Molly Burke; Toronto;@mollyburkeofficial
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I’m a motivational speaker who shares my personal journey with issues like mental illness, bullying and vision loss, and advocates for accessibility and equality for all. I’m also one of those weird people who makes internet videos as a YouTuber, doing everything from makeup tutorials and self-help videos, to guide dog tutorials and fun challenges!
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I was fortunate enough to land my dream job as a motivational speaker straight out of high school. I moved into an apartment in downtown Toronto and began working and travelling the world.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
I was hired as a motivational speaker by a well-known organization that focuses on youth empowerment and helping others. My work took me to places like India and Kenya, and I got to speak to audiences as small as 20 and as large as 20,000.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
When I was in grade 12 and trying to figure out the whole college/university thing, nothing was feeling quite right. For my 18th birthday in February of that year, I was given tickets to see a very successful and inspiring entrepreneur and changemaker speak. After listening to the presentation, I felt very connected to the story shared and decided to ask a question during the Q&A that followed. I explained that I’ve been public speaking since I was five and asked for any course recommendations or advice for entering the industry. The answer given was a nice fluffy one about the importance of following your dreams and never giving up—not exactly what I was looking for. Once the speaker exited the stage, he ran over to me, handed me his business card and told me to email him. I sent him my resume, certainly not expecting a job, but rather asking for program or course recommendations based on my experience. I ended up going in for a surprise job interview and was given a job on the spot. I was so confused I literally asked, “what job?” In the two years I worked for the organization I was so fortunate to get to work with people like Demi Lovato, Macklemore, Martin Luther King III and Malala! I got to live my dream, work with amazing people and make a difference all at the same time!
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
After two years of five airplanes a week, I was pretty drained and at just 20 years old had to make a very difficult decision—to leave my dream job. In making that decision, I also made another very scary, but very exciting decision, to start my own business. I was leaving a successful career and company to become an entrepreneur and carve my own path in life. After months of hard work writing new speeches, building a website and just generally figuring out the inner workings of being a business woman, I landed my first booking. Once I began receiving requests for appearances from schools, conferences and corporate organizations through my OWN website, I really began to feel like I had made the right decision. The self-doubt started to slowly leave me and I knew then that I really CAN do this on my own!
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
In February of 2014, just a few weeks after my 20th birthday, I had a major blind girl accident. While at a sound check for one of my speeches I ended up walking full speed ahead, straight off a five-foot stage. I ended up severely injuring my neck and having to rock a very stylish neck brace for the next six weeks. On top of that, I had to take a six-week medical leave from work to cope with the more challenging part of that accident, the PTSD it triggered. Every time I stepped on a stage following my accident my body would totally freeze up and I felt like I was falling or that the stage was filled with holes and if I moved, I’d fall. Accepting that this was obviously not normal and that I needed to get help and take time off to heal was very difficult. It was during this time that I decided that it was best to leave my job, and I was confused about what I was going to do with myself. At the time, I felt like my career was over. Everything I had ever wanted, everything I had worked so hard for my entire life, was over. It’s been three years since then and looking back, I can say that I’m glad it happened. That accident pushed me into starting my business, making YouTube videos, and much more. I learned so much from that experience—to never take anything for granted, to always be grateful, to work hard, and take one day at a time. It taught me to take time for myself and my health. It showed me what I really am capable of.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Do what makes you happy, don’t just do what makes you money. It’s cliché, but I know from experience that when you do what you love, you never dread Monday mornings.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
Luckily, I can’t seem to think of any! I’m still young though, so I’m sure there will be some in my future.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
There are far more successful male speakers than female speakers, unfortunately. I’ve definitely run into situations in the industry of “men supporting men” and pushing me out, which has been frustrating. The good thing though, is that it’s meant I’ve ben booked to do a lot of female empowerment events, which I love! I’ve been able to seek out other female speakers and support them, as well as receive support from them.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
Between my work as a motivational speaker and as a YouTuber I’m able to support myself but there are definitely good times and tough times, like there is for many business owners.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
One of many perks to owning my own business is that I don’t have to deal with office politics. As a result, I haven’t really heard many stereotypes about millennials at work!