Interview With Sara Connell Founder of Thought Leader Academy

Interview With Sara Connell Founder of Thought Leader Academy

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Connell who is the founder of Thought Leader Academy where she helps women make a huge impact by becoming bestselling authors and TEDx speakers. Sara has been featured on: The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, The View, FOX Chicago, CBS, NBC and Katie Couric. Her writing has appeared in: The New York Times, Forbes, Good Housekeeping, and Parenting. She’s presented at many Fortune 1000 and top companies including: Avon, Estee Lauder, Origins, GE, Northwestern University, Chicago Tribune Lit Fest, Johnson & Johnson, TEDx & Unilever.

Her first book Bringing In Finn was nominated for ELLE magazine Book of the Year.

Interview With Sara Connell Founder of Thought Leader Academy

Can you share with us your background and your career? 

I always wanted to be a writer but I picked up the idea from a teacher that I wasn’t good enough to pursue that dream so after college, I took a job at an advertising agency. I was sexually assaulted and harassed at that job frequently and as a result, I spiraled into a serious eating disorder, and felt like I was dying inside.

I often travelled for that job and one day as I was flying back from Chicago to Boston, I saw a bookstore, and of course, books were – as a wannabe writer – my oasis where I turned to for answers. I didn’t have any time to read the back covers because I could hear my flight being called on the intercom. I “randomly” grabbed a book, got on the plane, and started to read.

I read that book the entire flight, through the whole taxi ride home, I stayed up the entire rest of the night reading, until I finished. And what I read amazed me. I’d read my story. The details were different, but the author was a woman who shared her experience of childhood trauma, of a life-threatening eating disorder, and most importantly, what she did to get well. And I made a vow, in that early morning light in my bedroom with my eyes red and sore from reading that I was going to get help the next day. And I did.

Reading that one book not only changed the trajectory of the rest of my life, it saved my life. I left the abusive job, got help, and regained my physical and mental health. And even though I didn’t believe I was good enough and I didn’t believe I would succeed, I committed to pursuing my dream of becoming a published author.

That decision, that commitment led to finding a literary agent, getting a book contract, getting on Oprah, being published in the New York Times – all things that were fantasies and would have stayed fantasies if I had not made that initial decision to pick up the airport book.

Once I had the opportunity to publish my book and contribute to the life changing force that books are, I made it my mission to help any individuals who have that same calling to get their story into the world.

I went back to get my masters in writing at Northwestern University. I started coaching people one on one, writing their books. And that led to groups of people writing their books. I’ve now coached thousands of writers, experts, coaches, moms, and entrepreneurs. And in 2019 we founded the Thought Leader Academy, which is our one-year program where individuals with the calling to share their story become successful, published, even bestselling authors, in-demand speakers, and even speak at TEDx.

Can you share with our readers how you started your company and the mission behind it?

For over a decade I was a life coach and a writer- I lived two separate professional lives. In 2017 I felt a calling to change the trajectory of my work. I didn’t know what it was going to become so I went into six months of intensive meditation and personal inquiry. I returned over and over to that moment in the bookstore, when that book saved my life. What emerged was a vision to “merge my worlds.” I concluded my life coaching practice and launched a new company where I took my decade of training as a master mindset coach with my years of training as a professional writer and devoted all I did to helping any individual with the calling to change lives with their mission and message- become successful authors and speakers.

If you could go back and talk to your younger self what you tell her and why?

I would show her that every limiting idea she holds about herself is a myth. I’d tell her to act as if she is worthy, capable and determined enough to achieve even her greatest visions and leap bigger and faster without looking back.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? 

I’m excited about two new books. One is a fiction collection of modern ghost stories- in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and Karen Russel. The second is a book about the power of 1 book to save a life- an homage to the authors who have been brave enough to change our world.

I’m also excited about a new program we’re creating to bring books to jails. One of my clients, who started a movement to reform the female incarceration system in America, told me that while many prisons have libraries, jails, where people sometimes stay for weeks or months, have no books. I cried when I heard this and this month we’ve started a book initiative to donate thousands of books to jails across the country. It’s a driving passion that everyone who needs a book at a pivotal time in their life has access to one.

Where do you see yourself and your career going in this new year and in the future?

We are incredibly fortunate that the company has doubled every year since we started and we hope that continues again in 2021. We’re bringing on new coaches and team members who share our vision of books changing lives and have a goal to help over 1000 women change lives and become bestselling authors this year. We’ll be adding a podcast and some exciting joint ventures with national thought leaders to the mix and are particularly excited to host our annual Women Starting Movement retreat in person this October! In the coming years we hope to bring books and book writing programs to schools, jails and any community in need. I hope to share the neuroscience, psychology and craft of transformation through story around the globe.

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