Alison Williams sat down with me while I tried to get a grasp on the vast scope of her work. She’s someone who tastes the full buffet life has to offer and savors every bite.
She’s owned and sold multiple successful businesses. She’s a writer, professor, home renovator, former doula and has a new venture she’s started since we recorded this episode. She’s a devoted mother of 2 beautiful girls. She has navigated one of the most respectful divorces and is a model of co-parenting with her ex-husband.
She’s someone who lives circles around most of us. There’s always something new on her horizon-she’ll learn it, do it, master it and then be on to the next adventure. But, there’s nothing flighty about her. She approaches everything with fierce intelligence, steely strength and grounded calm.
We’d like some of what she’s got to rub off on us! It’s a whole catch her if you can vibe that’s aspirational.
Since we recorded, she’s launched a new project with her love. They bring super cool, lesser-known, rebel winemakers into the Ojai community for all sorts of awesome events.
Listen to the podcast here:
Alison Williams: The Master of Reinvention
Ali, thanks so much for being here.
I’m so happy to be here.
I’m sorry that Mondi, my partner is not here. I have known you in a long time, so I feel like I get you all to myself.
It’s true. I do feel like we will be able to occupy this entire time.
I’m stressed out about it because I have so many things that I want to ask you and talk about in so little time. This show is called Greatness Adjacent for many reasons. Mainly because I have so many friends in my circle, Mondi and hers that are on the precipice of doing special cool things, who followed their passion projects and they’re there. You are even maybe more special because I feel where I am a jack of all trades, master of none, you are a renaissance woman who has had many careers since I have known you. It’s wasn’t that thing that I do, which is “I’m going to try this,” and then try it and then if I’m not good at it or it’s not successful and it fizzles, I’m like, “I’m done with that.” I feel that you attempt these things, you do these things, you get good at it, your businesses have been successful and then you move on. It’s like, “I’ve been there, done that. You came, you saw, you conquered and then you’re onto the next thing.”
I’m glad that it appears like that from the outside.
It doesn’t always feel like that from the inside.
I’m sure that it doesn’t. After college, what was career number one? Not just jobs that I’ve had my whole life.
Yes, because even in college I was exploring things. I always had a job or an internship. Even in my last year at school, I worked at a male modeling agency in New York as an assistant to a bigger agency, which I can’t remember the name, but it’s still around. It was fun and I had all these guy model friends.
They got you to book sexy men?
Just hot men and sweet too like my friends and great guys.
It’s like the Marky Marks.
I did that and then I also interned at this magazine that was going for a while there called Metropolitan.
I feel like I remember Metropolitan. I was in New York for college.
It was short-lived. I forget the name of the woman who started it, Christina something and she was married to somebody famous. It was fun and I got into styling.
I didn’t know you were a stylist.
I was an assistant stylist. I did a bunch of jobs in New York. When I decided to move back to LA, I did that for a while but I was always like, “This is so superficial.”
You needed something deeper.
I need deeper work. I played around with a bunch of things.
When did The Bey’s Garden happen?
The Bey’s Garden, which was a day spa came about when I was maybe 26 at that time. In my search for deeper work, I decided I wanted to go to the opposite spectrum. I had met this German friend who was a midwife and I was interested in bodywork and I became a massage therapist.
We share that. I’m still into the bodywork.
Because of that, I had a friend who had owned The Bey’s Garden, which had been going on for about ten years. It was the first aromatherapy boutique, pre-Whole Foods, pre essential oil explosion. It was all organic. I thought, “I can do that.” She was like, “I can’t run this business. I don’t have enough capital. I don’t know what I’m doing.” I was like, “I don’t either have any of those things, but I’m sure I can do it better than you.”
Did you buy it from her or go into partnership with her?
I bought it from her. My grandfather had passed away and I had a little bit of money that was a down payment. We worked out terms over a couple of years. She went off and flew to India for the year and did a big trip and got divorced and I took over the business.
How long did you own it?
It was eight or nine years.
I owned a studio and it’s so hard. Did that business thrive?
It did thrive and I was learning. I called that my first graduate school because I feel like I’ve had a number of them. I figured out what was going on. I figured out what the street needed. I figured out what the market was. This is right when the idea of organic products, organic lifestyle and pre-Whole Foods was going on. I was a little pioneer. I found all organic and natural products. I had great massage therapists and all sorts of stuff. It was a lot of fun. I had great people working with me and loved it. I loved owning a retail store.
Did you sell that business?
I had my first daughter, Lucia. When I was pregnant I was like, “I can do this. I can handle all of it.” When I had her and I was like, “I can’t,” because that was a large part of owning a small business is. Before you go into that next phase where you have a lot more people taking over larger roles. If you’re not taking over a large role, then you have to pay someone to do it and then you’re working for nothing.
I’m familiar with that.
That’s always a challenge when you own a smaller business or what they call a lifestyle business, is that you’re always walking a line there between making money, doing what you like, working with great people and trying to get to the next level.
I love working with great people. That’s always a huge boon. I do not like managing people. It’s very different for me. I don’t want to talk to people about annoying things. I hate it.
I like managing people because I think about it more in a mentoring way and that doesn’t always work out for me.
Do people ever take that the wrong way?
Not necessarily in the wrong way, but I’ve given too much to people that they have taken advantage of. I think that’s par for the course. I used to get more upset or bitter about it and over time I’ve realized, no, I wouldn’t do it any other way because the people that I have been able to mentor and there’s been two women who bought my last business.The way things appear on the outside sometimes are not the way that they are on the inside. Click To Tweet
I also think when you are in any job position, whatever it is, even if it’s one that you don’t want to stay in and you want to be out, giving it your all and your 100% is always the way to get onto better things. It makes the whole thing a holy sacred experience without sending hokey. I’m into it and I get it. I always hate when people would bicker, late or people were doing things that I’m like, “I don’t understand that. Why is this okay?”
That’s annoying and it is something where you’re like, “I’ve told you that maybe six or seven times. The fact that you’re still not grasping it, even the small or larger context of the job is annoying and it’s frustrating.”
You sold The Bey’s Garden after ten years.
I had Lucia and unbeknownst to me, we were approaching the recession at that time. I had already decided that I was going to sell the store and the business. I had already put that in motion. It was six months before things started to crumble or maybe not even that long. The new owner did the best she could under the circumstances, but I think she didn’t have enough capital to make it through, as did many businesses at that time. It was sad to walk on Main Street in Santa Monica where one-by-one the doors were closing.
Especially in a business like that, when there is no more disposable income.
Those are the first things to go.
Is that when you went on to be a doula?
I had always continued to be a doula. What had happened was that because I have to do five things at one time. I as I had been doing bodywork, I had also been studying being a doula and also thinking about studying midwifery and going into that full-time. After a couple of years, it was three years of being a doula and going to lots of births.
You were my doula. I know that was long after you had put down being a doula but you did it for me and I will never ever be not grateful to you. It was the best experience of my life. I wish you had been there for baby number one.
I had been doula-ing and I had been to lots of births. I had realized like, “If I’m going to be a midwife, this is a huge commitment.” It’s 24/7. People are always going to be against you because I was thinking about being a lay midwife, which is different than a nurse-midwife. It’s very anti-establishment.
Those are the midwives that go to homes, people who have home births.
A nurse-midwife gets nurse training and as a midwife and often has hospital privileges and works in the hospital and at birth centers. A lay midwife is someone who’s trained in the field and gets different kinds of training and often goes outside of the US to get the number of births that they need to have certification.
I’m sure because there aren’t enough people here who do that as a practice.
It’s grown since I started becoming interested in being a doula and most women that I know at least when they’re pregnant talk about wanting to have a doula. Some of them don’t go all the way through with that.
I highly recommend it.
It became a side hustle.
Was Raconteur after that?
There was this space after I sold the business and I’d always also been wanting to write and I’d been writing. That was one of the reasons also why I went into being an entrepreneur and having my business is because I thought, “If I’m an entrepreneur or if I have my business, I can map out my own schedule. I’ll be making this money. I can do the writing on the side.”
It doesn’t ever work out like that.
I thought to myself, “Now’s the time when I’m going to be able to focus on writing.” I have the baby and I’ll write. I did that for a couple of years. My ex-husband, his business was taking off and starting to take off. He’s in production and works with directors.
He’s in a production company.
They produce commercials, content, music videos and films. They have some films that come out.
We have a mutual friend in Virginia and she always talks about Michael with utmost praise.
He’s worked hard to build this company and he’s done a good job with it. At that time I was like, “How do I get paid with this writing stuff?” He had directors that needed treatments to be written. I started doing that writing.
You were doing treatments for some of his clients.
I was doing lots of treatments, writing scripts and screenplays with his directors.
It’s no big deal writing scripts. I didn’t know that.
I’m working on those projects.
I wrote one script and it took me nine months with a partner.
A lot of these, they were either short or they just didn’t get finished. They were ideas, beginning things, but part of that was I was lonely being at home all the time. I was going out of my mind.
I was so unhappy. It’s very isolating and you become nuts.
Especially after I was used to being in charge of other things.
I was always used to being so social my entire life and that’s where I thrive and get my juice from and then being alone. It makes me want to cry.
I think about myself at that time and I can have a lens of where we lived in this condo. It was nice and things were going well, but it was just me and the baby sitting there for so many hours. Michael coming home and me being like, “What were you doing and why are you going out for drinks?”
I would be so jealous every time he would say, “I have a work lunch.”
It’s not the best.
You were doing these treatments for his first company.
It was a separate job and then I started doing treatments from many other production companies. It turned into this secondary job. Out of that, I met another woman who did treatment writing and she and I formed this little business doing treatment writing. It then ran into consulting for production companies on branding, strategy and all these other things that I always liked to do with my business.Giving birth is about giving up the idea of control. Click To Tweet
It all seemed to happen very organically.
It was very organic. My partner after two years in, she was like, “I don’t want to run a business. I want to be creative.” I was like, “I don’t have that option right now.” We parted ways and I started Raconteur.
It was very successful. You are great at it. You had a team of pretty girls that I would always see you post them. They all seem younger than we are.
I did have several male personnel.
I never saw them. The feminist that you are, you let the girls run the show.
The girls did. They were good at it too.
You sold it too.
I was very happy about that and surprised actually because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was doing 25 things at one time. I had also been going back to school.
In the midst of this, you went back to school and decided that you wanted to fulfill your lifelong dream of living in Ohio.
My dream of being a writer and a professor and renovating a home. It sounds so crazy when I say it all out loud.
It sounds crazy because most people would not accomplish all the things. You seem to check it off your box, which is cool.
It’s hard and a lot of work because there’s also the behind-the-scenes of all of that, which is having children, trying to stay married and trying to like keep my head above water in LA and hustling. I was feeling like, “I can’t get a full-time job because then I will never see my children.” As a single mom, my ex-husband and I have a good co-parenting relationship.
I know the back history and I know it was so painful when you went through it. You and Michael have what I deem to be a model of doing it so well, divorce and co-parenting. Major kudos.
Thank you. I think that’s true. This is true with relationships and with the way things appear on the outside sometimes are not the way that they are on the inside. Los Angeles is a great example of a perfect presentation. I would say that in terms of how Michael and I have been able to agree about things and put our kids first always. Also, forgive because we were together for a long time.
I’d also like to put in here that you’re both very happy with different people. I’ve never seen Michael. I know he has a girlfriend, but I have seen you with your boyfriend and you two are like teenagers, hearts for eyes. I need to cover a couple of things. Can we talk about being a doula and Lucia’s birth? It’s one of my favorite stories and I love it so much for so many reasons. It’s very funny and because the outcome is a super happy one and everybody’s fine. It’s very dramatic, very funny. I also love because my mother had two children naturally with midwives, no drugs, with very stromy mommy. You cough them out, you breathe through it and you do it. I wanted to do that and that didn’t happen for me. Having had my two children, I wish that I had a C-section because mine was hard and gnarly, especially number one. You intended on having an at-home midwife-attended doula assisting home birth. You lived in a walk-up in Venice.
I did, it was in Mar Vista. There were lots of stairs. I had still been doing some doula work. I had been a midwife assistant to a woman who I adored and taught me so many things. I knew I wanted to have a home birth and I knew also that home births don’t always work out. That’s one of the most important things to realize when you go into having a home birth or having birth or go into life in general, children, and relationship. Things don’t always work out the way that you want them to.
If anyone can pivot, it’s you.
I think it’s about giving up an idea of control. I thought that I could do that and I did. To get to the story, I was at home and I was laboring. It was my midwife and Michael. It started being unpredictable labor from the beginning where it wasn’t steady. It wasn’t regular. I took a bunch of castor oil, which is disgusting. I was like, “Am I at this castor oil point? That doesn’t bode well, it’s not working.” My water broke and I was playing out the line where I was like, “I know I’m probably going to have to go to the hospital, but I want this to happen.” I had finally come to the point, definitely at the final hour. I was like, “I’m going to take a shower and then we’ll go.” I was in the shower and I had this last moment of hope because my labor was happening again. I was like, “Maybe it’s because I’m relaxing now.” I’ve been this, I’ve been that and I’ve been too committed, but it’s going to happen. I was feeling the contractions and then I felt this twist and pop sensation. I was like, “What is that pop? Popping is not right at this stage.”
Especially you can feel it all because you didn’t have an epidural.
I was like, “What is happening?” I’ll never forget it. I reached my hand down, I put my finger out and a little tiny hand grasped my four-finger and held onto it.
Did you freak out?
I had an out of body experience. I can see the whole thing picture in my mind’s eye where I pretty much levitated above myself. People say this happens and you’re like, “Yes, right.” I was like, “No, this happened.” I looked back down at myself and could see myself literally naked with the baby hanging onto my finger. I was going, “Is this is happening? I should be more frightened. I think I should probably be scared.” I wasn’t. I was like, “This is how it’s going to go.”
You have to deal with what’s happening.
Fortunately, I’d been to many births.
Have you ever seen that?
Never. The nurses and the doctors came in after the birth and said, “You’re that one. You know that never happens.”
What had happened?
Michael’s family all have big heads and her head was not in the right place on my pelvis. It wasn’t pushing the bones open the way that it needed to and being able to apply on the cervix and she was in the wrong position. Because the water had already broken, there wasn’t a lot of room there for her, she moved the wrong way and her hand and her shoulder pivoted. She was sideways with her head cocked. It was a dangerous situation.
You came out of the shower and she was holding your finger. You’re like, “We have a situation.”
They came down the stairs and as they were coming, I said, “I think that the baby’s hand came out.” I lie down on the bed, I was naked and open my legs as they come in and my midwife’s like, “I don’t think so. That doesn’t happen.” I was like, “I’m pretty sure it does. She’s holding my finger.” The two of them, I remember both their heads at the end of the bed like a comedy show, looking in between with their heads tilted and both their faces just blanched turned totally white. The hand waved at them like, “I’m here.”
Did you call 911 at that point?
Full-on 911 and fire trucks.
What month of the year is this?
You’re naked and you can’t get dressed.
The fire guys come.
Do you remember that they were handsome?
That was part of it. They were super cute and I got structured. That happened. They’re at the stairs up and down and all around.The ability to embrace the death of a plan is an important life skill to have. Click To Tweet
I think you were like me that full-term, not light. Imagine people carrying you down the stairs. They would have been huffing and puffing.
I’m 5’9 and I’m not a tiny person.
How many men?
I can’t remember, but I would say at least three.
You get to the hospital and got a C-section.
I had a major C-section. She’s safe but she has to go in the NICU for several days because they were afraid that she had swallowed some meconium but she was fine. She was the biggest baby in the NICU. She was full-term. It ended up okay and fine.
Stella was also a C-section scheduled.
Stella has to be C-section because I couldn’t have VBAC after because they had to do such a big emergency C-section because she was stuck there.
She was in distress.
I think of it as one of my life’s great ironies as there are so many times.
I love that you think and see it like that and then it happened. I also think that the ability to embrace the death of a plan is an important life skill to have.
It’s very important. To go through the grief of things and the disappointment and everything that comes with that, you have a baby, so you have to deal with all the newborn stuff. Also, she was in the NICU. It was so not according to plan. I thought I was fine with no plan and I wasn’t.
No, but it happened and you are.
I am grateful.
They’re such the best girls. I want to have you back because I’m mad that we’re out of time. You are teaching.
Yes, I’m a professor of writing at UCSB.
You are possibly going to write a book.
I’m working on it. I wrote a bunch of pages.
You are creating shows.
Yes, you and I have something on the burner.
I’m very excited and love. We have a lot of writers coming in here, so I feel like you’re kicking off our writing spree, which I love. I want to read your book and I love you.
I love you.
Thank you for doing this.
It’s my pleasure. Bye.
About Alison Williams
Raconteur is a consultancy focused on a creative storytelling approach to publicity, marketing, and brand strategy based in Los Angeles.
Founded in 2011 by writer/entrepreneur Alison Williams, the consultancy serves as a leading resource for a range of forward-thinking clients on the cutting edge of culture and media creation.