The CEO of the fastest growing conference in the U.S. on how to find your whitespace

Though you would think Jaclyn Johnson, the woman behind Create & Cultivate, the fastest growing nationwide conference platform and online platform, would have a seamless career trajectory with nothing but praise, promotion and adoration, you would be quite wrong. No one has that.

Though you would think Jaclyn Johnson, the woman behind Create & Cultivate – the fastest growing nationwide conference platform and online platform – would have a seamless career trajectory with nothing but praise, promotion and adoration, you would be quite wrong. No one has that. Even Johnson who can call upon people like Issa Rae, Gloria Steinem and Kim Kardashian to headline one of her conferences found herself crying in the bathroom during work on more than one occasion.

Her dream had been to work in magazines, but unlike every female character in a 90s RomCom, she couldn’t survive on an editorial assistant salary in New York so she ended up taking a job in marketing and advertising. She climbed the rungs in that field and ended up moving across the country to LA for a promotion only to be laid off shortly after which was devastating at the time but gave birth to her  “accidental entrepreneur journey.”

Having no luck getting a full-time job at first she began freelancing and soon built up an impressive roster of clients. A year later she had founded her own marketing and events agency, No Subject, with clients including Levi’s, Farmer’s Insurance and Nasty Gal. She also had a super successful fashion and lifestyle blog called Some Notes on Napkins that started getting featured in major fashion magazines, helping her brand become even more powerful.

Create & Cultivate came about as a side project as she knew she was the person that could always bring creative ideas to a meeting but she wanted more business knowledge and she had a feeling that other women were also looking for that educational component. She organized a small conference with keynote speakers Emily Weiss and Aimee Song and even though she says it was a disaster the many attendees were thrilled. Today the conferences are held all over the country with over 800 attendees at a time.

Like everyone, Johnson was challenged and had failures and was treated terribly at time and experienced burnout, but ultimately it led her to create something incredible because she figured out what so many entrepreneurial women needed: a place to come together and be inspired (and have plenty of Instagram opportunities.) And now she has put her sage business advice as well as some fun anecdotes in her book WorkParty (because work doesn’t always have to be depressing.) Ladders spoke with Johnson about her new career guide and why work should always be a party.

On what exactly a WorkParty is

WorkParty is a movement for a new generation of women who are redefining the meaning of work on their own terms. Women who are creating and cultivating their careers & having fun while doing it.

When it came to writing WorkParty, I realized I’ve been working now for over a decade and have been through a ton. I wanted to give women an insight on how I achieved my accomplishments and also share the very real struggles that come along with being an entrepreneur. I want women to be able to use this as a guide to learn and grow in their own careers and respective fields.

On crying at work

The truth is that we all have our days and if you’re going to cry, you’re going to cry. If you’re having a moment, just quietly step out and give yourself that time. And if you see a colleague is visibly upset, be sure to have her back too.

On embracing our failures

As time passes we realize that our failures can actually bring gifts, but that’s something we need to realize with ourselves first. But of course, it’s important to talk about and be open with the people around you so it’s something that we can all learn to do. Sometimes a pizza cry fest can’t hurt!

On how to find your whitespace

Whitespace is the unique value your business adds to an industry. It’s innovation or another concept referred to as “disruption”. I think of whitespace as a canvas of opportunity, as more of an emotional and instinctual theory than a line item in a dense business plan.

On why women respond so strongly to Create and Cultivate conferences

Because we get them. We know our audience so well! We see their comments on social media, get feedback from every event and conference that we put together, and we put all of that into fruition and give them what they want. We’re also bringing in panelists from all different backgrounds whether it’s fashion, tech, finance–you name it. We really try to cater to every woman out there and encourage them to explore different industries, rather than telling them they should stick to one thing and one thing only. They’re all creative and entrepreneurial spirits, and we encourage them to finally go after their big idea.

On the worst career advice

There were people who told me I shouldn’t start a project until it’s perfect. I think that just going for it and listening to any feedback along the way is so valuable and teaches you what you’ll need in order for your business to grow. We’re all bound to make mistakes, but we shouldn’t let striving for perfection hold us back.

On her best morning routine hack

A lot of us have the habit of checking our phones first thing in the morning, and that’s okay. But I still think it’s important to slot in a few minutes for yourself and clear your head in the morning, before diving into your workload for the day–even if that’s after checking your email and Instagram feed.

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.