By Kymberli Morrell
If there’s one thing you learn right away when speaking to her, it’s that Ms. Jo Lena Johnson has a power switch permanently in the “on” position. Her words fly at light speed, but she is clear and direct. Her enthusiasm is boundless and well suited for the many hats she wears: author, writing coach, motivational speaker, publisher, and volunteer in service to her community. You can hear her energy in the audio version of her first book, Broken Conditions, published in February 2018 as the first installment in a series she calls the Clean Colored Girl Chronicles. While listening to her talk about her family, college experiences, relationships, and career goals, it’s easy to picture her rolling her eyes about something she didn’t like or leaning in to emphasize a point. Her voice captures feelings of emotional conflict from dealing with relatives who just wouldn’t listen. By the end, you understand Ms. Johnson is still a work in progress, but she believes her story can help others move forward through similar situations, despite their own trials and shortcomings.
What follows are some of her thoughts on sharing stories involving other people, the emotional toll that comes with it, and some advice for others interested in sharing their own journeys through the ups and downs of trying to live their best lives.
KM: Were you apprehensive about how people would think of you after you shared your story?
Ms. Johnson: Yes, I was, especially because I discuss my relationship with my mother, and some things that happened in our home while growing up. You know, most of us were told, “What happens in this house stays in this house.” It’s taboo to talk about the “Black Momma.” However, if we talked more about the secrets, shame, challenges and broken conditions, many of us would be much healthier.
KM: How has the response been to your story so far?
Ms. Johnson: Most who know me say, “You were brave.” They are shocked that I went through these types of challenges while growing up. I often hear people mention how much they enjoyed the book and then start talking about their own situation. It’s great because I didn’t write the book just to tell my story, I wrote it to provoke thought, inspire hope, and to help people heal through their own challenges.
Admittedly, some have not completed the book, repelled at my disclosures–those are the ones who may benefit most, but what can I do? The biggest challenge is letting people know that it’s really “for them” as opposed to being “for me,” if you know what I mean.
KM: Is there a release date for the 2nd book in the series?
Ms. Johnson: Things have been so hectic, I’m behind in getting it out. I am hoping to have it finished by June 2019.
KM: What advice would you give other authors trying to tell “messy” stories?
Ms. Johnson: Consider why you are telling what you’re telling. What are the lessons? What did you do to change your situation? What do you recommend to others? Why does what you have to say matter? Finally, if someone can truly benefit from your pain and perspective, tell it but change the names and be respectful of what you are saying by being transparent and honest. We often learn through sincerity and relating to others; perhaps you can spare others by sharing from your life. Go for it but get help, like a writing coach or editor, to help you flesh everything out and be objective.
KM: Is there anything you regret sharing?
Ms. Johnson: No. If I could do something differently though, I would have included more “advice” in this book, but I didn’t because I had a lot more growing, pain and mistakes in the next 2 books before I would be “qualified” to share tips. I didn’t want to appear hypocritical.
KM: Was your faith instrumental in sharing your story, or did it become stronger after you wrote it?
Ms. Johnson: Absolutely. My faith in God, not in myself, made it possible for me to be open and truthful, as well as gave me the courage to face my mother, reading the book to her before it went to final printing. That was a monumental, difficult night. I just knew that I couldn’t blindside her, and she deserved to hear my perspective, and also what I was sharing with the world. I still pray that anyone who reads it gets what they need from it.
KM: When you recorded the audio book, were there passages that caused an emotional reaction in you that you weren’t expecting?
Ms. Johnson: Yes! Reading the chapter, “He’s Not My Husband”, was extremely painful and difficult because it was a tough time. Speaking of my relationship with “Jack the Retired Firefighter” was exhausting; it was a tumultuous time in my life, and also a transformative relationship. I’ve made so many mistakes in life, I just wanted people to not do what I’ve done. I had to take a few breaks after those chapters. When I listen to them, I can feel the experience, but it’s no longer painful, just reflective, and hopefully helpful.
The experiences shared in Broken Conditions will likely resonate with many people, reminding us of the consequences of less-than-perfect decisions we’ve managed to survive in our formative years. What Ms. Johnson has written is a story of lessons learned and resilience that can encourage all who read or listen to it that life’s challenges can be difficult but not impossible to overcome, and that we are all works in progress.
Broken Conditions can be found on Audible.com.
Jo Lena Johnson, The Absolute Good Resilience Coach, is a Certified Mediator, International Trainer, Acclaimed Author and Writing Coach, Founder and CEO of Absolute Good Training and Life Skills Management, and Publisher of Mission Possible Press. Principle-focused, results-driven, and heart-centered, Jo Lena has taught over 100,000 people worldwide with her no-nonsense and dynamic approach. Learn more at www.jolenajohnson.com.
For those who are interested in telling their own stories but aren’t quite sure where to start, visit https://www.absolutegoodenterprises.com/ to learn about writing services Ms. Johnson offers.