Q&A: Joan Steffend, author of “… And She Sparkled”
Apr 29 2019
Joan Steffend is someone who radiates kindness. You felt it when you watched her as an on-air reporter at KARE-TV in Minneapolis and host on HGTV. You feel it in the inspirational books she writes. You absorb it when you hear her speak or spend time with her. She’s a public figure who has made gratitude and warmth her personal and professional priorities and I just couldn’t admire her more. I was grateful to her for telling us more about her journey.
Q: I have many fond memories of your work at KARE-TV. What lessons have you carried from your time in broadcasting to your work today?
A couple of things. One: you cannot be all things to all people. It was daunting to sit in front of hundreds of thousands of people (bosses included), knowing that each one had an idea of who you ought to be. How you ought to dress, what your voice should sound like, what color your hair should be. I tried for years to please everyone but it only left me feeling smaller and smaller. I almost had to hide myself away to make room for what everyone else wanted from me. This leads me to the second lesson: your ability to affect people and positive change is most powerful when you know who you are and what you’re offering. Don’t be a cardboard cutout of some universal ideal. Be yourself. Eventually, I actively pursued my own creative heart and showed up as me (or at least as much of me as TV powers-that-be would allow).
Q: You grew up acting in school plays and have cited Carol Burnett as one of your early heroes. What did you admire about her?
Well, a redhead always notices the redheads in the world. And I was a creative, imaginative child who loved a good punchline and found an outlet for it on the far, far off-Broadway stages of the elementary school in Cambridge, Minnesota. It was also important to me to have a through-line of kindness. When I looked at Carol, I saw a kind person having fun and making a difference in the world. I imagined myself on stage with her so many times I’m surprised she doesn’t reach out to have coffee and talk over the “good old days.” When she was on stage, she was in her zone. I think that is what I wanted. That, and to inspire people to laugh and feel.
Q: You won an Emmy and many other awards for your TV work, which often featured uplifting stories. I also love showcasing inspiring stories, which I find through the Small Business Revolution and other programs. Why are uplifting stories important to you?
Our history is just a collection of our stories. In news, so many of the stories that get told are either tragic or beyond our real-life comprehension. I love stories that start with someone who could be our neighbor and how they move the world toward healing. This makes the upward path tangible for us all. It’s aspirational in an accessible way. I also believe in thinking small. This is how all growth begins: in an accessible small way.
Q: You started a non-profit called Peace Begins With Me that asks the question: “What if you are responsible for world peace?” How did that enter your life?
I spent years distilling big stories into simple stories for TV news. Turns out distillation is a gift of mine. So, after I quit both KARE-TV and HGTV, I turned my attention to how I could positively impact the world. Even then it felt impossibly chaotic to me. I spent time with the question, “What could I do?” I saw what I could NOT do: legislate peace, legislate kindness, legislate any kind of significant change for others. I knew that I was the only tool I would be given to impact the world. If I wanted peace, I needed to be more peaceful, act more peacefully, inspire more peace. I eventually distilled it down to kindness, which is an act of peace. If we can be kinder to ourselves, we can be kinder to others and move the world in the direction we all say we want. I love the French proverb, “If we all swept in front of our own door, the world would be clean.” Finger-pointing doesn’t help the world. Better to start sweeping.
Q: More companies are talking about doing good but it’s often just lip service. I advocate for the importance of taking “brand purpose” and turning it into brand action. How important is it for companies to move beyond basic philanthropy and actually get involved in advocating for and making the lives of their customers better?
I think it’s hugely important. It is modeling a new way of competing and cooperating. I’ve heard it called cooper-atition: compete but don’t lose sight of your connection to humanity. My advice would be to show care for customers, but think just as philanthropically about the employees and make it a way of being for the company. The way “brand purpose” rings true in the marketplace is if it is integrated to the “being-ness” and not as a marketing band-aid.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given from a female mentor?
This question left me sad. I came into TV news at a time when it felt like the women needed to compete with each other rather than cooperate. That being said, I remember tears running down my face as I sat in a KARE edit booth one evening trying to figure out how to pick up my young children from daycare and also stay late to cover a story. Pat Miles stuck her head in and told me to walk in to the news director’s office and tell him what I wanted. In my head I thought, “Easy for you to say, because you are so valued here.” I didn’t walk in that night but eventually I did. The response wasn’t positive at first but I started asking for more of what I wanted and I ended up getting more of what I wanted.
Q: I think you are a rock star in the community. If you were an actual rock star, what would be your stage (or band) name?
FIZGIG. I found this word so long ago and it resonated deeply with me. It’s not in every dictionary but what it means is “giddy, restless female.” To me, giddy means willing to be light and awestruck and occasionally goofy. The restless part tells me that I am going to be in a constant state of curious evolution. It tells me to keep moving forward and plug into who I am.
Follow Joan on social media at:
Facebook: Joan Steffend Brandmeier
LinkedIn: Joan Steffend Brandmeier