Damaged Reputation: Jennifer Cunningham #79

Warwick Fairfax

August 10, 2021

Benjamin Franklin once said it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it. Jennifer Cunningham has learned and teaches others that you have to keep your eyes on the values that matter to you as you look to bounce back from a crucible that leaves you feeling defeated and humiliated. The key is to apply the lessons from that painful experience to help repair your good name.
For more information about Jennifer Cunningham, visit www.reputationrepaircoach.com.

Highlights

  • How she dealt with teasing as a child (5:55)
  • Why she felt called to counseling (8:20)
  • Her most challenging professional crucible (10:44)
  • The mental toil of feeling like a pariah at work (17:03)
  • How humiliation is both a crucible and an amplifier or one (18:44)
  • Moving beyond her crucible (25:21)
  • How caring for others has helped her personally (32:40)
  • How social media makes public humiliation easier for “the mob” (39:53)
  • The power of forgiveness (42:48)
  • Strategies for gathering confidence after crisis (48:47)
  • Don’t compare your crucibles to someone else’s (53:24)
  • Key episode takeaways (59:22)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Jennifer C:

Consider the things that are very important to you in your life, and focus on those, and not that you can’t care about other things but focus on the things to give a flip about. That’s been really helpful. I still do care what people think of me, and if this situation were to happen again, I know I’d be stronger because what I’ve said to myself is, “Hey. I have a job to do. It’s a hard job sometimes. A lot of times it’s very easy, but it’s my job and that’s what I’m hired to do, and just like this last experience, I will get through it. I’ll be able to recover.”

Gary S:

Benjamin Franklin once said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Well, what do you do when it’s someone else’s deeds and words that chip away at what you’re known for publicly? As this week’s guest, Jennifer Cunningham, knows and teaches others, you have to keep your eyes on the values that matter to you as you look to bounce back from a crucible that leaves you feeling defeated and humiliated. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, cohost of the show, and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. Give a listen now as Jennifer discusses with Warwick the hits her reputation took at work and how she is applying the lessons she learned from that painful experience to help others repair their good name when it’s been tarnished.

Warwick F:

Well Jennifer, thanks so much for being here. I love what you do, repair your reputation and recover confidence, dealing with shame and humiliation that sadly is all too common in the organizational and business world. With the media, social media, it’s probably just gotten worse I would guess. Sadly in one sense, there’s a lot of people that need your help. It will be a wonderful day if it’s like, “We’re all good. Shame and humiliation don’t exist. We don’t need you.” You’d be overjoyed I’m guessing if that was the case in one sense.

Jennifer C:

Definitely.

Warwick F:

So, I know you’ve had your own crucible. You live in Southern California I understand. Just give us a little bit of the backstory of Jennifer growing up, family, just the before work world if you will, Jennifer. Tell us all about yourself.

Jennifer C:

Sure. No, thank you for asking and it’s a pleasure for me to be here. A real honor. So, pretty typical background. My dad was a school teacher and my mother, she worked in the aerospace industry. I have three siblings and grew up in kind of a normal neighborhood. Pretty good upbringing, played a lot outside, and early on had some teasing issues. I was a little chubby and I wore glasses, and I got teased a little bit but all of those things helped my resilience I think, and been my way and graduated high school, college, all of that and got my first degree in behavioral science. Then I went on to get higher education in conflict management and counseling. I’m married and I have no children. I have a dog, so he’s kind of my baby. No serious traumatic experiences, and perhaps that’s why what happened to me impacted me the way it did.

Warwick F:

So, it’s interesting. Sometimes there’s a backstory with difficult parenting or searing incident in high school, but unfortunately a lot of kids go through teasing about body image, what have you, and it’s never pleasant but it sounds like some people retreat. It sounds like you’re the person that deals with things, doesn’t retreat, doesn’t let silly incidents with kids define you or rock your world. Does that make sense?

Jennifer C:

Yes.

Warwick F:

I mean, you probably didn’t like it but it didn’t sound like you were hiding under the covers for all of high school and says, “Mom, I don’t want to go to school.” Doesn’t sound like you were that kid, right?

Jennifer C:

No. From an early age, there was something innate about me and my personality, and I don’t want to trivialize what I’m going to say, but I have to be happy. I don’t mean 24 hours a day, but I have to have that piece of mind in my life. I just can’t be sad or unhappy. I just couldn’t live that way.

Warwick F:

Would you say you’re the kind of person that you don’t let things get you down? It’s unpleasant, but got to find a way to move on and I’m certainly not going to sit here and sulk or be unhappy. Life is good, let’s get out there and play, and enjoy, and be with nice friends. That kind of attitude to life.

Jennifer C:

Yeah. I think that’s part of my process. When something happens, I do feel it. I do feel a sting, and there may be a period of time where I kind of retreat and assess things but once I give myself that space to sulk, then I just get right back into it. I start reading, or meditating, or doing something to help myself. It’s just my nature.

Warwick F:

You’re not somebody, I don’t mean to be graphic, but you’re not somebody that stays in victim mode and feels sorry for yourself. That’s just not your way. It doesn’t mean it’s fair or right, but you’re not going to sit there and be a victim, if you will.

Jennifer C:

I’m definitely an action taker. I move to make myself feel better and get back to being the happy person that I like to be and I guess everyone around me likes to see.

Warwick F:

Well, that’s great. So, it’s so fascinating before this incident happened, which we’ll get to, you mentioned you got a degree in counseling and organizational behavior. What led you to do that? I mean, what motivated you to say, “Well, I really want to study this?”

Jennifer C:

So, I’ve always been fascinated with human behavior, so that was my bachelor’s degree. I thought at that time I would be a psychologist, and then I put myself through school. I worked full time. I didn’t take out any loans or anything, so the idea of getting however many thousand hours you have to get to be a licensed psychologist kind of went by the wayside. I always worked in helping fields. I worked in the jail system for a while. I’ve kind of always been a community educator, and then I found myself working in higher education. Mostly for the bulk of my career as a career counselor, so helping students with resume prep, and interviewing, and finding a job and being successful in the job. Then when I was in that role, one of the benefits of working at the universities that I worked at was that you could take classes free of charge. I’m always about trying to get value out of those situations so I said, “Okay, well I’ll get a second master’s degree in counseling,” and at that time the motivation was that it could advance my career in higher education.

Jennifer C:

I was going to also get licensed at that point to be in California what they call a marriage and family therapist, and again, I was at a time in my life and age where I kind of didn’t want to go do the hours that I needed to do without making an income. So I stayed at my job and I just used the background to launch me into other areas.

Warwick F:

So, interesting. You’ve always had this desire to help people, and you mentioned everything, conflict management, and counseling, and higher education, maybe altruistic. Not everybody wants to help people, but sounds like that’s just in your DNA I’m sure from the earliest, which is wonderful. So with this as background, you had a crucible experience at a university situation. Obviously I know with HR and all there are certain legal things you can’t get into, but just in your own words, talk about that incident and how that did seem to be a turning point in your life, if you will. So, describe it in your own words.

Jennifer C:

So as I mentioned, I was working as a career counselor and I had been in that role for about eight years, and really a beloved staff member at the university. I have a lunchbox full of thank you notes from students that I’ve helped, which is really rewarding. Then I kind of accomplished what I could in that role and at the time they needed someone to step into another position that aligned with my background. In that position, I was really involved in making very unpopular decisions. There was usually two parties and one party would be happy with the outcome and the other party generally wasn’t. So in that role, I had to make some decisions and what happened was I think a group of students maybe that were, I don’t know for this for fact, but maybe that were bolstered by some faculty who considered themselves activists, they really did a smear campaign on me. I came to work one day and there were posters all over the campus asking for me to be fired and calling me incompetent, and quoting me as having said some really horrible things which I would never say.

Jennifer C:

Anyway, I think that they just misunderstood what my role was, and my role was to be an independent and unbiased fact finder. Not an advocate for one person or the other person. So, that’s kind of what happened and it caused a real uproar within the student body and really throughout the whole campus. It grew into this big monster. So I went, like I said, from being very popular and beloved to enemy number one among the students. The students, and the faculty, and the staff that knew me knew the truth but there were a lot of people that didn’t know me. So, I’d walk onto campus and people would look at me funny and wonder if I did and said the things that I was accused of saying. In the end, the university administration did their own audit of my work and I was confident that I had done the right things and made the right steps, so in that way, it all worked out to my benefit but it was still very traumatic for me.

Warwick F:

I mean, here you are, again we’re not going to get into details because of HR and all, you’re working with the student body fact finding one group of students versus another. You’re just trying to make an independent analysis but yet because of propriety and totally understandable HR practice, you’re not able to defend yourself. You’re not able to say, “Well, here are the facts. How would you rule in these facts? Here’s all the facts. This is why I ruled.” Now, that would’ve probably helped you. Would it have made a difference? There’s no way of knowing. Sometimes if people get an idea in their head, no amount of facts will sway them from their viewpoint, but you weren’t able to do that and nor, from the university’s perspective or from yours, nor should you’ve been able to do that because it’s confidential. It was not good for you, but I’m sure you would agree with the right thing to do, to keep it confidential. Right?

Jennifer C:

Absolutely, yes.

Warwick F:

So, it’s not like the university was to blame at all. They were doing what was the appropriate and right thing, but that must’ve been frustrating in which those who had a right to know knew that what you were doing was right. The university audited, said, “Yes. You handled it correctly,” but yet you were not able to publicly defend yourself against the accusations. So it was like they’re hitting you, and you’ve got your arms tied behind your back, understandably. No fault of the institution, but yet you were humiliated and shamed and you couldn’t defend yourself. That must’ve been, as you just mentioned, an action orientated person so frustrating. You want to tell people the truth but you’re not able to, even though you agree that you shouldn’t be able to, it still must have been immensely frustrating.

Jennifer C:

It was very frustrating, yes. I really couldn’t talk to anyone. My boss, and that’s who I was able to get a lot of it out, of course when I came home I told my husband everything and I would whine to him. One of the things I mentioned is, it started causing me relationship issues because my husband wanted his fun loving wife back and so did my friends and family. My health suffered. I couldn’t sleep well and I was drinking more than I normally would, and it wasn’t a good time. It was very frustrating.

Warwick F:

I mean without getting too graphic, what were some of the things that they were saying about you that caused you so much pain?

Jennifer C:

Mostly that I was incompetent. That I didn’t know what my job was, which was just so ridiculous because I knew exactly what my job was. Then I guess the other thing are these quotes that they quoted me as saying, which any person born after a certain year would know not to say something like I was quoted as saying. I guess what bothered me the most was the feeling then that you walk into your normal workplace and suddenly you’re the person to avoid, the person to distrust. Students would have to come to me after that for different reasons, and then they always entered my office with a little bit of distrust like, “Does she know how to do her job? Is she going to be fair to me? Is she going to do something wrong?” So I was watching every step I made, everything I said.

Jennifer C:

When a student would come into my office, normally I would greet them and ask them a little bit about themselves. Where are you from? How did you get here? Students were even reluctant to even share just very basic information with me as I was trying to build rapport. A lot of students come into my office very agitated and very stressed out because typically it’s not a good reason why they come to see me, and so I would do my best to try to make students feel comfortable and let them know that, “Hey, I’m just here to look at the A and B facts and put them together. I have no judgment on you,” and students wouldn’t open up to me. It made my day to day job very challenging.

Gary S:

And that aspect of what you just said, I want to make sure the listeners grasp this because I’ve been fascinated ever since we first started talking offline, Jennifer, about public humiliation. It’s both a crucible and it’s also an amplification of a crucible, and you got both barrels of it. We’ve heard the phrase X, Y, or Z is the gift that keeps on giving. In some ways, what you’ve just described is a crucible with a contrail, a crucible with a tail on it. You went through this moment and it affected the way people interacted with you. It was day to day. There were new implications, new ramifications for you because your reputation had taken that hit, and I think that makes public humiliation a unique sort of crucible experience or an aspect of a crucible experience because what’s there on Monday, by Thursday you could have even more to it. There’s even more presuppositions about you. I would think that makes public humiliation its own unique kind of crucible. What makes it such a damaging, destructive crucible?

Jennifer C:

I think you touched on that. It was, not only was I triggered the first time when I walked into the office and saw all these posters posted all over the place, but then I was triggered daily for weeks until really what ended it was when the students that did this particular action, when they left the campus. When they graduated and were gone. So it stayed with me and every time another incident would come up that called for my investigation skills, I would be triggered again in some way, and still am to some degree. I’m much more confident and let it roll a little bit more now partly because I’ve listened to so many people’s stories and I think, “Wow. What I went through in comparison is really nothing compared to what some people have gone through in their lives.” It helps me put that in perspective.

Jennifer C:

I think the results probably were the same because it’s a shock to your system, but some people have greater resilience than others. So, I don’t want to discount anybody’s experience but comparing mine to some other people’s, it helped in a way. Just ironically, right before this situation happened, I was preparing and did the curriculum for a student presentation because there had been some online bullying where students were harassing other students and I had made this presentation about how to apologize and how to say you’re sorry if you sent a post, for instance, to another student that wasn’t what you really meant to say. So, I was kind of going through my own live course as this was going on. It was a really interesting time.

Warwick F:

I just wonder as I’m listening, and obviously listeners know I have some experience with shame and humiliation, so in my own story and the 150 year old family newspaper business and terrible headlines and editorial cartoons, but I wonder if part of it is you have this image of yourself as being a fair fact finder. You’re not here to judge. You’re here to assess the situation and let the facts be what they may and appropriate consequences. So for somebody to see you as some hatchet person with an agenda or some persona that’s 180 degrees from who you are, and again you couldn’t defend yourself, that had to have hurt. It’s like, I’m not who you think I am. I’m not this scary hatchet person out to torpedo your academic career.

Jennifer C:

Absolutely.

Warwick F:

I’m just here to find the facts. I’m not judge, I’m not jury, I just find facts. I’m not the executioner here. I don’t have this black hat and this big guillotine or something. I’m not here to hurt you. Was that part of that persona thing you were going through?

Jennifer C:

Yeah, exactly. Not only was I not the hatchet person, I prided myself in my prior role of being the caregiver, the students that come to me, and I would take such care with them and really trying to drill down on what it is they wanted to do with their lives before they left the university, and spent so much time uncovering what that really meant in terms of a career. In retrospect, I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t the best move for me to move into this other role, but then it propelled my life in a different direction that has turned out okay too. Yeah, exactly what you say. I’m here to help you get through this situation, and these students have a lot to lose, many of them, because sometimes they get sent home and I know the impact of the decisions that I make. So, I take it very seriously.

Warwick F:

Obviously you understand and they should that there’s consequences of our actions. If we choose to act in ways that are hurtful to other students or to ourselves, there are consequences and people have to take responsibility for their actions. You’re not here to judge but when you think of yourself as a caring person who’s there to help and some are viewing you as this hatchet person that, “Oh, Jennifer Cunningham. She revels in students’ misery. She’s there to just make people just be in pain,” or whatever people are twisting it. It’s like, that’s not me. That’s not me. So, obviously how did you get beyond that? Because okay, the students left, but there are still lingering perceptions.

Warwick F:

It’s like with me and the whole $2 billion dollar takeover debacle. That happened in 1990 when the company went under. Well, there aren’t too many journalists, there’s some journalists still around however many 30 years later, but even the younger ones. They go do the research in the archives, which is all online, and so they inherit the perceptions of generations of journalists. It’s like, oh my gosh. Does it ever die? I mean, just by one way of example. Just the other days, I’ve got a book coming out in October, and you want a free chapter? It’s all part of the promotion, which you do have a great team, so they got the free chapter signed up and there was this gossip column article probably within the last week and they talk about me being in exile in America and all that.

Warwick F:

“Warwick will tell you his story for a price.” It’s like, who sells their book for nothing? I mean, come on. Really? It was just snarky stuff and yeah. Did I mind? Yes. I minded. Now I’m a big boy. A few days went by and I got over it. Does it irritate me? Yes, of course it does, but oh my gosh. Will they ever cut me a break? In the case of Australian journalists, the answer is probably no. They will never cut me slack and I perpetually will be 26 years old and this young, naïve kid that could’ve had it all and was impatient and blew the whole family legacy. A little simplistic, but yeah. It’s like, oh my gosh. Can you stop doing this? No. They’ll still do the stupid, snarky stuff.

Gary S:

One of the parts that was interesting about that experience based on what you were saying earlier, Jennifer, you used the word triggered. That there was certain things that happened that when they happen again can trigger and Warwick, I watched you. In fact, I’m the one who discovered the article when it came out and I withheld it a day because you had had a day where you got some not great news in certain areas and I didn’t want to hit you with, “At the end of the day here’s another bit of bad news.” There was a bit there in that article, they did an editorial cartoon. The first one probably done on you or that you’ve seen in more than 30 years, and I knew that was going to trigger you. That was going to not be something that you enjoyed, and that is powerful evidence of the impact that being publicly humiliated can have.

Warwick F:

I don’t want to dwell too much on this because I want to get back to you, Jennifer, but just in terms of triggering, it sounds weird to say this, but I pride myself a little bit like you on being a caring person. I’m here to help people. I even told my publisher, “I don’t care whether this book sells one or 10,000. I’m going to do my level best to make it successful but it’s not about money. It’s about helping people come back from failure and setbacks to live a fulfilling life.” What we call a life of significance. A life on purpose, dedicated to serving others.

Warwick F:

So when they start saying, “Oh, he’ll do it for a price,” that gets at the heart of my own persona because that’s not why I’m doing. So it’s like, “Really?” That’s when it really irritates, like with you. When they accuse you of being this uncaring hatchet person. It’s like, but that’s not who I am. Anyway, so getting back to you. Help me understand, hey. I mean, I don’t know that you ever fully get over stuff, but how you moved on as best you could and obviously I’m sure now we have our bad days but overall sounds like you’re probably relatively a happy, fulfilled person. We all have our bad days, but how did you get beyond something that you could never defend yourself? How did you heal and get beyond it?

Jennifer C:

Well at the very beginning, I actually consulted a defamation attorney because I was so upset by this, and the person that I worked with was just phenomenal and just gave me some really basic things to think about. He’s like, “Well first of all, you really don’t have a case because you have to prove that they meant to hurt you.” I couldn’t prove that because they could just say, “Well, this is what we thought.” So, that went out the window. In retrospect, that would’ve been really stupid for me to sue over this. It would been a waste of time and a waste of money, so I’m so glad that that didn’t happen, because sometimes you just have to do nothing. That is one thing you can do, is do nothing, but for me what I did is I started reading everything I could not only about people that have had these types of experiences but then I just delved into, again, my spiritual life.

Jennifer C:

I always kind of had a spiritual life. I’m not a really religious person but when my life is going well, I kind of put those things on hold. I stop meditating and stop doing the things, and I realized nope. I need to start doing that again. So I did that kind of work and then it just hit me one day. I said, “You know, I have got to turn this around.” I became familiar with a concept called post traumatic growth, and that’s where people that have had crucible experiences have turned it into something better or a gift, or turned it around.

Jennifer C:

So I decided, what could I do with my background around this? I’m going to help people that have gone through this, because more and more with our social media, just like your experience Warwick where anybody can say anything about you and it lives online for a long time, people that have had these experiences, even if it’s just a business owner getting a bad review, it affects your psyche and I know that there are so many people out there that are suffering. Maybe they’re doing the work on the front end, trying to get it removed from the internet or trying to take steps to rebrand themselves, but there is an emotional piece to it too or a psychological piece, and those are the people that I help and so that’s what I did. I got a coaching certificate. I used my counseling background, and that’s where I am now. I do that part time. I still have a full time job, but I coach people on the side.

Warwick F:

Wow, and so you really leaned into your pain, if you will, in helping people with shame and humiliation. As you’re doing that, how has that affected your persona? As you’re really putting forth so much energy and passion into caring for others, what’s that done for you personally?

Jennifer C:

Oh, it’s been wonderful. Just first to be trusted by people where people come and they tell me these stories that I can hear the pain in their voice. It’s so hurtful, and how it’s impacting their lives, and I find that usually bleeds into one, if not the three areas of either their relationships, their career, or their health. Many times it’s often all three that are being affected. There’s a sense of gratification in not only hearing of trauma but also providing them help to move beyond it.

Jennifer C:

So there’s one thing that I want to mention that was very helpful in my case. EMDR therapy. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that but it stands for eye movement desensitization therapy. I don’t know if I have that name correct, but it’s a type of therapy that’s very fast and it was originally used with war veterans who had come back with PTSD and it’s very effective for a lot of people. So if any of your listeners are experiencing something like that, they may want to consider that. I did that as well. It was very helpful, so I’m sorry I kind of drew a blank on what that question was. I kind of went off into la la land there.

Warwick F:

No, no, no. Just how when you’re helping people, how that affected your own healing process. It sounds like it did, and certainly my case as just writing this book, which was pretty painful. In your case, look, I wasn’t there but as far as I can see you didn’t really do anything wrong. It was unfair. In my case, it wasn’t all my fault but I didn’t mean to hurt anybody, I just made some stupid decisions and naïve assumptions, but still as I am trying to write this book, which was painful talking about some of the dumbest, stupidest decisions you’ve made in life. Like with this podcast or just chatting to people as you feel like you’re helping people, it’s sort of this healing balm. There’s this healing component to it.

Warwick F:

It doesn’t mean the scar totally goes away but it feels like, okay, I know there’s this oft use phrase you’ve heard a million times but using your pain for a purpose. There’s no question there’s a healing component in that. Not naïve enough to say, “Oh, it all goes away,” but does it help? Obviously counseling, therapy, coaching, that’s all good. I think I’ve gone down my share of all that, but there’s something about leaning into your pain and using it to help others. It does help you get beyond it. I mean, it certainly feels like it helped you get beyond what you went through.

Jennifer C:

Absolutely.

Warwick F:

I mean, largely speaking. Often there’s a passion that comes out of our crucibles, and you have a passion for that because you know what it means to be shamed and humiliated. So, one of the things I’m just curious about to get your thoughts on, one of the things I talk quite a bit about is, which is easier said than done, is not seeing your sense of self, your inner persona, tied to what other people think of you. It’s very easy to say this, I realize. Probably any good psychologist or spiritual teacher would say that, certainly from my Christian faith perspective, that’s obviously from a faith perspective.

Warwick F:

It’s more you’re loved unconditionally by God and therefore it doesn’t really matter what people think. Easy to say, tough to live, but do you chat to people about, it’s always going to wound when somebody says something nasty to you? I mean, it just is, but it’s like exercise. Strengthen those inner spiritual muscles that say, “Your value as a human being doesn’t depend on what every other idiot out there,” to your coin of phrase, “Thinks of you.” Yes, if somebody you dearly love and respect says, “Boy, you have some issues,” okay, that might dent you a bit but does that make sense? Try to separate your sense of self image from what every idiot out there says of you.

Jennifer C:

There’s a book right now that I recently read, has an off title, the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F. It’s been actually-

Gary S:

A flip?

Jennifer C:

There you go. Yeah, that one.

Gary S:

It’s a four letter word. Flip, so.

Jennifer C:

It’s a very startling title but there’s some really good little gems of wisdom in there, and basically the gist of it is, consider the things that are very important to you in your life and focus on those. Not that you can’t care about other things, but focus on the things to give a flip about. That’s been really helpful. I still do care what people think of me, and if this situation were to happen again, I know I’d be stronger because what I’ve said to myself is, “Hey. I have a job to do. It’s a hard job sometimes. A lot of times it’s very easy, but it’s my job and that’s what I’m hired to do and just like this last experience, I will get through it. I’ll be able to recover.”

Warwick F:

Well, I think it’s a bit like exercise. When that thing happened a week or so ago, yeah I didn’t like it, but you go through it whether it’s meditation, prayer, chatting to my wife, some close friends. I say, “Boy, this is irritating,” and it’s like, I think I’m actually helping people. Really? “Well, you can hear Warwick’s story for a price,” and there were other snarky things like, “He talks about failure. Well, he has a lot of experience with that doesn’t he?” I mean, just every little thing. It’s just the snarky stuff. Okay, you know what? They probably weren’t journalists back when this was happening, but there are some people that love, I wouldn’t say causing other people’s pain, but just being snarky for the sake of it. Their job is to write stuff just to be snarky just because maybe snark sells. I don’t know.

Jennifer C:

Definitely.

Gary S:

It’s true in this day and age, and this is one of the things that I wanted to ask you about, Jennifer, is that the art of humiliation is easier thanks to the science of social media. Right? I mean, the fact that this was an Australian newspaper that has an online presence and I got an alert because it said, “Warwick Fairfax,” and that’s my job to find out stories about Warwick. I mean, it’s a lot easier. It’s easier for the mob to gather online than it is in person. Right?

Jennifer C:

Yeah, absolutely.

Gary S:

That amplifies this to, quote, “Spinal Tap 11.” Doesn’t it?

Jennifer C:

It’s so true. I mean, that’s one of the concepts I remember from one of my early psychology classes. They were talking about war and how back in the old days, people would stab each other or beat each other up face to face in hand to hand combat. Then when we started getting further away with bullets and arrows, it kind of went out. Lots more killing can happen because you’re not looking that person in the eye. I kind of use that as a metaphor for social media, where you’re just behind this shield and there’s a lot of regret that can happen from social media, and a lot of really horrible things. There’s another great book by Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Humiliated. I don’t know if you’ve read that book.

Gary S:

I have, yep.

Jennifer C:

It’s some really bad story, and this is at the forefront of social media, and I always think of Monica Lewinsky. She is my hero in so many ways, not because of what she did, but who she became and her resilience when she had this experience at such a tender age in her life that for many women would’ve just done them under. They would’ve taken their own lives. So, I really just admire her and what she’s done.

Warwick F:

It’s hard to change that persona. You follow it probably closer than I do, but it seemed like there are some women’s group, some advocates that said, “You know what? Maybe we didn’t give her enough of a fair hearing,” which is nice, but that persona, boy. My gosh, it’s hard to change.

Jennifer C:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Warwick F:

One of the questions I have in all this is when you’re working with folks you’re counseling and coaching, just the role of forgiveness, because I know for me I mean, look. Whether it’s my own family, when you have a wealthy family there’s always interesting dynamics and stuff that goes on, or forgiving people. I had some advisors that probably weren’t the best. I mean, probably have a list of people that I’ve had to exercise that muscle with but talk about the role of forgiveness as your counseling folks in being able to move on from shame and humiliation.

Jennifer C:

Yeah, so huge and I think a lot of times when people hear forgiveness, they think, “Oh. So, I just let that person off the hook? They did this horrible thing to me. Okay, everything is better.” It’s for you. It’s for the person who’s been wounded, and there’s this great exercise that I give to some of my clients where I have them write a forgiveness letter in the voice of their transgressor, saying all the things that they wish they would’ve said. So, it’s reversing the roles. People get so much value out of that exercise because it’s just taking a completely different perspective, and it really heals. It’s an inner healing, but it’s so important.

Warwick F:

Oh, I agree. One of the things we talk a lot about here is, and I’m sure you do as well, the difference between forgiveness and condoning. A specific action. Let’s just make it extreme, and we’ve had sadly a fair few people that have suffered abuse from father or mother, and things that you could say, “Well, that’s about as unforgivable as you could get,” depending on the severity of it. Yet, it doesn’t mean condoning. It doesn’t mean there aren’t legal consequences, and there should be, but as you say, forgiving is for you because lack of forgiveness puts you in your own prison, or you’re drinking poison. It doesn’t mean it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t for safety reasons distance yourself. Those are all things that are appropriate and sensible, but yeah. You’re right. Forgiveness is for you. You’ve got to be able to move on. You obviously had to forgive those students that were spreading things that weren’t true.

Warwick F:

Now in the reality, I find there’s very few people apologize for anything. We live in an age where it’s double down, triple down, and nobody apologizes whether it’s in politics or anything else. It’s the age of no apology, so it’s always nice to hear, “Gee, I’m sorry Jennifer. What I did was wrong. Please forgive me.” That would be such a blessing but the reality is, people tend not to do that. So it’s a lot harder to forgive when you know, and there’s wisdom as to, do you go to somebody and confront them and ask them to apologize? That’s a wisdom call. Everybody has to make their own call, but it’s more often the case than it is not that you have to forgive when there’s no apology, and that’s tough, but yet it’s vital for you.

Jennifer C:

It is.

Warwick F:

You have to say, “Look. It’s not because they deserve it. I deserve it.” You probably have given that talk a million times, right? To your clients.

Jennifer C:

Yeah. It’s for your own inner peace, and I think with my incident, it could’ve been, Warwick, that the people that did this really thought they were doing the right thing. I have never had a sit down with them where we’ve hashed it out, so I just have to wonder about the motives. That they could’ve been thinking that they were ridding the university of, how did you say it? A hatchet woman or something. Who knows?

Warwick F:

That’s right, and some young people, they don’t always reason as carefully as after you’ve had a few decades of life. It’s part of maturing and growing. So, sometimes it’s there’s very careful, detailed thought. Sometimes it’s just not. It’s just react and off we go. So, yeah. As you’re kind of dealing with folks with humiliation and shame, what are some of the top things that you try and do? Some key principles that you have.

Jennifer C:

So, if your listeners go to my website, I have a free guide. Six strategies to gathering confidence after crisis, and there’s some tips there, but yeah.

Gary S:

Let me step in and do my cohost responsibilities and say that website is-

Jennifer C:

Oh, ReputationRepairCoach.com.

Gary S:

Excellent, thank you. Sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to make sure people knew where to go.

Jennifer C:

There’s some tips in there but I think the first thing is talking about it. So whether that means to a trusted friend, to a therapist, to a coach, to someone you trust. You don’t want to stay there too long. You want to talk about it but then you’ve got to move. You’ve got to take some action to heal. Obviously writing about things, writing about your situation, getting it all out on paper, that can be helpful. Trying to reframe it. Was there something that I was to learn here? Was there something that I didn’t see? Is there a different way I can look at this?

Jennifer C:

That can be helpful as well. Those activities around forgiveness are always important too. That’s the type of thing with forgiveness. That’s the kind of thing I would get into a little bit more with somebody in a session, but there’s some really helpful tips in the guide and I say get the help wherever you can. Whatever feels comfortable for you. Again, whether that’s a therapist, EMDR therapy, a coach, clergy, wherever you find your sense of peace in your life is where you want to go, and reading and researching.

Warwick F:

Yeah.

Jennifer C:

Reading and researching. Yeah.

Warwick F:

I think probably people who’ve never been through it underestimate the severity. I mean, when you use post traumatic growth, which I love that concept, it implies that there was PTSD potential. Right? Do you find that that is common amongst the folks that you work with? It’s not just this little speed bump, “Oh well,” it’s this potential gut punch, life changing, almost post traumatic depression kind of thing that it’s not that easy to get over as people would think. It’s not a matter of just, “Hey, suck it up. Be a big boy, be a big girl, just get over it. Life’s unfair.” I mean, if you’ve not been through it, it can be easy to say, “Just get over it,” right? It’s not that simple.

Jennifer C:

I think anybody that would seek me out would be a person who it has affected. I guess there’s probably people that can weather these storms and perhaps, I don’t want to make a judgment that maybe those folk are narcissistic, but if you’re not impacted then it is, how can you not be? That would be my question, but I know there’s people out there that aren’t.

Warwick F:

Do you have a heart? Do you have a pulse? Do you care?

Jennifer C:

Yeah. yeah, exactly.

Warwick F:

Maybe for you the risk of being psychoanalyst and I’m a certified coach but not a trained counselor, do you think part of it is you are a caring person? I mean, you wouldn’t do what you’ve done in terms of your degrees if you weren’t caring, and for a caring person to be labeled as uncaring, it’s about as much of a knife to the heart as you could possibly get. Right?

Jennifer C:

Absolutely.

Warwick F:

It’s funny being a person of faith. I love CS Lewis, and he wrote this book Screwtape Letters that’s all about what’s the best way to get a person of light, or however he phrases things, off track? It’s not the full frontal assault. It’s all these tactics, so if there was some dark force in the universe that wanted to attack Jennifer Cunningham, what’s one of the best ways to attack her? Attack her sense of self around caring. Right?

Jennifer C:

Yeah.

Warwick F:

You can believe spiritually that there are dark or forces of light, but let’s assume that there’s something around there. Most spiritual traditions do believe that there’s dark and light. Pretty much every one does. Do you ever think about, “Gosh, if they had to design something to really derail me, they did a good job on this one. I mean, it’s attacking my sense of self, and they’re preventing me from striking back. It was effective,” kind of deal, you know?

Jennifer C:

Oh, yeah. Yeah, it’s so true. Yeah, I’ve analyzed my experience from so many angles. The why and if I could’ve done something differently, and is it okay that it turned out like this? So, I’ve looked at it from all sides and definitely a learning experience.

Warwick F:

A couple things. We talk a lot here about learning the lessons of your crucible, and sometimes there are lessons to learn. My case, there were lots because it was largely my own fault. Sometimes there are no easy lessons but it’s easy for me to play the what if game, without getting into all the details, what if I talked to other family members? Maybe we could’ve changed management. What if this, what if that? I’m sure you could play out what ifs. The problem with the what ifs, is you never get to try them. It might’ve been better but it might not have been, but you never know and that’s one of the things I’m guessing you talk to your clients. Lessons learned is good, but the ruminating for months and years on the what ifs that you never get to try is not that productive, because it’s unanswerable. Right? How do you know if the what ifs would’ve worked if you don’t get to play it out? So at a certain point, you’ve got to let go of what if.

Jennifer C:

There’s people out there too that would have an experience like this, maybe just as minor as mine was, that would take their own life. They would not seek help or they would not get the help they need, and so this can be very devastating. People move their families clear across the country to get away from their reputations. People make some drastic moves in their lives to redeem themselves. Sometimes it never happens.

Warwick F:

Just one quick thing. One quick thing on this because I know time is getting short. You said, “Well, as little as me.” See, I don’t think what you went through was little at all. It was devastating. That was just horrendous. So for instance, I’ve said the same thing that you’ve just said. I could say, “Well, I lost $2 billion dollars, a lot of money,” but it wasn’t like I was out on the street. I’ve been married to my wife for 32 years, I have a wonderful family. It’s not like life was over, but I’ve said that to people. I remember I said it early on in our podcast to a Navy SEAL who was paralyzed. He actually lives in Southern California. He was paralyzed in a training accident. I said, “Look. What I went through is nothing compared to what you went through. You were paralyzed.” He said, “Your worst day is your worst day. It’s not a competition.” I can’t tell you, pretty much everybody I’ve ever said this to on the podcast, and I don’t always say it, ever single one said, “You know what? It’s not a comparison.” Does that make sense?

Jennifer C:

Yes.

Warwick F:

I’m sure your clients say, “Oh, what I went through is nothing compared to what you went through, Jennifer.” Right?

Jennifer C:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that is true.

Warwick F:

Yet it’s painful to you, it’s not a competition of who’s had the biggest shame. Oh, only thousands of people knew about your humiliation? Well somebody else maybe millions know about, like Monica Lewinsky. You can say, “Well.” If you were talking to her, I don’t think Monica would say to you, Jennifer, “Oh. What you went through is nothing compared to me.” She wouldn’t say that, would she? I don’t know her, but I can’t imagine she would. She’d say, “That was terrible what you went through.”

Gary S:

That sound that you heard, listener, was the sound of the captain turning on the fasten seatbelt sign, indicating that we have begun our descent. I’m going on longer than I normally do. Which means that we’re going to have to bring the plane in for a landing soon, but before we do that, I’d be remiss if I did not give you a chance, Jennifer, to tell listeners about how they can find you and what they can find of you in your services online.

Jennifer C:

Oh, thank you. Thank you for that. So website, ReputationRepairCoach.com. Basically my bio, my story, a free gift is available there, and what I offer is a coaching session package. I find that anything less than six sessions doesn’t really do it for this particular subject. If you get the free guide, you are part of my email list. I don’t spam people, I don’t bombard you, but if there’s something of value that I’m doing then I’d like to make people aware of that. As you could tell hopefully from this interview, I’m very passionate and engaged. Passion is such an overused term, but I’m very engaged in this issue. It’s really my life mission right now. So, I love helping people and I can help you if you’re suffering.

Gary S:

Before I throw it back to you Warwick, there’s something that Jennifer said when we first talked offline that fits exactly like puzzle pieces with what you just said Jennifer, and that’s this. That you didn’t go into business for yourself. You indicated it’s still a part time thing, you’re trying to grow that business. You didn’t do this to make money. You did it to help people, and that’s very definition, right Warwick? Of what we say about a life of significance, a life on purpose, dedicated to serving others. That’s what makes Jennifer such a perfect fit for us, a bullseye for us as a guest. Right?

Warwick F:

Absolutely. You’re all about caring for others and helping them come back from what you went through. I mean, there’s no question. So, just maybe a final question. As you’re dealing with folks that have gone through devastating public humiliation and shame, what’s a word of hope that you would give to those folks?

Jennifer C:

There’s a really great quote that I am reminded of by a man named … I’m forgetting his name, but he produced the documentary Just Mercy, and it’s, “We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done or the worst thing that’s ever happened to us.” That gives me peace to remember that, and I hope it does for you and your listeners too.

Gary S:

I’m trying to look up who did Just Mercy and I can’t find it.

Jennifer C:

Bryan Stephenson.

Gary S:

Bryan Stephenson. I just found it. There you go.

Jennifer C:

Bryan Stephenson, yeah.

Gary S:

All right.

Warwick F:

Well done. That’s awesome.

Gary S:

Well, I believe that sound that you just heard, listener, was the plane landing on the ground. This is fun. Talk about reputation management, Jennifer. I used to say in the first perhaps 25 episodes of this show, and this is now, we’re in our late 70s of the show, I used to say when it was time to land the plane I would say, “The guys are on the runway with those flashlights.” My wife after hearing me say this through COVID, working from home, about two dozen times said, “You know they wouldn’t do that when the plane is about to land because they’d hit the people with the plane.” I was like, “Oh, that’s right. That’s parking the plane.”

Jennifer C:

That’s take off.

Gary S:

So the plane has landed without people with flashlights, and there’s some takeaways listener that I want to give you from today’s episode with Jennifer Cunningham. I’m going to repeat some of the things that she said, because she has five really strong takeaways that she talks to her clients about, about how to move beyond their crucible and the public humiliation that either is their crucible or comes attached to their crucible. One, as she said is talk about it, but don’t live there. Don’t talk about it for too long. Talk about it, get it out, have it be therapeutic but at some point then move on beyond it.

Gary S:

Two, write about it because getting it down on paper allows for new space. I love that phrase. It allows for new space. If you get it out of your head, out of your fingers, onto a keyboard, onto a piece of paper, it gets it out so that there’s new space for you to have new thoughts. Fantastic tip. Third tip, read about it. Understand how other people have persevered. She mentioned on the show in this interview a couple of people. Take a look at that documentary she mentioned. Look at some books by some of the folks that she talked to, to find out how other people have persevered, and in the world of moving beyond your crucible, I’m not a big fan of saying it’s okay to plagiarize but it is okay to plagiarize in the world of overcoming your crucible. Find out what worked for other people and apply that to yourself, because that will help you.

Gary S:

A fourth thing you can do, listener, is reframe it. Is there a silver lining in what happened? So many of the guests that we talked to on the show have found the lessons from their crucibles. What was trying to be taught them? What did they need to learn from that? That is a key, key learning to help them move beyond. Then the last thing which I think is an important, not just in the midst of crucible times, but every morning this is a great thing to do or every evening this is a great thing to do. The fifth point that Jennifer makes is take inventory of your gratitude. What are your greatest achievements and what are your greatest blessings? Focus on those things, because those things will help create new brain space for you as you move forward beyond what it is that you have been facing.

Gary S:

So listeners, until the next time we are together, please remember this. As was discussed here, Jennifer’s crucible experience was painful. Warwick’s was painful. The clients that Jennifer works with, their crucibles are painful. The readers and you who listened to the podcast, your crucibles are painful, but they’re not the end of your story. If you do indeed find ways to find the silver linings, find ways to find the learnings in the midst of your crucibles and learn the lessons of them, and apply those lessons to your life as you move forward, as you move, as the show is called, beyond your crucible. Far from being the end of your story, the crucibles that you experience can be the beginning of a new chapter in your story, and here’s the best news of all. That new chapter in your story can be the best chapter in your story because where it leads you to is a life of significance.

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