Radical Authenticity: an Interview with Stephanie Tait
Editor’s Note: The following interview is a spotlight on Stephanie Tait, an author, speaker, and blogger who the Northwest Christian University community had the opportunity to hear speak in chapel last year. Here, she shares her experience and insight on her online image, the struggles and joys of a career in media, and true, Christian authenticity in a modern, digital world with the Beacon Bolt.
Can you tell me a little about who you are and what you do for those who might not know?
Sure! I’m a blogger and speaker through my brand, The Joy Parade, and I just signed my first book deal last fall. I write and share about topics from Christian faith to parenting to chronic illness to just about everything in between. I wouldn’t say I have a clear cut niche, and I personally feel more comfortable and more effective that way. God’s taken me all over the board with this platform, and so I tend to walk through whatever door is opened without too many constraints on what my brand “should” be about.
What has being a blogger, author, and “public figure” taught you about yourself and the way you present yourself online?
The more public your life becomes, the more clearly you can see where you’ve chosen to draw your worth from. My goal is and has always been to serve an audience of One, but walking that out on a day to day basis can be very difficult. I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty nasty messages, and I get plenty of messages full of love and support as well, but it’s important for me to remind myself that neither of those voices ultimately determine anything about who I am or whether or not I’m saying the “right” things with my platform. I have to stay consistently immersed in the word and remind myself to keep serving that audience of One, no matter how many followers I gain or lose as a result.
How has blogging and writing affected your relationship with God and your identity in Christ?
Believe it or not in college I was studying to go into education or child psychology (I had wanted to work with kids with autism.) One of those little education tidbits that has always stuck with me is that when you want to learn something really well, the best proven way to do that is to try to teach it to someone else. Your brain is far more likely not only to retain but to understand the info when you have to try to explain it to a third party.
I think this is the best picture of how my career has ultimately affected my faith. In order to teach the word, I’ve had to really dig in and learn the word, and when I’m putting together a blog or a study or a talk to give to students? Those truths come alive to me in a totally new way, and I often find myself preaching to my own heart just as much as to the folks in the audience. Last year’s talk at NCU was no exception. In fact, my husband and I listened to the audio recording of that very talk while we drove home from Idaho where I had just started a difficult treatment protocol for my Lyme. I found myself desperately needing those reminders of the very things I had preached on, and it renewed my focus in a difficult time.
What has been one of the biggest struggles you’ve had to overcome in this journey so far?
That’s a tough question to answer. On the surface level, my struggle with advanced Lyme disease and the disabilities that brings will always be the most obvious hurdle to almost anything I take on. Lyme brings a lot of neurological problems, so there are days that reading and writing and even basic communication are extremely difficult for me. I won’t lie, sometimes that makes my job feel impossible.
But in a broader sense, I think the biggest struggle for almost anyone in my industry is always going to be the temptation to create and sell a highly curated image of yourself that isn’t entirely truthful. It can be hard to break into speaking at larger conferences and such, and most of them employ speakers with the same look, the same style, the same message, and the same overall “branding.” The temptation is always to try to cram your square peg into that round hole because it can be nearly impossible to book the big jobs without it. God has been so faithful though in bringing me new opportunities even without doing all of the supposed “shoulds” of my industry.
I’m choosing to remember that all opportunities ultimately come from Him, and if He wants to grow my platform or bring me to bigger stages? He doesn’t need me to compromise my integrity to get there. My calling is to live out my role in this body, not anyone else’s.
What is something that has come out of your career as a blogger, speaker, and author that you would have never expected?
I think my expectations were pretty limited going into this to be honest. When God called me out of my old career as a photographer and sent me down this road? I wasn’t sure much of anything would come from it. So many opportunities and huge career milestones have come for me in ways that don’t at all fit the norms for my industry.
Even my book deal came almost entirely backwards of how it’s done these days: they came to me, not the other way around. I’m sort of holding on to all of this with very open hands at this point, and going wherever He chooses to take me. So far the reality has always been immeasurably more than I would have asked or imagined.
I know you’ll be speaking on radical authenticity at NCU this coming Thursday. What would you say it means to be authentic in a digital world where, it seems, very little actually is?
Without giving away too much of what I’m going to share on Thursday, I think it’s important that we start having hard conversations with each other about what this buzzword of “authentic” really means. It’s key that we educate ourselves on how industries like blogging and social media advertising really work and how much of what appears authentic is actually carefully crafted and designed to sell you a product or a lifestyle. We need to question our own motives when we post things online and question what our goals are in using social media. And as Christians we need to ask ourselves, “Does Scripture ever speak to this issue, and if it does, what does it say?” Luckily I get to dig into those very questions on Thursday and show you what I’ve found.
In your career online, what are some of the struggles you’ve had to navigate with your own sense of authenticity?
It’s a strange dynamic really. Authenticity has become quite the buzzword du jour, but in practice my industry is still anything but. And sadly that’s equally true (if not more so) for Christian organizations, conferences, etc. I personally have a strong commitment to living an accurate representation of myself online, but that can make it increasingly difficult to gain traction with prominent organizations that are key to career success for someone like me.
The more blogging and writing advice that tells you to “find your niche” and “know your audience,” the more folks are being pushed into a series of echo chambers where everyone around you agrees on everything and the temptation is not to step out of line. It’s a major problem for my industry at the moment, and it puts many of us in the position of choosing between our integrity or our career advancement.
Put more bluntly, I often find myself choosing between my ability to make a living or my commitment to my principles – and that never gets easier.
Do you think it’s possible to be too honest on social media? Is there a balance to be found?
Absolutely. I’m actually going to touch on this a bit on Thursday as well. I think many of us have been in the awkward position of watching someone’s relationship troubles play out in real time on Facebook. There is definitely such a thing as too far. Authenticity isn’t an invitation to give up on boundaries or to embrace our sin nature in the name of “hey, I’m just being authentic.” We’re definitely going to chat more about that on Thursday.
What would you say to a college student or young adult who is struggling with being true to themselves and their identity, as a Christian or otherwise?
I would say come to chapel on Thursday!
In this often hectic, hostile, and inauthentic modern world, how do you personally find a sense of peace and contentment?
What a relevant question. This has been a greater struggle for me in the last few weeks for sure. But even beyond current events, when you put yourself out there to preach and teach and write about the word of God, you have to expect there to be enormous push back to that.
My experience has been no exception. I’ve learned that I simply can’t pour from an empty cup, and that self-care isn’t selfish when it makes you a more capable servant. Yes, the analogy about putting on your own mask before helping other passengers is ridiculously overused, but that’s because it really is the perfect picture of why we need to take care of ourselves. Sometimes I need to excuse myself from the internet and simply recharge and reset. Sometimes I need to say no to an opportunity because my health and family would suffer. Sometimes I need to lovingly set boundaries on how personally I can get involved in the life of a reader who is struggling.
Ultimately, I try to remind myself as regularly as I can that I am one small player in a far reaching story of eternity, and that the Kingdom does not and has never rested on my own shoulders. I tap regularly into grace as if re-hydrating from an IV bag, and I try to stay faithful with only things I have personally been given. I will never be big enough or important enough to derail God’s plans with my own personal mistakes, and there is enormous peace in that for me
Members of the NCU community will have two awesome opportunities to hear from Stephanie this week. She will be a leading a “Tea + Talk” Q&A session Wednesday, February 1 from 7-9 PM in the SPS Conference room, where students will be able to submit or ask questions on any topic. She will also be speaking at the regular Thursday chapel at NCU on “Radical Authenticity in a Hashtag #Authentic World”. Chapel will start at 11 AM in the Morse Event Center, and all are welcome.
Stephanie’s blog can be found at http://www.thejoyparadeblog.com