When you have been through many struggles and challenges, it can be tough to rise from the ashes. However, one survivor of homelessness, domestic abuse, pregnancy-induced heart failure, and devastating natural disasters tells her story of how she not only survived but also living her best expression. On today’s podcast, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen introduce the resilient Brandy Champeau. Brandy is the Founder of Exploring Expression as well as an author, speaker, and curriculum developer. She talks about some of the grueling experiences she had and how she was able to build resilience. She also explains the work she’s doing with Exploring Expression and how she’s helping people find their best expression safely even after they’ve experienced trauma.
Listen to the podcast here
How To Rise From The Ashes And Find Your Best Expression With Brandy Champeau
Before we started, you teased us with the story that you have about the impactful time in your life. You shared that when you were living in Oklahoma, there are lots of tornadoes. In fact, there was a big experience that you had with the tornado that seemed to have shaped your life in a major way. I would love to hear that story and what impact it had on your life.
There was about a two-year period there where everything seemed to go wrong. I had gotten out of an abusive marriage and gotten pregnant. While I was pregnant, I had what’s called peripartum cardiomyopathy, which is pregnancy-related heart failure. My baby was born at the end of January 2013. The story that I was telling you happened in May 2013. I had three children, my daughter was in junior high, my oldest son who’s got autism was in elementary school, and this newborn baby. If you can imagine, I’ve been out of this abusive marriage, we had moved to through our bat cave. In Oklahoma, you’re always ready for tornadoes. I know you lived in Los Angeles, you probably have earthquakes and you stay always ready for the next earthquake.
Although, they don’t happen as frequently as people might think. It sounds like tornadoes are regular.
Tornadoes are not quite like hurricanes and things like that. They’re regular in Oklahoma, but the chances of you personally being hit on that street are like a tornado to being in the path of an oncoming train. If you’re in the path, you know it, but you can be outside that path. It’s a narrow track. Most tornadoes come. I lived in Moore for a long time and been in a couple that took everything. On this particular day, you know a tornado is coming because the weather people in Oklahoma are fantastic. They’ll tell you early that day or the night before, “This is a weather alert day. This is a tornadic storm.” They had said that and I’d come home from work. I had picked up my baby from daycare and I’m at home listening to the TV and this weatherman goes, “This is a monster storm. This is a historic storm. If you’re not underground, you’re dead.”
I grew up in Massachusetts and we would have experiences like that with hurricanes and you’d get this warning, but it never felt quite that intense. How did you feel when you heard those words? Have you ever heard a phrase like that before? Is that a common way to explain the oncoming storm, Brandy, or was this different than any other storm you’ve experienced before?
I’ve been through probably 3 or 4 storms like this. I’ve been through two before that wiped my house, took everything and that’s one of the reasons I have my household management binder, that’s a guide to the running of my household. One of the reasons why I have these things is because I’ve been through many of these emergency situations. After an emergency situation, you’re left going, “What am I going to do now?” I have this series called Survival Strategies for Life Isn’t Fair. One of my strategies, I called Taping the Glass and it’s doing what you can do so that when the worst happens, you’re not completely destroyed by it.
What a great thing to have that for what the whole world is experiencing collectively. I imagine that pertains to COVID-19 as well.
When all of this started and we quarantined, I didn’t have to go get water because I always have water. I always have extra cases of water, backup thermometers and these things because they’re part of my household management plan.
You were already prepared in some ways?
In some ways. You’re never prepared to stay in your house for four months. For my family, it affects us a little bit less because we’re used to doing this. We’re used to thinking ahead and I’m used to teleworking, being a single mother working and homeschooling at the same time. It wasn’t that terrible of a transition for us personally, but it’s because I had learned through things like the tornado, heart failure and leaving the marriage how to paint the glass. That’s when you’re listening to them over the TV and radio say these things. In some ways, you’re prepared. I didn’t have a storm cellar. He’s yelling on the TV, “Get on the ground,” and I’m in a closet with my newborn.
That’s something I’m always curious about in certain parts of the country where tornadoes are common. I’m surprised to hear that not every home has underground or not every person has access to something underground. Is that a not a common thing to have? Is it like, “You’re out of luck, if you don’t have access to going underground in this case?”We all have to walk through fire. Click To Tweet
It’s not common for neighbors or public place to have? Somewhere where the whole public can go to bunker down in these cases?
Some places do, some places don’t. The first major tornado that I went through in my adult life was when I worked at Long John Silver’s and we went in the walk-in freezer because the walk-in freezer is reinforced to such an extent to withstand most of what would come by. Most tornadoes are not at four tornadoes, nor five tornadoes. Most tornadoes are small tornadoes. We’re on what is like 8th or 9th named storm in 2020 for hurricane season. Most storms are not major hurricanes. It’s the luck of the roll of the dice. Most of the time being in an interior closet, in a bathroom and in something like that is plenty.
When you hear this guy say, “If you’re not underground, you’re dead,” what did you do?
There were two things that were going on. When I was listening to the guy and I was worried about me and my infant, we were in the closet. I had already thought of this. What I did is I took the baby and I strapped him into his car seat, flipped the car seat upside down so that he’s dangling from the straps, took his crib mattress and put it over it. If the roof happened to fall in, it would get me, then the mattress, then the car seat, then the baby. That was my plan.
As you thought about this before, was this a split-second decision?
When tornado season comes, you start thinking about that. Like when hurricane season comes down here in Georgia, they start saying, “Have you thought of your hurricane plan? Have you thought of this? Have you thought of that?” They say that so that people will think of it. I knew we didn’t have access to an underground shelter. My plan was to put my baby in the car seat, take us in the closet because most tornadoes will miss you. You don’t want to panic. The last thing you want to do is get in your car and drive around, unless you’re in a mobile home, then obviously leave, but you don’t want to be outside.
What time of day was this?
This was early afternoon. My two older kids were still at school and my daughter had a cell phone. She had gotten the cell phone the year before, when they had gotten back because during my divorce process, before I had the baby, the two older kids went to my parents for six months. They came back, we had moved into this new house and part of all of that was she had gotten a cellphone. Luckily, she happened to have it at school. She’s sitting here texting me while all this is going on. The weatherman screaming, the baby and she’s texting me this play by play with what’s happening at her school.
How do they handle this situation? Do they have underground areas?
It seems odd that in an area like this wouldn’t offer protection for everybody.
How do you do that? How going to pay for that? This was a history-making tornado and it hit three schools. As they rebuilt them, they rebuilt them better. However, she’s texting me through all this and she’s like, “They told us all to go out in the hallway.” They put them all out in the hallway., on their knees, put their hands over the back of their heads type, and she’s like, “The principal went on. She sounds nervous and the lights went off.” She says, “Mommy, I’m scared.” I’m sitting here going, “It’s okay. You’re going to be fine. Do what your teacher says. Follow the rules. Everything’s going to be fine.” The tornado goes by, the lights go out, the train goes by. Everything is chaos for a minute. Even if the tornado misses you, which is what happened at my house, it’s like the sound of a train going by.
The tornado comes, our power goes out, I’m crying and the baby’s screaming, but it passes and I’m okay. I do the self-check and I’m fine. I checked the baby, he’s not happy, but he’s fine. I send my daughter a text and I said, “It’s over, Samantha. Everything’s okay,” and there’s no response. I couldn’t get anything on her cellphone. I gathered up Daniel and we get in the car. We go pick up Joshua, my older son at his elementary school. He was autistic and everything seems fine so far. He comes out of school and he’s like, “I’m hungry. What are we going to do?” It doesn’t even phase me at all. I said, “We’re going to go get your sister.” We get in the car and start driving. The junior high is a couple of miles from my house and we start driving towards the junior high. We get about a block down the road and can go no further. The tornado missed my house and the elementary school by blocks. It’s absolute devastation and we can’t drive any further. Power pulled down, buildings were completely gone, like all this stuff is the foundation.
People are wandering around like refugees, shellshocked. Somewhere on the other side of all this devastation is my daughter. That’s why I said there are pivotal moments in your life where you stand and you go, “What am I going to do now?” You get up. It took us hours. I took my infant in his carrier, his stroller and I took my little elementary school kid by the hand. We crawled for hours through this power lines, sometimes walked and climbed over things and pass things, get within sight. It took us hours because I’m recovering from heart failure. I had spent the majority of my pregnancy laying in my bed, hoping that I would have a baby before I died. Diana was born two months early. He and I were both recovering from all of that. We make this trip, get within sight of the junior high and it’s collapsed. Cars were on top of each other. Whole parts of the building were caved in and you look as you’re coming up on it. The only thing I could think of was, “How can anybody survive this?”
Is your mind thinking the worst at this point? Are you fearing that she’s gone? Are you still maintaining somewhat of your composure or are you spinning out emotionally at this point?
On the inside, I’m panicking. When you have a child with autism, your emotions are their emotions. The only thing I could do at that moment, because I still had this infant and had this child was to move forward. In my mind and heart, I was crying, screaming and panicking because looking at this, it’s like, “Who survives this?” I’m still moving forward because that’s all you can do. When everything is down, when there’s nothing else to do, do something. That’s one of the things that I have in my survival strategies is like, “Get up, move.” I’ll never forget this. This will be in my brain when I die. I walked around the building, my daughter is sitting on the grass with her class. She looks at me and she says, “What took you so long?” She knew I would come for her.
How much time had passed at that point? Was that a serious question for her?
Other people and other parents had come in and gotten their children at this time. You could get in from other directions. Some people lived near there. A lot of people went and picked up their kids early. I wasn’t in the position to have been able to do that. I’m a plus-size person, I’m dragging a baby, a small child and I’m crawling through this stuff and I’m slow. It took me hours to get there.
That imagery of your perseverance through all these circumstances is incredible. The fact that your daughter waited for you and knew that you were going to be there for her. What’s her mental state, at this point and are all the students okay? Did everyone make it out of there or what else is going on?
Three schools were hit that day. Everyone made it out of junior high. The junior high was the least, the fared. One of the elementary schools, eight children ended up dying and several teachers. It was a major situation. You have to think, but for the grace of God, go on. It was the absolute devastation. If you can imagine the building being there and then all of a sudden, it’s not there. It’s foundation or cars sitting on top of each other or trees.
My first major tornado in Moore, this was before Samantha was born. We had all go down in the cellar and you get the eye. In the eye of the tornado, everything is quiet. There are many people packed in the storm cellar and everyone’s like, “Get out.” We opened the door and we start piling out and we look over, trees are getting sucked out of the ground. All of a sudden, it’s like, “Get back in.” You see these things happen and you think to yourself, “How do people survive this?” they survive it because they do, because the human spirit is something that will not go gentle.Once you open the door, greatness can come through. Click To Tweet
Your ability to tell a story is captivating. I feel goosebumps, empathy and completely sucked into every single word. I suppose where my mind goes in all of this is when you experience what you have experienced, domestic abuse, thinking that you were going to die during childbirth, having the challenge and opportunity of having an autistic son and surviving these natural disasters. The totality of what you’ve outlined is fantastical and it’s incredible to receive what you’ve experienced. How these situations have shaped your resilience and shaped the strength of your spirit? What is it about these challenges, hardships and circumstances? How have they shaped you as a person and how can these types of situations build resilience in the human spirit? What’s your perspective on that?
My perspective is, “I can make it through. I’ve already done it.” Many people come and ask me, “I could never do this,” or, “How can you do this?” I tell them, “You already have everything you need. You have the ability to learn and to grow into your own best expression.” At the moment, it sucks. There’s nothing about going through that is like, “I’m glad I went through that,” because it gives me the ability to understand people and be able to spread the message of what I stand for and the message of a learning lifestyle that my company stands for, because I get what you’re going through. That gives me an insight on how do you manage to hold down a job, run a business, be a single mother and homeschool? How do we do that while the whole world is having to go home and teach their children? I’ve already been through it and I figured it out, because you do. It starts with the understanding that the world is interesting and it’s worth it.
When you experience traumas, whether that is something you’ve experienced in an abusive relationship or the trauma of losing your home, of your daughter escaping death and seeing her school collapse, the situations that can be traumatic for a person, with your education and everything you do with Exploring Expression, what’s the link and what are some things you would recommend for someone who’s experienced trauma in their life and they’re identifying that perhaps that trauma and what they’ve been through is limiting their self-expression? It’s limiting their ability to creatively express themselves, or maybe they’re afraid, or they’re closed off because of the trauma they’ve experienced that they’re not open to that level of self-expression. What the link between traumatic experiences and self-expression. What are some tools or ways that you help people work through getting to be able to safely express themselves, even if they’ve experienced trauma in their life?
I came out with this journal 90 Days to Your Better Expression. It’s a three-month journey to help people understand what their passion and their purpose are. Everyone has a purpose and passion. The whole first third of it deals with how to use your past, how to look back so that we can move forward. What happens is a lot of people get stuck looking back. The idea is that I came across this great quote, “Your past does not define you. It prepares you.” That’s what I try to get across to people, is that we all have to walk through fire.
You don’t become a diamond without pressure. This is preparation for my best expression. I could never do things. I could’ve never written the children’s books about depression and about autism. I have a book called Tip and Ben Find A Friend, which is the story of my son and his therapy donkey. He had a therapy donkey, the greatest thing ever. Tip and Ben Find A Friend is about this unlikely pairing between this boy who couldn’t fit in. In autism, everything was too large, too loud and too bright.
This miniature donkey was too small and couldn’t do anything. The donkey in the story is Tip. The real donkey’s name was Wanda. She was not a therapy animal. What the therapy place did is, you took a day and you walk through the farm to see if your child would connect with anything. We went to this farm and in this other paddock, all these miniature horses where keep the miniature horses and this little tiny donkey. Wanda and her sisters had been rescues. They had been the pets of this order, a couple who couldn’t take care of him anymore. They had left out to defend. They had been rescued and sent to this grape farm, except Wanda. She was grumpy, little tiny thing and not well-socialized.
The other bigger donkeys and animals would bite her and would torment her. They had to move her in with the miniature horses and she wasn’t a therapy animal at all. We’re walking through this farm, across the way Wanda sees Joshua, Joshua sees Wanda, and it was an instant connection. Probably, for the next year, he worked with her, she worked with him and they both made such strides together through this friendship, with this boy who was a little wild and this donkey who was a little wild. He doesn’t go there anymore, but last time I had talked to the people who own her which is a fantastic farm and she’s in there with other miniature donkeys.
Is this a farm that anybody can go visit or make an appointment?
It was a private farm, which is why she wasn’t a therapy animal because the doctor or counselor rented space on the farm and had her therapy animals. Wanda wasn’t one of those. When that doctor moved to another location, Wanda stayed there at the farm. It’s a private rescue.
When Joshua and Wanda saw one another, that first interaction, what was that like? What was his emotional response? How did she respond to him? What was that initial spark? Can you describe observing what that was like?
I didn’t see them together for more of it. This is therapy. We went into the front part, she was out there in the paddock. He was on this side of the fence. She was looking and he was looking, then he walked off with the therapist lady and the donkey is following. I’m sitting out here in the parking lot area, I’m looking across and I see him go towards where horse barns are. Here’s this miniature donkey, following them around. I see them from afar, Joshua was going and Wanda is here, then here’s this donkey and Josh was looking back at it. At this time to me, it seems weird. It doesn’t seem like there’s a connection. It seems like here’s this strange little donkey following this boy around because she doesn’t get up to him. It’s not like he pets her, except when he’s done and he comes back out, he doesn’t want to talk about the other horses or the donkeys or the different things that they had. He wanted to talk about Wanda, because that’s what he wanted to talk to the therapist about.
The therapist said, “We got a little bit, but he didn’t seem interested in the other. He wanted to hear about Wanda.” The next time we come, Wanda gets a little closer, but she doesn’t wander off. It took her a couple of times before they were working together. There’s a part in my Tip and Ben book where Ben is walking along and through the fence, he sees Tip, two eyes are staring back and they look at each other and both are still and quiet. Both Tip and Ben stayed, as each tried to decide if they should run away. One blink, then one ring and both of them smiled. That’s how it was. It wasn’t like an instantaneous running off through the fields. They were both interested and they were both patient with each other. Patients that I didn’t know, my son possessed at the time and their friendship grew because they saw that they didn’t have to be afraid of each other.
My heart is breaking open hearing this story for many reasons. What it brings up for me Brandy is this idea of looking at Joshua’s personality and his demeanor. Do you think that he felt a level of safety and confidence being in her presence and could, therefore, express himself in a different way? Beyond that, what do you feel are some ways that a person who might be reticent to express themselves to get over the fear of expressing themselves? I’m curious how this particular situation fuels your teachings in your perspectives on creating a container of safety and confidence for expression.
They absolutely felt safe and had time. Joshua went there every week and neither one of them pushed it. They got a little open, a little closer and they gave themselves the time needed to make baby steps. You don’t have to make a leap forward. If it takes you fifteen baby steps, you’re still moving forward. One of the things that we talk about in how to become your better expression is that if you start learning one thing every day, learn something whatever it is, that puts your feet on the path to expression. If you think about people starting to homeschool or wanting to write a book. There are several people that I’m coaching through the book writing process and through their course development process. That’s one thing that they asked a lot is they’re like, “I have this idea, how do I get started?” I say, “What have you written so far?” They said, “I haven’t written anything yet.” I said, “Write something even if it’s terrible. That first thing you write, it’s opening the door a little bit and once the door opens, greatness can come through it.”
It’s funny how we need to be reminded of that. I’ve heard that many times and hearing it from you, I’m like, “That’s true. I needed to hear that.”
It’s something that many people don’t, because it’s hard. They think they can’t because they haven’t. Sometimes you have to get shoved into a situation. Through all the different trauma that I’ve been through, it shoved me into a lot of situations that weren’t comfortable. Through those, you learn that it’s okay to not be comfortable.
That’s the message that we hope to convey in every episode and we’re glad that you’re sharing that. It is true that as we’ve found that getting outside of that comfort zone is where the growth happens. As human beings, we often feel resistance. We want to stay in our comfort zone so we feel resistance to getting uncomfortable. It’s beautiful that you’re sharing all of these examples, including experience of discomfort that you didn’t even ask for. It’s not like you put yourself purposefully in these situations. Sometimes we don’t have a choice. Life is uncomfortable whether we want it to be or not.
Sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes we have a choice. I’m a single mother. When we got to Georgia, I was like, “Maybe I should go put myself out there.” My daughter turns and she says, “You don’t make wise choices.”
Did you laugh? Did you take it personally? How did you respond to that comment?People may judge, but you'll get through it. Click To Tweet
I laughed. You laugh because it’s true. In my household, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not good, but my children are free to say what they’re going to say. I don’t want them to ever think that they can’t come to talk to me, but I’m clear to them that I’m probably going to judge. I’m not one of those people that’s like, “I’ll listen to whatever you have to say with an open mind and it’s going to be great.” I’m not like that, but I tell them, “Say what you’re going to say. I’ll probably judge, but then we’ll get past it.”
I like that balance because I tend to be that person that is striving to have an open mind a lot. I love your honesty in that that’s not who you are, but that last part about, “I may judge, but we’ll get through it,” is key because it makes it safe emotionally. For me, I’ve experienced a lot of challenges with judgment. I experienced a lot of shame. A huge part of that is that I’m afraid I’m not going to get through it with that person. The root of that fear is about maybe abandoned or rejection. It’s that primal fear of being excluded from the tribe and ostracized. This idea of, “I may disagree with you. I might not like what you’re doing. I might judge it, but we’ll get through it,” is beautiful.
I am the type of person that should not have made it. I say this all the time when I speak to people, “If you would look at me outside of Exploring Expression. If someone met me on the street, they see an overweight, single black mother of three children by three different fathers. By all accounts and purposes, I shouldn’t have made it, but I am living my best expression because of that understanding that people may judge, but I’ll get through it.” I know people will judge, because I’m judgmental. If you’re looking at this worry that there are many judgmental people and you won’t be part of a tribe, I’d have to tell you, there are many tribes.
It’s one of those things that feels good to be reminded of. I think that’s an important message too, because it seems like we’re in a constant state as a society, human beings are judgmental and maybe that’ll never change. A lot of us are yearning for more acceptance, but I’m not sure. If we look back on history, we’ve been judging and doing horrible things to one another throughout all of this time. I don’t know if the answer is like, “Let’s learn to accept one another.” I’d love for that to be the case, but maybe it is the realization that we may not fit into every tribe. We may not be accepted by every tribe, but there is one that we will fit into and creating the resiliency to be okay with that.
That’s not something I came to overnight. That’s something that takes work and that’s what the 90 Days to Your Better Expression help put you on the path to is not an understanding of how to be something other than what you are and that’s why I say your best expression. I want to make that point that it’s your expression. It’s not somebody else’s. We want you to be the best of what you are supposed to be and the understanding that our children are watching us.
If you look at your child, do you want your child to be the best you, or do you want your child to be the best them? How do we teach our children to value, becoming their own best expression? We say over again here in Exploring Expression where like, “Children will do what they see you do. Do you want to raise a learner? Then, they have to see you being a learner.” They have to see that you value yourself as something that’s worthy of putting attention into and putting growth into, learn something new every day because the world is fantastic and interesting and you are interesting.
There are many questions that have come up in his compensation. I’m going to try and go through the Rolodex in my mind. The one thing that came up for me in reflecting on the books that you’ve written and being an accomplished children’s author, educator, and having this entrepreneurial side as an instructor and curriculum creator, all the wonderful things that you are doing with Exploring Expression. In my opinion, with everything that I’m learning and being educated on a lot of the systems, systemic racism and the way that the deck is stacked. Being a single mom of three, being a black woman, having survived all the traumas, disasters and knowing that in some ways the deck is stacked against you.
You said you are a person who should not have made it. You have somehow had the will to maintain your dreams through all this. First of all, that’s incredible. When you teach others to say model for their children. What is the role of not giving up on your dreams, through everything you’ve been through in your life? I think, it would have been easy for you to throw your hands up and say, “I’m giving up.” Not necessarily giving up on protecting and caring for your children, but your desire and your dreams, you could have thrown it off a cliff and walked away, but you didn’t. How were you able to do that? How do you teach adults how to model, holding onto their dreams for their children, and why is that important?
How did I learn that idea of holding on to? When I was in high school, we were in Oklahoma and my parents had been retired from the Air Force, but they still had that gypsy blood or wandering spirit. They wanted to move to Nebraska. As a teenager who had been moving every year her entire life, I had no desire to do that. I was vocal about my desire to not move. They gave me tickets for my birthday to David Copperfield, the magician. He made it snow in the auditorium, one of the most magical moments I had ever witnessed. I took my friend and I get home from that only to find out that my parents had moved. I bounced around a little bit and ended up homeless because they now live in Nebraska and I’m in Oklahoma.
They sent you off to David Copperfield and when you got back, they were gone?
It was a low moment. I ended up homeless. After a time in high school, not knowing what I was going to do, the parent of one of my friends from high school discovered that and took me into her house and let me stay with them. Her name was Kathy. They weren’t well off. There were lots of kids there, but this is something that she did because she had a giving spirit. She took in teenagers with no other place to go. She did that for me, not once, but twice. After I graduated a national achievement scholar and I went on to college, my mom had gotten sick. I ended up dropping out of college and moving to Nebraska. My parents had gotten divorced.
My dad was off, my mom was sick and my younger brother was up there. I dropped out of college. I moved up there and ended up after she got better, she was like, “I’ll give you $1,000 to go back to Oklahoma and not come back.” At that time, it’s a lot of money when you’re young. It doesn’t go far. I ended up homeless a second time, living on the street, under factories, the whole nine yards. Again, this woman, Kathy, found out, picked me up and took me in. She didn’t have to, couldn’t afford to and she had a host of painful, debilitating medical conditions when she was a bartender.
Every day through the pain of arthritis and degenerative of this disease and all of this, she got up and she went to work and she made sure that we had Thanksgiving. She made sure that on our birthday, even though I wasn’t her child and some of the other teenagers weren’t her child, that we had a cake and we got to watch what we wanted on TV and little things. I’m going to say now, my parents and I have a beautiful relationship. In fact, my mom is my partner in Exploring Expression. We’ve healed all that. Kathy taught me that, “You have to love people where they’re at, not where you want them to be and that includes yourself. You have to love yourself where you’re at.” That’s one of the things that I’ve carried now, as all of these things happen to me and it’s like, “This sucks. I can’t believe I got into that mess. What happened here?”
It’s that understanding that, “It’s okay and you’re okay. I’m going to love myself where I’m at and because I love myself, I’m going to strive forward because I love my children, I want the best for them, because I love myself, I want the best for myself.” The only way to get there is to learn something new. That’s the idea that we’re trying to communicate to people is that, “You’re already worth loving. Do you want to reach your dreams? Learn something.” Everything’s out there. Much information is at our fingertips. If you’re going to bed and you haven’t learned something new today, get up and learn something and then go back to bed. We want to be learners and we want to raise learners. We don’t want to raise students waiting for people to spoon-feed them a perfect future. We want to raise children and raise ourselves to go get our dreams because they’re out there waiting for us.
I feel the rhetoric that is put out into the world from people who are educators or let’s say transformational leaders or people in the self-help community, psychologists at all, a lot of people doing it, that many of them have a position whether it’s an overt or subtle way that, “You’re not good enough. You don’t make enough money. You’re not necessarily your best self yet.” It’s almost the opposite of what you’re saying, where they’re trying to motivate you to take action because you’re not good enough yet.
It’s a not-enoughness conversation, but I love your position and your foundation of the teaching of that and love yourself exactly where you’re at, which I think flies in the face of the media, marketing, advertising and in general, the narrative in our society, which is, “Until you buy this thing, have this thing, make this much money, have this hairstyle, hang out with these people, then you’ll be good enough. You’ll then be worthy of love.” What you’re saying is, “Wherever you’re at, you are worthy of love and success and joy now.” That’s a radical thing. If you look at how society operates, which is the opposite of that.
Many times we hear, “You should improve because right now you suck.” That’s the whole point of the company Exploring Expression. Is that your expression, “Now is beautiful?” We want more of it. How can you take that beautiful thing inside you? One of my children’s books is called Dandelion’s Magic and it’s about a wildflower and trying to find his purpose. He’s planted in a garden with like roses and tulips. Nobody wants wildflowers for their table and he’s trying to find out, “What good am I?” The whole point of that is that he’s perfect because he’s a wildflower. The activity book that I wrote that comes with it because, we’re all about learning. All of my children’s books, I write these activity books and lesson plans. With the activity book, there is a coloring page that’s all about, “How do you find your purpose?” It’s what you love your, passion plus helping people.
What we tell people is, “Everybody is good at something. You’re born good at something. Even if it’s just snapping your fingers in time. If you take that thing that you’re good at and figure out how to use it to help people, that’s your purpose. It’s not doing something new. It’s taking what you are that’s great and making it fantastic because you’re already great.” We don’t tell our children that enough. We don’t have these conversations and I’m surrounded by people with mental illness. My mother is bipolar, my brother has PTSD and a conduct disorder, my son is autistic and my best friend has a borderline personality disorder. I’m surrounded by these things that make people in the eyes of the world less. The reason why the world thinks that is because we don’t talk about it enough. You have a situation, but you’re not your situation.
I’m glad that you brought up mental illness because I feel like slowly, it’s becoming more of a mainstream conversation for whatever role they play. Athletes, entertainers and celebrities talking about their mental illness, which I think in some ways gives other people permission to discuss it and hopefully starts to remove the shame and the stigma. There still is a massive amount of shame and stigma for people to not only discuss it in a way that is hopefully healing and progressive, but removing the judgment and the stigma that society places on someone who has a mental illness. I remember for years, I was afraid to talk about my own mental illness, my clinical depression, suicidal ideation, panic attacks, anxiety attacks and the things that I’ve been through because I felt like I was going to be judged by people.
I felt like they were going to go like, “What right do you have to feel that way?” As if it was a choice as to if I was choosing to experience that mental illness, but through having the support of a best friend, like Whitney in a loving family and presenting that, I don’t feel the shame or the stigma that I felt years ago of not wanting to discuss that or even let people know what I was going through, but it still is an unwinding socially of the judgment that we have on somebody who has that.You have to love people for where they're at, not where you want them to be, and that includes yourself. Click To Tweet
Kanye West has been going through this whole thing of like, should he be committed? Should he be put in a mental institution? Is he bipolar? As one example of a mainstream conversation around mental illness, there still is a lot of shame and judgment around. We don’t have any idea of what they’re going through. To me, that’s one of the biggest challenges. I experienced is when people want to put their comments on an illness that they don’t have any experience with, they don’t know what it’s like to go through something like that.
Everyone’s experience is different. It’s funny they have the saying, “You meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” The same can be said with depression and panic attacks. Personally, I’m not clinically diagnosed with any mental illness. However, I can’t cross mountains. I will go like all the way down to the coast and all the way back. The kids and I love taking road trips. The last time we took a big one with my daughter, we ended up in like Kentucky and had to cross over to Virginia, where my parents are.
I had to spend the whole time with a blindfold taking anxiety, medication asleep for the entire drive and had to let my teenage daughter drive it because I got to this point and in my brain, it was, “You’re not going to go any further than this. That’s all you’re going to go.” It makes no sense, but I have this saying that I tell to my family, because we do have a lot of mental illness in my family that when you live with crazy people, people with mental illness. Mentally ill things sometimes happen and that’s okay too. It’s the idea that sometimes life isn’t fair.
If more people understood that sometimes life isn’t fair for everybody. Whatever my not fair is, you also have something in your life that that’s not fair. The person standing next to you, something’s going on or has gone on in their life that isn’t fair. Even Kanye West and the rich, fabulous people, something in their life isn’t fair because that’s how life is it’s. What do we do with it? Do we let it keep us down? That’s why my number one survival strategy is get up because as long as you’re looking at the ground, you’re never going to see what’s in front of you. You’re never going to see what’s possible. We have to be willing to have those conversations. Being able to have those conversations means that we have to be okay with not being okay.
It’s interesting when you bring up Kanye, because he’s been in the news a lot, and a lot of the conversation is based on the public’s reaction to his mental illness. It’s brought up a lot of interesting articles. I keep coming across how we respond to people with mental illness. What is your reaction been to all of that, if anything, and is that something that you’ve been reflecting on as you’ve seen people react to him and how he’s been acting recently? I’m curious what you’d think of that all.
I haven’t read too many of those stories because I don’t watch a whole lot of that type of stuff. I’m familiar with it because I have Facebook and so you’re going to run into it, but I think the idea is the same that we don’t know him. We know of him, all the famous stuff and the tabloid stuff, but he is also a person like everyone else. He’s entitled like we are to not be okay sometimes. I’ll never forget, I took 1 or 2 years where I went around and I did these interviews with as many people that were different from me, as I could find which was a fantastic experience. I did this interview with this Muslim Emon and I’d asked him, “What do you think is the biggest threat to Islam and Muslim?”
This was a couple of years ago. It was right in the times that weren’t that great for them. Of all the stuff that he could have said, he said, “Look in your house first. Why is it not okay for them to not be okay? Should they be great because they’re successful? We can be successful. You can be successful. How bad do you want it?” I do a lot, pack a lot into my day and I pack a lot into my life. People ask me all the time, “How do you find the time to do this?” My answer is always, “You don’t. You won’t find the time. You have to make it and people will make the time for what they want.” What do you want enough to make the time? What Kanye or JLo wanted, they work for it. They made the time for the things that they want. What do you want and how will you make the time for that?
I love that you said that you don’t pay that much attention to those things, because that’s also part of it. I think a lot of people want to step outside of their own lives and judge other people, or make assessments on them and gossip about them because it’s a form of escape. It’s like, “What’s going on in your own home?” but a lot of us want to distract ourselves by paying attention to what’s going on for somebody else. Also, as you pointed out, we don’t even know these people. We make these judgments.
There’s a lot going on with Britney Spears, that’s another celebrity that’s in the news a lot for mental illness and all this concern. It’s interesting because many people are trying to analyze her, “What’s going on? We need to free Britney.” I’m interested in that, if it is the reality of the situation, but every time I see any of this information pop up, this is a lot of people piecing together, small bits of information that they know of this person.
The tiny percentage of these people’s lives that are made public without remembering that there is much happening behind the scenes. We’re not even seeing the full picture of who these people are and we never can anyways. Even with the people we’re closest to, there’s much that goes on in our minds and our heart. It comes back to what you were sharing about that day where you went to get your daughter. As you said, there was a lot going on internally, but that was different than how you are reacting externally. That’s such an important distinction to make because somebody is acting a certain way externally, doesn’t indicate what’s happening to them inside.
It’s safe to talk about those people because our work can’t touch them and their actions can’t touch us. We can expound. It’s like dreaming about the house you want to build one day. It doesn’t change anything. As long as all you do is talk about it. It’s not going to change. It’s not going to affect their life. What the it’s not going to affect your life unless you let it, but it allows us a time to escape. However, I would put to people, “If that’s what you’re spending your time on, what are you not doing?” An example I give all the time is social media. We all spend an unnecessary amount of time on social media.
If you took ten minutes out of every day away from your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and instead learn one thing that would take you towards your purpose, your future, your passion and where you wanted to go, at the end of the year, you’ll have spent two full weeks moving forward. You’ll be two weeks closer to that life you want to have, in ten minutes, but you have to make the decision that, “This is something that I’m valuing.” That’s where having a learning lifestyle comes in. The boys and I are going to learn Spanish this year, that’s our goal is to learn some Spanish and they did not like the Spanish class and Spanish book.
I kept asking them, especially my youngest one, “When you are learning Spanish, how you plan on doing it?” if you’re not going to read the book and you’re not going to watch the thing.” We broke out the label maker and we labeled everything in our house. We took that 10 minutes, at 20 minutes, at 30 minutes and we labeled the couch, the doors, the windows, the walls, everything and then we took one show a day. One of the shows that the boys like to watch, we play it in Spanish with English subtitles because if you value something, you’ll find a way. There is not time in our homeschool day and we got it.
Sometimes, how do you find the time? Sometimes you don’t sit and do this particular curriculum and this particular study. How do we move forward anyway? It comes from turning your attention to your best expression. You don’t want to be Kanye West’ best expression. He’s already doing that, and you don’t want to be Britney Spears’ best expression, she’s got that covered. How do you become your own best expression? We want our children to grow up, to be the best versions of themselves. They only do that by understanding that that’s something valuable and that’s something worth making the time to invest in.
There was a study I read many years back. It was more of a survey than a study of elementary school kids and asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. One might expect, the traditional answers of a scientist, or an astronaut, or an athlete, or a doctor, but an overwhelming majority of these kids in the survey, when they asked what they wanted to be, when they grew up said, rich or famous or both? It wasn’t a vocation, it wasn’t a specific career path. They said, “I want to be rich. I want to be famous.”
I feel that with what you’re talking about, whether it’s learning Spanish or learning an instrument or figuring out what our highest expression is. I see children and adults giving up, because they’re not great at something after the 5th or 10th or 15th try. It’s like, “I don’t want to do this because I haven’t mastered it after the fifth attempt.” What are some ways, we can start to unravel maybe this mentality that we’re supposed to be world-class at something after the 5th or the 10th attempt? This mentality that pervades our society of like, “What do you want to aspire to be? Rich and famous?” Not to be great at something necessarily, but all they’re looking at is the means to the end? How does that resonate with you and how do you suggest we build consistency, resilience, focus in people and maybe start to dismantle this myopic focus on being rich and famous at all costs?
I struggled with that in my own house. Many kids that I talked to around here, they all want to be YouTubers. My older son either wants to be an architect or a YouTuber. He doesn’t want to work for it, wants to be that. My youngest son wants to be Dr. Strange, as the Marvel guy. There are two things I’m doing in reference to that as a parent looking at her child with this ideation, one, is that I am focusing their homeschool on what they love. “You say you want to be YouTuber and architect. Let me see you do it. Here you go. You want to do it, go do it. Here’s the tools. If you want to be good at it, let me see it.” My younger son all wants to do is be a superhero. We’re spending an entire year learning about superheroes. One of the things that we’re going to be learning about is we’re going to be listening to the people who are that thing and finding out, because if you study these people, they didn’t start there. They worked for it.
My younger son is seven and he does competitive dance. He’s been doing it for a couple of years. He absolutely loves it, but he watches this World of Dance and these types of shows. He’s like, “I’ll never be able to flip like that or to do these things that dancers do.” You see how I support my children when I have no idea what it is they do. We go back and we find out, “This guy is been taking classes for fifteen years. This guy keeps up his feet every night because his toes are bleeding because it’s painful.” If you want to be the best you have to want it enough. The only way we’re going to understand that people have to work for it is to learn about each other and to learn about the struggles people go through the, to learn that these basketball players don’t wake up one day and/or Michael Jordan.
He still had to go, work out, go to practice and play basketball five hours a day every day for 25 years. The problem is there’s so much that we only show our children people once they’ve made it. We need to not show our children, the people that are there, but to open them up and to allow them. I focus a lot on biography research in my homeschool. We do a lot with biographies and a lot with studying people, because I want them to understand that people that are great, are born with the same spark that you and I had and then they work for it. If you want it bad enough, what is it worth to you? You can be the best expression, everything that you need to succeed. The drive you already have, but now what’s it worth to you?
That’s important because somehow there’s this myth that’s perpetuated about success being overnight. Especially for the younger generations, seeing the success that some people have on platforms like YouTube or TikTok. Sometimes people become famous and successful with little effort. It’s not that that doesn’t happen. You see these viral video stars or these people on TikTok, there is one famous girl on there who was dancing in front of the camera and now she’s one of the biggest social media stars of all time and getting a lot of great opportunities. That can be perceived as effortless, but then there are a lot of people who have been working for a long time. There’s a lot that you didn’t see that led them to that point of success.Your expression now is beautiful; we want more of it. Click To Tweet
The next stage is how do you continue with that? That’s the big challenge we’ve seen with the younger content creators who may have quick success, but it’s hard to sustain and/or it’s confusing to them. Jason and I talked about this in a previous episode because I watched this documentary called Showbiz Kids. It talked about the toll that show business has on children. A lot of big challenges can come up as you’re developing as a human being and simultaneously managing your career. That’s tough. It’s important to talk about those things. It’s wonderful that you’re sharing this and I hope that it’s inspiring other parents to examine these things and to talk about them and not brush it off.
One of the other things I love about what you do is you figure out what the passion is and then you examine it from a lot of different perspectives instead of letting the kid do that on their own or telling them to do something else, which I think is something that some parents do where they want to deny something like, “You can’t be a superhero. You need to be a doctor.” That cliché thing where, “You can’t be a dancer. That’s never going to make you money.” I love that you are embracing your children for where they’re at and teaching them a lot that they may not be exposed to if they were trying to do this all on their own or paying attention to what the media presents them.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that they’re children. Are you doing what you wanted to do when you left high school? I went to Oklahoma State the first time for civil engineering and then I dropped out, I went back to college and I was like, “What can I get a degree in fast and make a bunch of money? I’ll do that.” They’re children. We forget sometimes that we were also children. As my daughter growing up, she loves science and I was like, “I have a scientist.” How parents are like, “You’ll become a doctor,” “She’s doing a brain surgery. I sent her to Doctor Camp.” Doctor Camp was a veterinary camp, but they learned all this medical stuff, she got the maps, BNA for one year and it was fantastic. There are camps for everything. You got to look for him.
The thing that you were then, she gets into high school and I’m nurturing this budding doctor. She says, “I’m going to go to college to study music education. I want to be a band teacher.” I went, “Do that.” She went there and when that’s what she wanted to do, my job as a parent was to say, “And you’re going to be great,” “That’s what you want to do, you’re going to be great.” To take my doctor dream that every parent has and put it in my pocket, because I know this thing that she loves, if it’s what she loves, she’s going to be great. She gets to college, spends a semester there, calls me and says, “Music school is killing my love of music. I wanted to tell you, I got three tattoos.”
I said, “I’m going to judge you for a second, but then we’ll be fine for it.” She had turned eighteen. She comes back and she says, “I want to switch my major to astrophysics.” As a parent, my job was to say, “Whether you’re a band teacher, or an astrophysicist, or a veterinarian, if you want it bad enough, you’re going to be great at it.” I went through three majors. Even the major I graduated with, Management Information System, I don’t do that.
I don’t manage information systems, because your passion is going to find you. It doesn’t have to find you at nineteen. It definitely doesn’t have to find you at seven. “If you want to be a superhero, Daniel, we’re going to be that and we’re going to make sure you do a superhero in Math, you learn math, you read, write and do all the things you need to be able to use to develop your passion because it’s okay to be a superhero at seven. It’s okay to be a superhero at twenty if that’s what you’re supposed to do. If that’s your best expression.”
He’s sixteen, with autism, it’s going to be hard for him to go and be an architect. That’s something that requires a lot of math, skills, patience and social interaction, but if he wants it bad enough, I want him to learn to be a learner. Learners go and grab what they want to be their own best expression. That’s what we wanted Exploring Expression is we want people to be the best versions of themselves by learning in a method that fills their soul.
In terms of learning styles, I’m curious about what your approach is in terms of there are seven different learning styles. There are spatial, auditory, musical, linguistic, kinesthetic, mathematical, intrapersonal and interpersonal. In terms of how you see people learn, how do you approach your approach to figuring out how a person learns best and then contouring the lessons and the curriculum you have? For me, as an example, I’m a kinesthetic learner and Whitney knows this because she has taught me how to edit on the computer and a lot of things. I find that if she or someone else tries to communicate it verbally, I don’t get it. I need a hands-on to show me how to do it, physically do it and then it’ll stick for me. How do you approach that in terms of the different learning styles and helping to figure out what is a person’s best way of learning?
We do offer coaching and educational consulting, both kids and adults. One of the things that we do first is we say, “Tell me about your family. Tell me about your child. What do they love? What do they love to do?” If you look at what a person loves, you can start to get a sense of their learning style. For example, my youngest son Daniel is kinesthetic. He has to move. If someone likes to watch a lot of movies or if I would ask you, “What do you do when you’re not working? Do you go jogging? Do you do this? Do you play video games? How do you do and how do you learn the things that you don’t have to learn?”
This will cue you into what your learning style is. The key is how do we then take that? A lot of the curriculum with the exception of the novel studies, but the country plus and the superhero curriculum are four-year curriculums for K-12, we base on projects. We make sure that there’s something in there for the person who loves to read well, “Here are some books.” If you’re the person who needs auditory, “Here some audiobooks or here’s some YouTube videos,” because you can learn anything in any manner.
We learned the Greek alphabet through a rap we found. The kids rap it and dance to it. We do a lot because my boys are both movement-oriented. In fact, I taught a workshop several times called ASL and kinesthetic memorization. It’s how to use ASL to both key to subject and teach a language, because it’s learning through movement. Once you look at a person, if you don’t take the time to know the person and their family, which is why teachers have such hard jobs, because they have to in a moment, get to know 30 children with 30 different learning styles and teach one thing. They have a minuscule amount of time. What we want parents to understand is it doesn’t matter if your child’s homeschooled, private school, public school, charter school, whatever, your still their teacher, because you know your child best and you know how they learn.
If you don’t think they’re learning enough, what are you going to do about it? What are you going to teach them? If you think they’re struggling in Math because they don’t know the whole grid Math system with the squares and the lines. However, I understand math and we learn a whole bunch of Math at our household through paying games. We play Life, Monopoly and we have stores. I get out my little jar change and the boys went around and they bring in a bunch of stuff and we label it with prices and we have a store.
Normally, it’s like a superhero store with lasers. The first thing you have to do is watch your child and learn about them. I’ve said this, “How do we teach them to understand that it takes people a long time to be rich and successful. We have to take the time to learn about them. How do we teach them to weather adversity? We have to take the time to learn about ourselves and to learn about the world because people are interesting and we’re interesting. It’s worth learning about.” That’s what a learning lifestyle is all about. It’s the idea that there’s much to learn about why aren’t we doing it?
We have many amazing resources at our fingertips, including you, Brandy. Thank you for this. One of the things I’m curious about is, you mentioned these interviews you did with a diversity of different types of people. Is that an audio, a podcast, or a YouTube series blog? Where’s that available?
I do have a YouTube channel. It’s got one of those random YouTube channel IDs. It was a couple of years ago, I did those interviews, but they’re on the YouTube channel. Through that, I also do product reviews because I’m all about finding those like small businesses with interesting little products.
What’s one of your favorites off the top of your head?
We got this board game on the constitution. This is an old one, but we absolutely adore SMACK. It is Scrabble with math. I do a lot of book reviews and any of those little types of treasures that I find. That’s also, every Sunday at 7:00 where I go and I talk about something. That’s all on my YouTube channel. I’m starting to populate it with more of not only the historical stuff that I did with the interviews, but the newer things, the products and things that I come across that I think are interesting. I don’t know if he has small children, but this perfect book.
It’s not one of mine, but the guy that wrote it as a lawyer in New York. I did an interview with him at one point that’s on there, it’s called The Existential Giraffe. It’s a series of children’s books and this is the first one about like higher level ideas for small children. This is about this giraffe who’s having this existential crisis. He doesn’t know if he’s a giraffe or if he’s something else that thinks he’s a giraffe. In fact, I have a new children’s book coming out in September 2020 called Little Lion Makes A Roar. It’s about a little superhero lion that suffers from anxiety and he wants to make a super roar to save the town, but every time he does, he starts to sweat, stumble and all that comes out as a not so super squeak.If you want it bad enough, you're going to be great at it. Click To Tweet
I love the way that you use these animals to tell these stories and it appeals to not just children, but me as well. I would love to read that. We are grateful for you, Brandy. Thank you, Brandy for sharing your story and your lessons. There’s been so much here. This has been such a rich episode. I don’t think anyone’s come on our show and told a story that gave us goosebumps before. Thank you for making this a magical journey together and all of your time speaking with us.
Thank you for having me. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I also want to put a vote in Brandy for Story Time with you, whether or not you feel compelled with all of the incredible books, courses and raising three beautiful children. It’s not like your plate isn’t full. Your plate is full, but I’m throwing a vote. If you ever decided to do some YouTube videos where you’re telling these stories, you are gifted at it. I want to thank you for letting us know more about who you are, what you do and the gifts that you are sharing with this world. Thank you.
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- 90 Days to Your Better Expression
- Tip and Ben Find A Friend
- Dandelion’s Magic
- The Existential Giraffe
- Exploring Expression
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About Brandy Champeau
Having survived homelessness, domestic abuse, pregnancy-induced heart failure, and devastating natural disasters, Brandy Champeau knows how to rise from the ashes. She has not only survived but is now living her best expression. Brandy, a single mother of three children, including one with special needs, is the founder of Exploring Expression as well as an author, speaker, and curriculum developer. Through Exploring Expression, Brandy helps parents and educators become the best expression of themselves so that they can make learning fun, easy and natural, not just for their children, but for themselves.
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