Erika Gilchrist is a woman of juxtapositions.
She grew up in a large family with a packed house—but is an introvert who needs a lot of alone time. She absolutely adores children—but has no desire to have any of her own. She’s been performing on stage practically since birth—but merely the thought of being squished in a large crowd makes her anxious. And she’s happiest when she’s helping other people—but also feels that it’s selfish (in a good way!).
As we sat in Erika’s favorite park on one of the last beautiful fall days in Chicago, we ruminated on many other aspects of Erika and spent a long time talking about communication and how people so often get it wrong.
“It’s a balance—understanding how other people operate so that you’ll know how to communicate with them, even if they’re the polar opposite of who you are,” she says. “That whole thing about treating people the way you want to be treated… I’m like, No. Treat people the way they want to be treated.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: The tug of war between introverts and extroverts can be exhausting—one wanting to hang out all the time (E), the other always wanting a night at home to relax (I). With better quality communication, this struggle isn’t necessary. I opened with Erika’s quote because as you read the rest of our story about her, this notion permeates so much of her actions, thoughts and advice—finding success in any job or industry or business endeavor is about engaging and activating your human network. And that is what Erika loves to help people do.
Before she jets off to spend the winter in warm, sunny Arizona, I also talked with her about her business venture where she brings her values to life—Women Thriving Fearlessly! Cheekily named WTF, it’s Erika’s online talk show where she interviews people with the intent of inspiring women to thrive.
People with Panache: First, love the name! So clever. So fun. Where did your idea for an inspirational talk show begin?
Erika Gilchrist: I decided to start WTF because I myself was in a transition. My brand is The Unstoppable Woman, and it still is. But I found myself drifting away from that into a woman who’s thriving fearlessly. So my business had to reflect that. The Unstoppable Woman was someone going through a lot of trauma, and I wasn’t anymore.
I started WTF for a few reasons: 1. Because of my personal transition. 2. Because I wanted to feature other people who have made that same transition that I did. 3. Because I wanted to inspire people who were or are still in a space in their life where they don’t really know where to go. 4. And because I want to build my network through the show—globally. Online is the best possible platform.
Contrary to what some people believe, I did include men to interview because I don’t believe in any system being totally exclusive. Most of the people I interview have come from nearly nothing and have made an incredible life for themselves in some form. That’s who our audience is. We sit down and just have a conversation. I ask them to tell me their story, because that’s what people relate to.
Regardless of how they feel about the acronym WTF, I wanted people to look a second time at the name. I actually thought of WTF first and then tried to figure out what it could stand for. W was obviously going to be for women. When I came up with Women Thriving Fearlessly with the exclamation point at the end, I nailed it.
“I want to help people activate their networks—just start giving.”
PWP: From the episodes I’ve seen, the show is so enlightening and interesting and fun. You have the perfect personality for TV, and the people you choose are fascinating. How do you decide who you want to feature?
EG: I have to love their story. I think they should be someone who is relatable to my audience. I find them through Facebook, LinkedIn, CRAVE Chicago, my personal network.
PWP: You must have an amazing network, which is so especially useful in your type of work. I hear so often that people hate networking because it feels forced and like a constant sales pitch. How do you do it and avoid that?
EG: One way I found to be most effective in building a network is first deciding what I want the network to do for me—and what I can do for that network.
For me, I want a network of women who have influence and who are entrepreneurs and business owners. So I specifically go to Meetup, LinkedIn and Facebook groups and look for female entrepreneurs and business owners. And I show up. Those are probably the two most important words when you’re talking about building a network—show up.
I go all over the Chicagoland area, so I don’t concentrate in one area because I think that’s very limited. You do get exhausted, but it’s worth it. You have to be proactive and not just show up at other people’s stuff, but host your own. And tell people what you’re looking for. Ask people what they want and give it to them. I want to help people activate their networks—just start giving.
PWP: That makes so much sense. And it’s the perfect way to make boring old “networking” exciting and genuine. What kind of audience are you attracting with your show?
EG: Female entrepreneurs and business owners make up more than 80 percent of my audience. That’s who I attract; I’m good with that. That’s who I am, so maybe that’s why. They’re usually a mix of professionals and homemakers.
PWP: It’s easier to connect with people when you’re being yourself, too! What are you hoping you can accomplish with the show?
EG: I want to go on a global scale—the information is universal. I want to reach people in areas that don’t have the opportunities that Americans have. Besides inspiration, we want to give them very tangible tools they can implement immediately. Not: ‘Take this training course and maybe in 6 months you’ll be ready.’ I can’t stand that. I like to give people stuff where they can shut off the show and immediately start applying what they learned. That’s really important to me.
Also being able to add value without them paying a dime—if you give them what they need, eventually they’re going to have money and the first person they’re going to look for is the person who helped them get there. That’s building a community. That’s women thriving fearlessly and supporting each other. I am willing to invest in them because I know what women are capable of. We are fierce. We are amazing beings. Women rock. We are the bee’s knees.
PWP: Yeah we are! What fulfills you in life?
EG: My passion is to help people become better people—or better versions of their authentic selves. I say it that way because I don’t want to be the one to determine who that person is. I want to help you determine that for yourself. That’s the only way it’s going to happen. And I love it when that happens for people.
I’m so excited for them because I know what that was like for me. It’s really tough—it could mean giving up relationships you’ve had your entire life, moving past cultural pressures, a number of different things. At some point you have to say to yourself: It’s either them or me. But once they see it, talk about unstoppable and thriving fearlessly like nobody’s business!
Watch recent WTF! episodes online here. Please share your favorite episodes in the comments!
[Photos by Kate.]