Author Luvvie Ajayi Jones Wants You to Fight Your Fears

Posted by Cybil on March 1, 2021

Luvvie Ajayi Jones—author, cultural critic, digital entrepreneur—might be best described as a professional truthteller. Her crazily popular 2016 book, I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, helped establish what has since become a kind of personal brand. The book is a collection of essays on various cultural topics, threaded through with thoughtful insights, good humor, and hard truths.
Born in Nigeria and raised in Chicago, Jones developed her unique voice and positive-energy approach via blogging, podcasting, and all-around new media savvy. She’s also earned a global reputation as an inspirational speaker, thanks in part to her smash-hit 2017 TED Talk that has since become a sort of perpetual viral sensation. Jones is a born communicator—down to the cellular level, it seems.
Rate this book
Clear rating

It’s no surprise, then, that Luvvie Ajayi Jones is a lot of fun to talk to. To mark the release of her new book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, Jones spoke with Goodreads contributor Glenn McDonald about personal courage, positive peer pressure, and innovative book-shelving strategies.
Goodreads: Your new book is something everyone on the planet can relate to: the struggle to overcome our various personal fears. Why did you want to tackle this topic?

Luvvie Ajayi Jones: The reason why I wrote this book, really, is that I realized how my life transformed when I started really committing to doing the things that scared me. I realized—in a real, concrete way—how my life shifted when I said: You know what, there are going to be things that feel bigger than me, things that are scarier than I'm comfortable with. But I really have to get those things done.
My goal with this book, honestly, is to empower a million people to fight their fear. Imagine how different the world could be if one million people decided to do that thing that scares them. You know, apply for that job or have that tough conversation.
So my hope is that, when people are reading my book, it really empowers them. Because in the book, I say: Hey, dream audaciously. Well, I decided I’m going to be audacious myself. I hope I can empower one million people to be professional troublemakers for the greater good. [Laughs.] And that's my audacious goal!

GR: The book encourages us to face our fears, tell the truth, and do the right thing. But it also encourages us to help one another do the right thing. Can you talk a little bit about that? Why is that second part so important?

LAJ: People talk all the time about how peer pressure is not a good thing. But I think it can absolutely be a good thing. I think it's something that we naturally respond to, as humans, and we have to use it for good purposes.
Humans just want to be a part of a community, and we're more likely to follow what other people in our community do. So what happens when we use the power of peer pressure for the greater good? If that means we can impact our friends, our family, our colleagues, to do things that are good for everybody? Then yeah, why shouldn't we try some positive peer pressure?

GR: Your writing style is so fluid and engaging. What do you think are the elements that informed the way that you communicate and write?

LAJ: I think my culture is a massive part of how I write. I’m Nigerian—I’m Yoruba, specifically. And Yoruba language is very metaphorical, very descriptive. It gets real specific. There are a lot of words in Yoruba that don't exist in English. And I think that actually makes me a better writer in English.
Because how I think—how Yoruba makes me think—is almost in pictures. I think that's a big part of why my writing connects with people. That’s why people say they hear my voice when they read my words. It’s because I'm actively thinking in descriptions, in metaphors. As I'm writing, I'm also picturing what I'm writing.
It’s a thing that has been proven over and over again, that the language you know and that you speak actually does affect how you communicate.

Rate this book
Clear rating
Rate this book
Clear rating
GR: I’ve read about that before, that a person’s native language actually informs the way they think, the way that they process information. And it’s true that, when I read your words, it sounds like you're talking in my head.  

LAJ: Yes, people often say when they read my words, whether I'm talking about something really serious or something light, people feel like they're just talking with friends.
I think that's why writing is especially powerful. When you can get people to take their defenses down, they're more willing to receive what you say. One of the things I'm most proud of is the fact that my writing makes people feel like they're just having a conversation with somebody they love.

GRSo you’re currently doing two podcasts, right? Rants and Randomness and Jesus and Joloff?

LAJ: Well, Rants and Randomness has been rebranded as Professional Troublemaker. I realized that's more the framework that I've been using to pick who I’m in conversation with. And then I have Jesus and Jollof,  which is with my friend, Yvonne Orji. We talk about our lives and culture.

GR: What are the benefits of the podcast format for you, as a writer and communicator?

LAJ: It’s another way to connect with your community. It's great to be able to actually hear the voices and the stories of people. It's not flat, it's very much this dynamic platform that allows people to emote. You get to hear their words from them. And I think that's great.

GR: In the book you introduce readers to the concept of the oriki (oh REE kee), which is like a way of introducing yourself or giving praise to your origins or your family. Can you describe that and talk a bit about how it works?

LAJ: An oriki is what I call hype mantra. It’s a Yoruba tradition that’s like a series of phrases that remind you of your ancestry, that connect you to where you're from, where your parents are from, where your grandparents are from.
It’s a way to ensure that you remember your lineage and that you honor it whenever you're walking into any room. It is such a pride-inducing thing. For us, you exist in this world, but not just as you. You represent those who came before you, too.

Rate this book
Clear rating
Rate this book
Clear rating
Rate this book
Clear rating
Rate this book
Clear rating
GR: We’re all about the books here at Goodreads, and I was wondering if you remember when you first started reading or what books first did it for you?

LAJ: I started reading at three years old.  I've always been an avid reader. It’s something that’s just always been natural for me—I love to read. I love to go into other worlds. I love to learn. I'm a forever student. I really do create the world, in my mind, that I want to see when I’m reading a book.
And reading is also one of those things that just calms me, affirms me. I think about my favorite authors and my favorite books, and how those books leave something in me, right? It's almost like books leave a little footprint.

GR: Oh, totally. Do you recall any books in particular that felt important, that changed the trajectory of your life? Any favorite stuff from when you were younger?

LAJ: My favorite authors from when I was really little, I'm actually not sure. I used to read so much. But my favorite authors haven’t changed. Toni Morrison is, of course, peak. Maya Angelou is amazing.
I do love fiction that’s lighter, for when the world's gotten too heavy and I need to get away. Sometimes I’ll read a romance novel. There's an author named Jasmine Guillory; she's like light rom-com.
I love some fantasy and sci-fi from time to time. Octavia Butler. I also love reading fiction that’s more couched in history. There’s a book I read probably ten years ago that I always recommend to people: Dolores Phillips, The Darkest Child. It's just a beautiful, heartbreaking book.
My favorite book, always in my top three, is Toni Morrison’s Sula. OK, I'm looking at my bookshelf right now. I’m having trouble because It’s organized by color. It’s not organized by genre the way it used to be.

GR: For real, you organize your books by color?

LAJ: Yeah. [Laughs.] My bookshelf goes from black to white, with literally all the colors in between. Which looks nice, but I'm like, OK, where are the books I'm looking for? I'm obsessed with book covers. I love seeing an amazing book cover. It'll pull me in. A cover is enough to be like—yeah, I want to read that.
That's the power of books, right? I love when you ask people about their favorite books and you can hear the smiles in their voices. Their books are magic in that way. There’s something about books that allows you to create the world in your own head. A book is like, this world exists as you want it to exist in that moment, and I think that's powerful.

Luvvie Ajayi Jones' Professional Troublemaker will be available in the U.S. on March 2. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.


No comments have been added yet.