Expert Q&A: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, Literary Agent & Founder of Together Live
The powerhouse behind best-selling authors like Oprah Winfery and Sheryl Sandberg is bringing transformative experiences to the masses with a new national movement.
You might not know Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, but chances are, you know her work. As executive vice president and co-head of the worldwide literary department at William Morris Endeavor (WME), she’s the legendary literary agent behind dozens of bestselling authors and celebrities, including Sheryl Sandberg, Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey.
In 2016, Walsh added a side project, partnering with bestselling author Glennon Doyle to create Together Live, a storytelling show aimed at inspiring audience members to discover and pursue their life’s purpose. A podcast, Do It on Purpose, and an app, soon followed, to expand the initiative’s reach.
Walsh intends to grow Together into a transformative movement. To that end, she’s stepped ever-so-slightly into the limelight, serving as the unpaid emcee on Together’s 10-city tour this fall, alongside more public personalities like Doyle, soccer legend Abby Wambach, actress Connie Britton and blogger Luvvie Ajayi.
In November, she’ll lead a Together Live workshop at the TEDWomen conference. We recently talked with her about the birth of Together, how she juggles a huge career with family life, and why she’s willing to do anything to help “others feel less alone, connected, elevated and healed.”
I wanted to ask you a little bit about the origin story of Together Live. Did you contact Glennon Doyle? Did she come to you?
I have to take you back a little. I’ve run the book and lecture business at WME for decades. I’ve always been committed to the power of storytelling to transform lives. Whether it was a novel, non-fiction or a lecture, I’ve put my whole life into giving megaphones to thought leaders, artists and athletes, all the people that I feel are spreading light across the world.
At the same time, I was also helping to do our corporate retreats at WME. They were extraordinary experiences. We would have Al Gore on the stage talking about failure. We had Sheryl Sandberg talking about Lean In before there was Lean In. Every time, I felt unbelievable gratitude. How could a girl like me be in a room like this?
At the same time, I felt that I wanted everybody to have access to this wisdom. I wanted to create a democratized experience, where, for three hours and the same cost as a movie and a piece of pizza, people could come together and share their most vulnerable truths around the idea of, what is your purpose? Why are you here and what are you meant to do about it?
I did some other conferences. I was part of the team that brought Oprah Winfrey around the country on The Life You Want Tour. I did a conference with Arianna Huffington. I loved those experiences, but I felt that there was something that I could add. It felt great to come together but when we left, the energy stayed in the theaters. I wanted to create an opportunity to stay together. That’s where our app came from, that gives original content every day. Then we launched our podcast.
Now, the only part of my story that I didn’t tell you was when I was getting ready to launch some kind of experience, I met Glennon Doyle. It ended up that she had the exact same dream as me. She was about to go on tour with Love Warrior. Instead, we decided that we would build this platform for everybody to share their stories. People from every walk of life, every religion, every orientation. That’s really when Together was born.
So, it sounds like one of those instances when you commit to the dream, and then the help you needed magically appears.
Yeah. You nailed it. Glennon [is] one of the great gifts of my adulthood. I met her in my late forties, and I certainly didn’t expect to have a sister for life, the way that she has become.
What are your future plans for Together?
I have two dreams. Number one is that it becomes global. Number two that it eventually includes men. We’re happy to see that we’ve gotten over 10 percent men so far, and hope that continues to grow.
I honestly believe that the power of storytelling – wild-heart, vulnerable, true storytelling – could heal the world. There’s just something about telling the truth about your life experience that makes it impossible to feel like that other person is anything different than you.
I think we have an empathy deficit in our culture right now. We have to keep breaking through it, and stories are really powerful in that way.
The truth is that everybody wants the same thing. They want to know that they matter. They want to know that they’re loved. They want a better life for themselves and their family. We’re just so focused on the differences that we can’t hear each other anymore.
You have a demanding career. You’ve raised three children, with a teenager still at home. You shared onstage that your husband survived cancer. Most people wouldn’t add a side hustle to all that. What need does Together meet for you personally?
Well, I think it’s an evolution. People [say] you must be so busy. I’m not busy. I’m full. I have time to watch all the good TV, to read all the books that I want. I exercise. I meditate. Everybody has 24 hours. Once I really understood what my particular purpose was, anything that doesn’t serve that purpose, I deprioritized. I just take the next right step, wherever I can, to serve that purpose.
I do my best, but I make mistakes. For me, what’s important is not to spend time looking backwards. I’ve never been able to change one thing that’s ever happened in the past. Have you? The past is the one place you have no power.
That just brought tears to my eyes.
Oh. Yay. Yay. [Turning] 50 was like crossing over a barrier for me. Do you really want to keep telling yourself the same old stories?
I understand how you prioritize your time. But, I think for a lot of women, especially mothers, it’s easy to feel torn between the daily duties, the fires you need to put out, and the desire to live your purpose.
Glennon quotes Carl Jung in her opening speech [at Together] “No child is more injured than by the unlived life of the parent.” I really believe that.
My kids know their mom is living her loudest, most impactful life. They are incredibly proud of that, and they take that as a way to live. To be useful in our family is of the highest order. We emphasize character above all else. So, that’s the first thing.
The other thing is: Guilt serves nobody. So, does a basketball game get missed because I have an important presentation? Yes. A presentation might take precedence over a basketball game, but a sick kid would take precedence over anything. It’s about what’s really important in the moment. So, the guilt? The self-loathing? Just leave it. When you shift to purpose and service, you realize that there’s no time for that.
Sharon Van Epps is a freelance writer whose work has appeared online in more than 20 publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Kitchn, and Good Housekeeping. You can find her on Twitter @sharonvanepps and Facebook.