Welcome to the very first Supergirl Interview where we ask kickass ladies from across the world to reveal what advise they would give to their teenage self if for some reason they were able to do that.
Introducing Jo Fraser, my long time friend and fellow dreamer. Jo is 29 years old, Mother to two gorgeous children and one of the most creative people I know. This chick is an event producer best known as the Co-Founder of the Scottish Chocolate Festival which is the biggest chocolate festival in the country which has attracted over 100,000 people to turn up and get their chocolate on.
Jo can clearly dream big and make it happen – but for her, like most girls who grow up to be super, it wasn’t always like this and those teenage years were a rough haul. We talk about the subject of dreams. What are they? What does it mean to follow them? In discussions with my young readers this subject often comes up and I think it is time to pick Jo’s brain and see how she got through to the other side.
I’ve known you for quite a few years now Jo and I see you as someone who is happy in your work and following your dreams. When you were a teenager what were the dreams you had for your life?
The biggest dream I had was growing up and having my own adult life. I think I always had really big dreams, much bigger than myself. It’s like I always knew I could be a much greater person than I was. I wanted to be many things – a singer, an actor, a Hollywood superstar, a make-up artist and a hairdresser (which I actually did for 3 days!). It was always creative type stuff. At the age of 14 or 15 I realised that I could become an event producer. If anyone had a party or if my friends and I were bored I would create a dinner party or stage a production on the steps outside the museum. I was always trying to make these big amazing productions.
I’ve noticed that many people’s main purpose involves helping or serving others in some way. Is that true for you?
100%. I just love any time I’m doing something to make people laugh or smile or feel better: I am so, so happy when I’m helping other people. It happens with everything I do in my entire life – everything that I do in my work. It’s hard to put something so spiritual into words. For me it’s like because I know that people can do so much more than they think they can do I have this purpose to inspire people to do what they are capable of. You can do anything you want! It really frustrates me when people don’t know that about themselves.
In my events it usually involves kids, I love working with kids and giving them a chance to be creative and acknowledge the hell out of them. I once went to my friend’s wedding day and saw that she had a wedding cake which was the complete opposite of what she wanted and I could never get that out of my head – the fact that she couldn’t have the thing she had imagined. It was abhorrent to me! I wanted a chance to make the cake exactly how she wanted it so when her birthday came around I made it for her. It took me days and nights to make that cake but once she finally got it and was pleased with it I felt so satisfied, my job was done in fact I think it was one of the best moments of my life.
At what point in your life did you know you had found your purpose?
That came fairly recently when all these things suddenly made sense to me but before that I did have a good idea when I was 15 years old. I used to help out at church events and I was always called upon to help with the food. One time there was a big event and I was making one of the dishes look as amazing as I possibly could. A woman there had been observing me and she came to me and gave me one of the biggest acknowledgements of my life. She said I was doing a brilliant job and that I had the whole thing under control. That started me thinking in my head that I could do big events. I don’t even know who that woman was now but that one acknowledgment has set the course of my entire life.
How does your purpose fit with your personality?
Perfectly. Like a glove. I get to express myself creatively. I like being on stage, I like performing and when I do my chocolate workshops as part of the festival I just love it. Driving home from one of the Chocolate Festivals I felt fulfilled on a spiritual level.
I have been creating parties and shows since I was 4 years old. I’ve seen that young kids will act out their purposes at a really young age. It is when other people’s expectations come in that can really mess up your head. Most Mother’s want their kids to be great and yet if the kid isn’t allowed to follow their own personal preferences there will be trouble. A child will find out their purpose themselves eventually if given the space. The trick would be to recognise it and nurture it.
Did you have anyone who inspired you during your teenage years?
Actually not particularly in fact I felt most of the time like nobody understood me. I was always looking for someone to understand me, someone that I could talk to and there probably were people around me but I thought others were against me – I couldn’t open my eyes up to anyone inspiring at that time. I thought the ‘bad boys and girls’ were the coolest ones.
Did you ever feel discouraged from pursuing your dreams?
Yes, every single day. I have it constantly although I can recognise it more now. When I first came up with the Chocolate Festival I got so much resistance from every angle, even from people in my family. When you have big dreams even good people can’t always see those dreams so they can discourage you merely by the fact that they don’t encourage you. My dreams were so different from other people in my family. Although there was no active discouragement I didn’t always get a huge amount of support. I would tell someone enthusiastically all about my amazing idea and I would be met with a lack of understanding. For some it was just too big for them. Did I not want to get a wee car and live a nice stable life? Just that alone would make me look inwards and I would ask myself, am I silly for dreaming these dreams?
During my teenage years it was much worse, the emotions were worse and self doubt crept in more easily. I would tell myself I couldn’t follow my dreams and that I was no good as a person and if I went off the rails I would tell myself I simply didn’t deserve to have these big goals and dreams.
Many of my events over the years have been complete flops, epic failures which is good testament to how strong I am! For instance a few years ago I was producing ‘baby discos’ which were very successful in Scotland. I went down to England and put one on in Crawley but I didn’t find out as much from the public as I should have. We were expecting 200 people and 6 turned up – 6 frightened little toddlers. There was a massive event hall all decorated and a face painter and a DJ who had to stand there looking like an idiot. It was so embarrassing.
That became a pivotal moment in my life. I was thinking – what a mess. I’m going to go up or down from here and I refuse to go down. I refused to let it be the end of my dream so I got super creative right away and jumped straight back on the wagon. I do not think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t. It was a good lesson to learn. You are going to fail. It is hard to take but very satisfying to overcome.
Did you ever feel pressure from society or from people around you to conform to something else? To be what they wanted you to be?
100% all of the time. My experience at school was that it was nothing to do with achieving my dreams. I felt that it was all set up to teach you in a set way, get you to pass your exams and set you up for a sensible life where you can pay your bills on time. That’s it. I’ve found that wanting to be or do something different can make you a ‘bad person’ in societies eyes. There are certain expectations that don’t always match my expectations for my own life.
What things were the biggest sidetracks to your dreams looking back?
The main one I would say is getting into drinnking alcohol. I feel lucky that I was never inclined to drugs but I was a big drinker and into partying. It became a cycle I couldn’t get out of. It was completely uncool to not be partying all the time and if I wasn’t doing it I would be ostracised completely. I would spend half my weekend drunk and the other half choosing outfits to wear. It is quite amazing how fast you can go off the path and once you get into it, it becomes hard to get out of it again.
How did you overcome these barriers?
Eventually I had my babies which put a complete stop to it but before that I would get bouts of depression and I couldn’t focus on my work at all and at these points I would pull myself up and force myself to get my life sorted out again. One thing that really worked for me is when I got more involved in volunteer activities. One time I travelled to India after a tsunami that had devastated a large area. I went there with a bunch of other volunteers and helped in an orphanage. This helped me to see that there is a whole other side to life, a whole other culture. It helped me to come out of my own crap and see that there was more to life than getting drunk.
Nowadays, what are the things that give you the most pleasure from pursuing your purpose?
I do find it so satisfying to make my own money from doing something I love. If it is something you are passionate about it makes it all the more satisfying. I was pregnant with my son Mikey and I was feeling like a big fat pregnant whale. Myself and my business partner were planning to do baby festivals but I was a bit sick of all the baby stuff. One night I fell asleep and had a dream of a full on Chocolate Festival – I saw it all! I wrote it down Jerry Maguire style and made a complete business plan. I ran to my business partner’s house and told her all about it. She fell down laughing at me and said, ‘Let’s do it!’ When it’s all there it is so satisfying. It reminds me of that amazing feeling when you meet your baby for the first time.
What top three things would you like to say to any girls reading this who feel unsure about following their dreams?
1. Sounds cheesy but don’t ever give up. You are going to have moments of failure and disappointment where you want to throw it all away but you can still get over those hurdles. I’m still getting over hurdles but if I keep putting energy into it I succeed.
2. Constantly check who you are spending your time with – be aware of who is around you. If you have someone who doesn’t make you feel good – keep a distance. Surround yourself with positive people.
3. When I was a teenager I could only ever see my life as a teenager but if I could talk to myself then I would say – don’t worry so much about everything – in a few years you will be a grown up and things will be so much different.