Digital Business, Authenticity, and the Freedom of Being Yourself

Why it’s important to keep things real and how that helps set a firm foundation for your digital business.

It’s no secret that many of us struggle with who we are, and that validation is at the very top of our priority list. Social Media and the Internet make it really easy to wear a mask, but that habit can be devastating.

Identifying the issue is a great place to start, but it requires a lot of ongoing work and maintenance. Thankfully there’s a light at the end of the tunnel … and a way to get it right.

In this 17-­minute episode Allison Vesterfelt and I discuss:

  • How I met Allison and her husband Darrell
  • Vulnerability, being unfiltered and balance
  • The freedom of being you
  • The difficulty of starting a podcast
  • The idea behind our weekly newsletter, No Sidebar
  • The Skype call that paved way for the future of the podcast

The Show Notes

Business, Authenticity, and the Freedom of Being You

Brian Gardner: Hey everyone, welcome to the No Sidebar podcast. I’m your host, Brian Gardner, and I’m here to help you identify the things that stand in the way of building your online business. Together, we’ll learn how to eliminate the unnecessary, increase conversion, design a better business and build a more beautiful web.

So last week I answered five questions that have been frequently asked of me, and as you may recall, the first one was about the backstory of No Sidebar. I talked about a book that I read back in 2013, which played a huge roll in my quest for a simple life, and ultimately was the foundation of what we are now calling No Sidebar.

Before I go any further, I have a few things I would like to say.

No Sidebar is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy to help you immediately accelerate your business.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see Dan Pink, Sally Hogshead, punk legend Henry Rollins and many other incredible speakers live … not to mention the secret sauce of it all: building real world relationships with other attendees and having a chance to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee with me at Starbucks. Get all the details right now at and we look forward to seeing you in Denver, Colorado this May. That’s

How I Met Allison and Her Husband Darrell

Brian Gardner: Okay, let’s get the ball rolling here. So that book I mentioned, “Packing Light” was written by a special person. Her name is Allison Vesterfelt and not only has she become a very good friend of mine, she just so happens to be on today’s show.

It felt right asking her to come on because I really don’t think that No Sidebar would be here today if it wasn’t for her book. It really was that impactful.

I honestly don’t remember how I came across the book, but it led me to her website, which at the time was built on WordPress. A few weeks later I went back to her site and noticed that it had been moved to Squarespace, which I thought was odd. So I did what every normal WordPress fanatic would do, which is send a direct message to her husband Darrell, a guy I had never met. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but the gist of it was, “Hey man, curious why you switched your wife’s site over to Squarespace?” I was pretty surprised when he wrote back right away and we exchanged a number of geeky messages about that decision.

Around the same time, I was in the process of designing the Beautiful Pro theme we sell over at StudioPress. I offered it to him as a peace offering and said, “Hey, I’ll give you this theme I am working on for free, if you want to move Allison’s site back to WordPress.” He accepted, moved her site back, and I think a few weeks had passed when Darrell asked if I would be open with meeting up with them.

They were promoting the book and knew they would be up here in my area, so naturally I said yes, and we met up at a very special place in Oak Park. And while we were there, she gave me something. The rest is pretty much history.

And let’s fast-forward to where we are at today. Now I have the privilege of introducing my good friend, author of Packing Light and fellow contributor over at No Sidebar, Allison Vesterfelt.

Why don’t we recount that first day when we met?

Allison Vesterfelt: We met at Starbucks that day I think, because you and Darrell had started communicating and we met at Starbucks and I handed you a copy of my book. I don’t think I really expected you to read it because I hand lots of people copies of my book. But within a couple of days you had written about it on your website and it seemed like the book had really impacted you.

Brian Gardner: Yeah, I don’t think you have any idea how much it really did impact me. And I think when you gave me the book Packing Light, you soon realized it had been ten years since I had actually finished one. And I will blame my wife Shelly for revealing that secret.

Allison Vesterfelt: That was so funny when I heard her say that. She just said, “I knew he must have liked that book because I have never seen him read a book start to finish like that, since we’ve been married and he couldn’t put it down.” Anyway, that’s always fun to hear as the author of a book.

Brian Gardner: Yeah, there was so many things that resonated with me as I read through the book, but one thing in particular stood out. You have this gift to unapologetically be you and I have to admit how infectious that is.

You and I have talked a number of times about being unfiltered but I think it’s something that many people have a problem with. Maybe it’s fear or lack of confidence, but the bottom line though is that so many of us struggle with it.

I found it was the stories and the emotions you shared when you were scared and when you questioned your journey the most, those were the ones in my head where I was thinking, “Yes, yes” to.

Vulnerability, Being Unfiltered and Balance

Allison Vesterfelt: It’s so funny to hear you say that because I think, while you are definitely not the first person who has said something like that to me, as often times when I travel and speak about the book, I’ll have people come up to me and say, “Wow, you are so vulnerable. I can’t believe you shared about such and such.” And they’ll repeat back to me a story I told and suddenly when they say it, I think to myself, “Oh my gosh, you’re right. Why did I tell that story? I can’t believe I did that.” But you know, I guess I don’t know if I can say it comes naturally, or maybe I’m just not thinking about it in the moment but it just sort of is kind of “what you see, is what you get.”

Every once in a while I’ll have a moment where somebody will say, “I can’t believe you wrote about that thing with your marriage” or something like that. And I’m just like, “Whoa, yeah, I guess. I can’t believe I did that either.” Then all of a sudden it becomes clear to me that it was a really vulnerable thing to do.

Brian Gardner: Personally I don’t think there is anything wrong with being vulnerable. And as someone who typically has no problem wearing his feelings and his emotions on his sleeve, I can say that fairly confidently.

The Freedom of Being You

Brian Gardner: One of the things that I struggle with the most though, is validation and approval. This goes way back to my childhood years and these days with social media it’s totally magnified.

I know you and I have talked a lot about this before, and it’s interesting to me though to see where people draw the line. I know I have probably over shared myself on a number of occasions, but I think that line is quite wide and quite grey. I don’t know. I guess the key to all of it though is simply establishing some degree of balance, right?

Allison Vesterfelt: I do think there is a healthy balance. I can remember when I first quit my job to be a full-time writer and I had been on Twitter for a while, it was the first time that I was blogging and sharing links to my blog on Twitter and sharing really strategically and intentionally, in order to drive traffic to my site.

I have such vivid memories of sitting at my kitchen table and typing out a tweet with a link to my blog post and sitting there for like 30 minutes, staring at it, editing it, trying to fix it. Thinking to myself, “What could somebody say about this? Is somebody going to be mad?”

And you know, so much energy and time was wasted over worrying about how people were going to respond to this or think about it. I probably had 300 Twitter followers at the time. And now I look back on that and just think, “Man, that was so much energy and time I wasted worrying about what other people were going to say about me, or think about me, or wonder about me, or how they could possibly respond.”

There is just such freedom in knowing that you are not in charge of how people are going to respond to what you think, or what you say, and just having the freedom to be you and put yourself out there. There is definitely a ton of freedom in that.

Brian Gardner: So a few months ago I came across an interview on The Great Discontent with Ruthie Lindsey, who I know you guys are friends with. She said something in that interview, I have to admit, was one of the most ridiculously accurate and truthful things I have ever heard. She says, “All of us are longing for connection and authenticity, and what we believe will repel people does the exact opposite.”

Now the irony behind that for me, saying how much I agree with it, is that I am still afraid of what people think and how they will respond to things I do and say. It’s funny, I remember once, Brian Clark telling me a story about a night he purposely tweeted about things to get people to unfollow him and just like Ruthie said, it did the exact opposite. He got a bunch more people to follow him.

I think that’s why I enjoyed your book so much because throughout your journey you did, and said, so many things that I thought to myself, “Man, I wish I had the courage to do that, or to say that.” Well I guess that’s something that I can just go ahead and work on.

The Difficulty of Starting a Podcast

Brian Gardner: All right. Let’s change things up a bit and talk more about the show.

We have talked about authenticity and trying our best to be ourselves, and that’s something I really want to address as time goes on.

In the first episode I talked about the fact that I wanted to have a flexible format for the show, but what I failed to mention was the reason behind that.

Now I set out to make this a long interview format, but as I sat down to do the first one, I felt like a deer in headlights. And this is the unfiltered side of me coming out here, but it was really tough. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to come up with good questions and to talk elegantly throughout the interview.

So I called up Robert Bruce, who’s the Vice President of Marketing for Rainmaker and the podcast network as you know and practically had a melt down. I was thankful that Robert was gracious enough to walk me off the ledge, and he helped and encouraged me to kind of think through some of the format options we had.

I finally realized what I was doing and that was what I thought everyone else wanted me to do. I’m a firm believer that when we are outside of our comfort zones, we have a much harder time trying to succeed. But often, I think we put ourselves in these situations and scenarios that we think we should be in, and it’s almost like we lose ourselves in the ideas and the production of it all, and that can sometimes be crippling.

Allison Vesterfelt: Yeah. Absolutely.

I think what you are talking about makes me think about how you can think you’re a pretty authentic person, that you are fairly open and you are unfiltered, of whatever you want to call it, and then put a camera on you, or a mic in front of your face and everything changes.

As soon as somebody says, “Alright, we’re recording,” suddenly it’s like all the things you thought were so easy to talk about and you thought it was so easy to just be yourself, something comes over you and it’s so hard to just let your guard down and just talk.

I feel like I’ve been walking through something similar lately. Traditionally I have been a writer and an author and it’s become fairly comfortable for me. In fact I coach a lot of writers and I sort of feel like I have a handle on that.

And then more recently I have been doing video courses and recording lots and lots of different video content to help writers in what they are doing. And it’s like you sit down and I think “This is a subject matter that I know so much about, I could literally talk about it with my eyes closed, half asleep, even with my hands tied behind my back, I can still teach this stuff.” And then you put a video camera on me and it’s like blank. I can’t even think of what I was going to say.

So learning to be unfiltered or authentic, completely putting yourself in all different kinds of situations is definitely a skill and a skill that helps you to have a stronger sense of who you are.

The Idea Behind Our Weekly Newsletter, No Sidebar

Brian Gardner: I really wanted to talk through some of the authenticity and unfiltered stuff, because I know it’s extremely important to both you and I, and it’s something that we both believe in. I think that’s one reason why we are such good friends because our values about certain things are aligned so well.

I also think it’s important for us to set the tone of being real because I think the alternative to that is a sidebar which works its way into our souls and our home, and also our businesses. With that said, my hope for the podcast is to illustrate just how important it is for us to be ourselves.

So a few weeks ago, you and I launched this site, a brand new website called No Sidebar, which of course is located at This was something from my perspective that was inspired heavily by what Brian Clark was doing over at

The idea behind what we are doing there is curating content for the audience that we have, which is built around the topics of simple living and so on. As I mentioned earlier, you and I have a very similar outlook on life, so without question, you were the natural fit was to have you along side me with that.

What’s been your favorite part so far with the project?

Allison Vesterfelt: I guess just watching people respond to it on Twitter. Watching people either retweet or you know, I’ll scroll through my feed and see people tweeting stuff that maybe I am not tagged in, but just seeing people resonate with the content seems cool.

The Skype Call that Paved Way for the Future of the Podcast

Brian Gardner: Well that’s really awesome to hear and makes me want to ask you the next question, but before I get there, do you remember that call we had a few weeks back on Skype, where we were talking about the fears of missing out and so on?

Allison Vesterfelt: I think what we talked about on that call also was how hard it is from a personal perspective, if you believe these things about how good it is to be authentic and transparent, and that when it really comes time to do it, how really truly hard it is.

I think you and I both talked about how even still every now and then, I will on Twitter, I won’t put this on you, but I’ll want to say something and think, “Oh no, I can’t say that on Twitter. People would unfollow me.” Or I want to say something on my blog that I’ll just think “Oh no, I can’t say. That’s something you can’t say in public.”

Brian Gardner: Well I can totally relate to the “I can’t say this stuff in public” and I know that, because every time I go to close out my Facebook tab, I’m prompted with the box that asks me if I’m sure I want to close out, and that’s because I started to write something that I decided not to publish.

Well there was a moment during that conversation we had on Skype, where I stopped and said something like, “This is a great conversation we are having. We should have recorded it.” Well after I hung up, the wheels started turning in my head and I had this crazy idea of you and I getting on Skype each week and recording our calls with no agenda. It seems like you and I riffing about these kinds of things would make for some really neat audio content, don’t you think?

Allison Vesterfelt: I mean this is what you and I would do anyway, even if we weren’t recording it, so we might as well put it to good use.

So Brian, what are you hoping No Sidebar becomes?

Brian Gardner: That’s a really good question and one that I suspect will change as we move forward with this show together. What I will say is, I want to be intentional about talking about our stories, as I think they make up so much of who we are and hope that will help others in their journey.

I love where the site is going. And I think for the most part, I would like to see the podcast head in that same direction. I do want to make sure we stay some what on track though, because after all, the podcast is targeted to folks who are online entrepreneurs and small business owners. Are we thinking the same thing here?

Allison Vesterfelt: First of all, I think just from you and I spending time together and talking more about this, I see so many different overlaps between the book I wrote and the concept of No Sidebar. Just this idea of being willing to let go of stuff that’s not serving a purpose anymore. And I feel like ever since I wrote Packing Light, that’s been a theme in my life and something that I really try to hold fast to, even though it’s not always easy in different seasons of life.

I kind of laugh now because I wrote Packing Light during a season when I had quit my full-time job, I was single, I went on this long road trip, I sold pretty much everything I owned, except for what would fit in my car and then when my husband I first got married, we really had very little stuff. This was right after I had come home from the road trip. We moved from where I lived in Portland, Oregon to Florida.

I have a really funny story about packing all of my stuff into three small boxes and sending it to Florida just before our wedding and then we moved another couple of times and each time we only moved with what would fit in our Toyota Corolla, which was the one car we shared. And now we have just bought a house, so we have a lot more room, a lot more storage.

It’s so easy to let your life get full again, or even if it doesn’t have to do with stuff, like letting your schedule get full or letting your mind get so full of things that you just don’t need.

You should always try keeping that attitude, that mentality of “I’m willing to let go of the things that aren’t serving a purpose for me anymore and things that I don’t need.” It’s a hard one to keep in the forefront of your mind but something I try to live by, because I think, at the end of the day, you have more peace because of it. You are happier, you feel lighter, and you just have an all-around better well-being by not having to have so much stuff crammed into your space that you don’t actually want, need or use.

So I’m excited about this because I think for me it’s totally changed the whole way I do my life and I really think it’s improved my quality of life. I think you would say the same is true for you too. So I’m excited to see how this impacts all the people who are listening and the kinds of conversations it starts will be really fun to hear.

Brian Gardner: Well Mrs. Vesterfelt, I think I couldn’t have said it better myself. And I think this is a great place to leave things until we get to the next show.

The really cool thing about our relationship is that we have a number of mutual friends in our space, which should make having them on this show a natural fit. All the stuff that I know both you and I are looking forward to.

To our listeners, thank you so much for listening to today’s show. If you like what you are hearing on No Sidebar, the best way to support us is to head on over to iTunes and leave a rating and/or comment, that would be greatly appreciated.

For more, head on over to and sign up for our newsletter. Each week, Allison and I curate the very best and most interesting articles when it comes to designing a simple life at work, at home and in the soul.

Well this has been Brian Gardner and Allison Vesterfelt of the No Sidebar podcast and we look forward to hanging out with you guys again next week.