Lauryn Sargent

Co-founder, Stories Incorporated

1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a kid? Where were
you, who were you with and what were you doing?

The first thing that came to my mind was, my parents dropping me off at Zeppe’s Pizza to meet my friends Erika and Christie, and then walking across the street to the movies together after dinner. This time in my life had everything: newfound independence, talking for hours with two of my favorite friends in a pivotal time (almost-teen) … and watching a lot of movies. We also hoped to run into our 7th grade crushes at the movie theater (this happened once out of like 300 times) so there was also the hope of romance (ha).

It didn’t matter what movie it was (Made in America was one of them I remember), every time was a wonderful time. This is one of the most favorite times in my life so far.

It’s not surprising to anyone who knew me then that I ended up co-founding a storytelling and media company… I was an indoor kid and devoured books and movies. I was always trying to write a book. I cared about the process of storytelling. I still read Entertainment Weekly religiously, like I have since it came out // since I was 16. I’ve always cared about plot and character substance, visual media, and generally how to best tell stories. These things have always made me happy.

2. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that

Mr. Balk!, my high school English and elective teacher, and debate coach. I learned that the most interesting and kind people, who will really add to your life and personal growth, are not always the loudest or flashiest. You might have to hunt to find them but it’s worth it. Mr. Balk was one of the first people like that for me.

He spoke in a monotone voice. He wasn’t obviously entertaining or engaging, when at the time that seemed like table stakes to get high school student attention. But, most importantly, he turned complex ideas into perfect sense without dumbing things down. He always gave us something to think about. He was the best kind of teacher.

I took every elective he taught — Debate, Drama, an actual class called Words. I also picked his English class every semester for two years. He asked me to be a member of the debate team because they were short a person, and didn’t have anyone in the extemporaneous speaking category. Even though the tournaments were all day long, on Saturdays, and I was spectacularly bad at speaking on the fly about current events, it meant the world that he asked me personally. And I loved that I could help the group! I was honored and proud to be a member of the team.

So, I tried really hard. But I was consistently terrible. Once we were going through my scores on the bus on the way home and, oh so sweet and innocent teenage me, I said, genuinely: “Maybe the judges scored incorrectly? Instead of being ranked last, maybe I actually ranked first?”

Oh, I was definitely, definitely in last place.

I learned from him one of the most important lessons ever: Failing is no big deal, just try to get better. It never mattered that I crashed and burned every week, so I was not self conscious about it. What mattered was, I did the best I could every time, with the sole goal of learning and getting better.

Perfect training ground for starting a company later in life!

3. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight
turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

Christen, my college roommate, decided to study abroad for a quarter in college. I asked the rest of my roommates if Brian Sargent, an acquaintance-friend of ours, could sublet her room for those three months. Both Christen’s decision to leave and me being motivated to sublet her room = Brian as my husband today. Without living together, he and I wouldn’t have become close friends. We wouldn’t have fallen in love a few years later, and we would not be married today.

His support, love, and stabilizing presence for the last (almost) 20 years fundamentally reshaped my life and brought out the best in me. Also, two specific humans (Allison and Molly, our children) who make my world today would not exist. Thanks, Christen Visci, for studying abroad in 2002!

4. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

I just started meditating, because of 2020. With a global pandemic, a president making the wrong choices, co-owning a business that serves employer brands and TA teams and workplaces in flux, and two kids distance learning, I’m not alone in that it’s all a lot. Just when I think I can’t handle one more thing, my basement floods. That seriously happened last week. But, I know it’s a lot worse for a lot of other people, so I need to toughen up and get over my stuff. I believe the way to get tough is to meditate.

5. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think is false, that most people think is true?

I think you shouldn’t brush your teeth just before drinking coffee (even though my dentist says it actually doesn’t matter). I think umbrellas aren’t that useful.

6. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ for how people should interact with you, what
would be the most important point in the manual?

Don’t play it cool with me. It is a waste of time and I’m honestly trying to get to know you for real.

“Be so completely yourself that everyone else feels safe to be themselves too”

7. What personality trait has got you in the most trouble? What kind of trouble does it get you in?

Over analyzing and overthinking. Mostly, it makes me anxious and stuck. I can’t move forward if I don’t apologize or clarify when I think I’m wrong or have been misunderstood, no matter how trivial the thing.

8. On what topic would you never make a joke? Why?

I never use sarcasm as a way to joke. I do not like being ambiguous, inconsistent or insincere, ever.

9. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did
you learn?

My daughter switched schools last year, and we didn’t know anyone. Just before the school year started, she was invited to a birthday party for one of her classmates. The parents and the 1st graders all knew one another and were catching up after a summer apart.

Enter us, the new kids.

I knew my daughter felt just as anxious as I did, and that she was watching me for what to do next. We tried to join conversations and kid games, we ate cake and drank juice / coffee, we introduced ourselves to others standing alone.

But, we left early. She and I like meeting new people and generally “go first” in social situations. But, you don’t need to force relationships. Things will fall in place over time. And that’s exactly what happened. Now we both have friends that resulted over the school year naturally.

10. What’s your desktop/mobile screensaver? Take a screenshot and attach it to your answer!

It wasn’t anything. Then I read this question and thought, ‘What is an image that I want to see everyday, that would make me both happy and reflective every time I boot up?’ So now, this is my desktop background image:

11. What is your most prized possession?

When my grandma Maida died, all of her grandkids could choose what we wanted from her house. The only thing I wanted was this old, huge, and very sturdy wood coffee table that sat in her living room since forever. Every grandkid whacked their head on it 100 times while coloring on the floor underneath, or picking up a piece of a puzzle that fell. It’s the place we always gathered to play games or put our feet on it while we watched TV. And now a new generation of kids (mine) are bonking their heads on it and we gather around it as a family every night. It’s huge, and it sits in a space too small for it, but it’s a constant reminder of her and her house.

12. If you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party
before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

My grandma Maida & my daughters Allison and Molly. Any opportunity to introduce them to her and her to them, and me be there to see it, I’m taking — no matter if it’s the end of the world // Zombie Apocalypse.

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

I just reflected on every workplace I’ve ever been in before Stories Inc., and the lessons I learned from each of my managers.

— Becoming someone others can genuinely trust at work is really important.

— Don’t just say something for the sake of being heard, without having thought it through and without proof. Be able to back up your thoughts and ideas with facts and reasons.

— “Make hay while the sun shines.” Timing is so important in recruiting and sales. Take advantage of valuable windows and make the most of opportunity while you can.

— Work should be fun. Life should be fun. (That was from my very first boss, when I waited tables at a pizzeria all throughout high school).

14. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would
recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

I have always taken work seriously and worked very hard. In fact, in early 2009 I was laid off as a result of the financial crisis. One day, at 5:30pm, the owner of the company I worked for was trying to tell me my job had been eliminated. He was waiting just outside my office doorway. But, I had swung my chair facing the window (not the door), and I was in a deep conversation with a candidate I’d been trying to get ahold of for weeks. I didn’t know he was waiting to talk with me and he didn’t want to interrupt my conversation.

For weeks, I had suspected that I would be laid off, but it still hurt. Now, as a business owner in the middle of a weird time, I understand how hard that was for him, too. I remember him saying it was even tougher because here he was trying to tell me the news, but I was clearly so devoted to work that I wouldn’t stop doing my job. It makes me cringe to picture this moment because it’s kind of pathetic of me. But, I don’t quit easily and I’m usually very engaged with what I’m doing. All of my former bosses would say that’s true and a reason I did well, even when it was hard to do well.

15. Who is the best co-worker or collaborator you’ve ever worked with?

My business partner, Scott Thompson, is the best collaborator I’ve ever worked with. He has a the best moral compass. In eight years talking almost every day, he always has the right first instincts about what’s right for our company, our team, and our customers. He also handles ambiguity, uncertainty and change very well, as you have to do with building something that’s never existed before. He keeps the long view front and center, and is a very positive person even during the hardest days.

16. Have you ever been the weakest member of a team? How did you handle it?

I’m the weakest member of our team right now! I’ve managed sales during the pandemic while we’re hiring the right person to help build our sales team and develop new business. I’ve handled it by trying to ruthlessly prioritize sales as the #1 thing I do, which has been very hard for me as a cofounder of a company that cares deeply about every little thing. Ultimately, everyone knows I’m doing the best I can and I’ve given regular updates on our sales and recruiting process to the team. I’ve tried to focus on the long term goal over the short term pains. And, our new sales person starts this week! Goal in sight!

17. What changes to our industry would you like to see post-Covid19? What
changes do you think we will see?

By eliminating geographic barriers, employers can expand the universe of candidates they can consider. Hopefully what comes with that is more diversity at the team level. Because candidates may have more opportunities, companies will be forced to get more competitive by investing more in culture and other programs. I’d like to see this happen across the board, that you can’t get away with not investing in your people and creating inclusive cultures because you’re the only game in (your) town.

18. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

I read once that you are a combination of the five people you spend the most time with. I’m a better, happier, more productive person because I choose to surround myself with people who make me better personally and professionally, who give me energy, grace, and joy. I have that in my business partner & team at work, my husband / little family at home, and my best friends (several of whom I’ve known since Kindergarten — Erika, Christie, and Christen among them).

19. Name one person who would you like to read these answers.

Mr. Balk! That would be fun.

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With ... ?

Jessica McFadden, Lori Sylvia, Shavonne Thomas, Tracey Parsons, Julia Levy, Katrina Fowler, Michelle Sargent, Joe Matar, Ed Barrientos, Jennifer Newbill… lots more. We have a great industry with tons of interesting people. It was great to slow down and reflect, I appreciate you asking me, Hung!

Thank you to Lauryn Sargent taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Lauryn is part of the awesome team at Stories Incorporated – experts in uncovering employee stories and creating

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