainty.

I’m your host, Andrea W. Hanson, Author, Motivational Speaker, and Autoimmune Rebel living with multiple sclerosis. You’ll not only fall in love with these guests, but you’ll soak up positive mindset tips and ideas to find your own unique path to success.

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