TE 20: Valerie Groth from Inspiration with Val

Today’s guest, Valerie Groth, opens Jordan’s eyes to consider what his core values are, and to consider the dangers as a student and as a school therapist in inner-city Chicago schools. Val is the host of the Inspiration with Val Podcast, and a life-coach at InspirationwithVal.com. She has two Master’s degrees, but suggests that young entrepreneurs study and build relationships with mentors who have experience in the type of business they are breaking into. Today’s podcast is less than an hour long, but, is filled with wise advice and an exciting life story of a nine year old girl who was all about the money, a nineteen year old girl who had given up on the cash and wanted to serve others, to a life-coach who embraces the entrepreneurial journey for her own life.
Valerie Groth is a life-coach, following several years as a Social Worker in Chicago, Illinois area. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work. She worked as a therapist in several fields: group homes, addiction, private practice, and as a school therapist in inner-city Chicago schools. She is the host of the Inspiration with Val podcast, and blogs at InspirationWithVal.com.
Valerie begins by introducing herself to the Teenage Entrepreneur listener. “My schooling was in psychology, and then I got a Master’s in social work, and I did that for a long time.” Following the completion of her first Master’s degree, she worked as a therapist in several fields before spending several years as a school therapist in inner-city Chicago schools. 
She describes her work in the school system as a really great job, “I met some amazing people, I loved the kids that I worked with, it was very rewarding for a lot of reasons. I got to see a lot of cool things, take kids on their first trip to visit a college.” She explains how big of a deal that was for students growing up in the SouthLand of Chicago, “taking a coach bus to go to.. Valparaiso University in Indiana, which is a really great school… that was one of the best days of my life, just showing kids what that was like, that world that they had never seen and didn’t know anyone who had been through that.”
The work she did in the schools “was very rewarding and fulfilling in many ways,” Valerie says.
She also admits that the work was very fought. “I did a lot of work that was very intense dealing with death and grief counseling. I had kids coming to me who had just had guns pointed to their head after witnessing a double homicide and the killer [said] ‘you can’t tell anybody or I’m going to come get you next’.”
She says she listened to students sit in her office and talk about details of homicides taking place in front of them, “and then I am the one who hears these details and I’m in this legal debate…” trying to figure out what to report to officials, how to report it to officials, and when to report it, if she does.
Continuing, she describes some of her students as suicidal “because the kids were going through a lot of trauma and tragedy in their home life.” She says she dealt with students on issues such as self-harm, suicide attempts, “mental illness, visual and auditory hallucinations, some kids who were homicidal, and trying to catch harmful students before they went too far.”
“As you can imagine, it was really tough,” Groth explains. “I’m a human,” she continues, “I enjoy working with those kids in crisis, but, like you would imagine, it’s really hard to turn that off.”
Valerie says that at the time, she would go home and internalize a lot of the trauma, placing herself in danger of going through secondary Post Traumatic Stress. “I would have a lot of that secondary trauma, myself.” She says she came to the point where she had broken down as a result of the job and the students she dealt with. “People really don’t last very long in that job before getting really burned out,” she shares.
I realized that I had been coaching people for a long time without recognizing the role she was playing in the lives of others. “People would tell me things like ‘you need to be a life coach, you’re really good at this, you’ve been helping me, and giving me some great advice.”
She says she hates the term “life-coach”… “I’m not an expert at life… but I am really good at looking into someone else’s life and figuring out where they’re getting stuck and where they need to be going.” When people kept telling her that she would be  great life coach, one day, it finally clicked for her and she decided to start her own practice.
Valerie now has a coaching practice which allows her to work with clients all over the world, and, she says, “it’s a lot of fun!”
She says there are some differences between being a therapist and a life-coach. “It’s tough that gratification of working with kids who are in those life-and-death circumstances, but the up-side is you get to see a lot of progress.” She says now, as a life-coach, she gets to see people progress from a sense of questioning their goals to accomplishing life goals and overcoming hardships along the way. “That,” she says, “is really gratifying, for me, in a different way.”
Jordan asks Valerie how she dealt with students who had guns held to their heads, “what do you even say to someone that is in a situation like that?” 
Sighing, Valerie responds, “I don’t even know how to answer that, because some thing like grief counseling is difficult to begin with. I went through training, and I went through grad school to do that. But, when you know someone who’s gone through a loss, there’s really only so much you can do. There’s no magic words that I have as a therapist that really make things better.”
She continues, “it’s just a lot of being there, being supportive, and reflective listening, and, unfortunately, a lot of the kids that I worked with… lived in really tough home environments, and, when your parents are also dealing with different tragedies like domestic violence, poverty, and violence in the home, and in the neighborhood, they’re not usually the people you can turn to for emotional support. So,” she concludes, “often times, it’s just being that person who’s gonna be listening, gonna be there, and support you in that way.”
Part of her job as a school therapist included trying to get those students connected with outside counseling sources, when possible. “What we would do at school was only… a small part of what they needed. And, working in the schools, the system is so flooded… in Chicago, those workers are spread way too thin.” She explains that the system hires only one social worker for about every thousand students.
“And pretty much all one thousand kids need the social worker for something,” regardless of the size of the need, Valerie Groth says all of her students needed someone, which spread the human resources of a school social worker really thin. “Even something really severe like that, there’s only so much time to give to each kid,” she explains.
Valerie then describes the pressures of the job – dealing with students’ needs, trying to get them into outside social services, dealing with the legal department, police, the child protection agencies – in many cases. “And, in the specific case that I referenced with that child,  his safety was in jeopardy. So, family, and the home where things happened… when you deal with gang violence, then, there’s going to be repercussions, and there were hits on that family,” which meant making sure that child was safe was a big part of her job.
Valerie responds to Jordan’s transition from social work to podcasting, saying, “the podcast is called The Inspiration with Val Podcast. I feel like I just started it, but, it’s been a long time now,” having launched her show in the beginning of 2014. She says she has always loved podcasts, “listening to podcasts really changed my life.”
“I loved the podcasts I was listening to, but I kinda felt like there was a little bit of a need. And, I wanted to design a podcast to fit what I was looking for.” Saying she wanted to be inspired, Valerie Groth says, “some people think ‘I work in business, so I’m inspired by Donald Trump, because he’s like the best of the best when it comes to business,’ and I don’t see it that way, I find inspiration in all places.”
Groth says she is inspired by things like “a cancer survivor I had on my show, and I was inspired by her story. I have millionaire entrepreneurs on my show, and I’m inspired by their journey. I had you (Jordan) on my show, and I tell you all the time that I’m incredibly inspired by you and what you’re doing.” That leads her to have people on her show who come from all walks of life, so she can glean inspiration from what they’re doing – “whether it’s obstacles that they’ve faced, or unique life experiences that they’ve had, or cool ideas that they’ve acted on, or just their success stories.”
In addition to the interviews, Val also produces some solo shows to address different techniques and strategies she has learned along the way as a therapist, or a coach.
“It’s so much fun, I love having a podast,” Val exclaims.
Jordan offers praise for the podcast, complimenting her on the show’s diversity and the quality, recommending it to his audience.
Val admits to being an entrepreneur early on. “I was a good kid… well behaved… I was very much like the scared, nervous, shy kid.”
She says she has tried to grow out of the shyness and teach herself ways of getting past that as an adult. “I wasn’t a risk-taker, was very fearful and cautious, and I’ve done a lot of things as an adult to change that about myself.”
Val says that she did want to be an entrepreneur early on. “I was always the little kid like you, always wanted to do things beyond just the lemonade stand.” She then goes on to describe how she made money by selling produce from her dad’s large garden while she was growing up. “I wanted to take the vegetables… in the little red wagon, and wheel them to the neighbors and try and sell them.”
At the age of nine, Val was asking when she could get a real job. Her first paying job was working at the golf course at the age of 14, where she sold hot dogs, soda and made tips.
“So when I was a little kid, I was into inventing things, and having a business, and, I’m not going to lie, I was really into money, too.”  She continues, by telling about a journal she found from when she was nine years of age, “and I wrote, I love my dog, and my family, and I love money.”
She says that sentiment is so interesting since later on in life, she shifted, finishing a degree in psychology, a Master’s in Social Work, “it’s just kind of funny, for a long time I was interested in entrepreneurship… then, I took a completely different shift, and went into the non-profit world.” 
“Which is,” Val explains, “kind of the opposite in so many ways.”
As a social worker she put in extra hours for not much money. But, now, as a life-coach, she has come back around to being an entrepreneur. “For me, it was always something that I wanted to do, and my parents are not surprised that I have this business now, because, that was always the path that I think I was supposed to take.”
“My parents are as supportive as they come… they were totally supportive,” Valerie stresses, when asked about her parents.
She says one of the main obstacles to her entrepreneurial journey was that she didn’t know any entrepreneurs. “My parents both worked in education… one’s a principal and one works for a university.” That environment didn’t lean itself to developing friendships with business people, she says. 
“I think if you don’t see that as an option growing up,” Groth says, “it doesn’t even seem like a possibility for you.”
She grew up thinking that she would go to college and find her job – not going to college wasn’t even an option for her, she says.
Jordan asks Val for advice for younger entrepreneurs as it pertains to continuing to college, or just breaking out into the business world.
“Just find someone who’s been there and done that,” she says, “in person… who has been successful in where you want to be… ask them questions, make them your mentor if you can.”
Val explains that she often talks to her clients about the people they are closest to. “I’m sure you’ve heard of the Jim Rohn Theorem that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with… and I do that exercise with clients [who] find out that they’re being held back,” for so many reasons.
She says that if you can’t build a new network of friends because of your current circumstances, there are alternate ways to get the positive impact from those people being in your life. “There are things like listening to podcasts,” she explains, “if you live in a community [like a client]… [where] there aren’t a lot of business owners, you can go online and find online meet ups, or listen to podcasts… I think that’s really important.”
Val explains that when she was just starting her coaching business, she found resources provided by her community, such as the SCORE program, provided by the Small Business Administration. “SCORE is part of the SBA. Basically, its a retired business executives who volunteer their time to offer business mentoring services. So you can go there and get help with things like your business plan, or marketing.”
She says she had a great mentor at SCORE in Chicago. Peg Corwyn “has been amazing. She’s really helpful in terms of things like social media, and marketing my website… things like that.”
“There are a ton of resources out there that I didn’t even realize were available until I started looking,” Val suggests.
She recommends searching for small business or entrepreneurial mentors and advice online to build a network of advisors who can assist as your business starts and grows.
Jordan continues the advice telling the listener who might say they don’t know anyone or anything, “you’re not going to [know anyone or anything] until you go out and search for it… literally, just go out and Google it,” he stresses, “guarantee you can find something.”
When asked how long it took her to make the transition from social worker to life coach, Val explains that the transition was very quick once she arrived at the conclusion that she was made to be a life coach.
“I was taking a walk on the lake, I could tell you exactly where I was… I had the idea and I said, ‘oh my gosh, this is exactly what I have been looking for,” Val exclaims, saying “it felt like the light bulb moment because… I had been brainstorming and thinking about the aspects of what I want to have in my ideal career. I always thought there was something missing,” she says. “Some perfect job out there for me,” she explains, “I knew it was out there, and I was really close to it… I knew I would find it soon, I just couldn’t get there.”
While thinking about that dream job, Val developed a check-list of things she was looking for:
  • to be able to continue to help people
  • to work with positive people
  • to make money
“It kind of clicked,” she says. Which is when she thought, “ooh, being a life coach would meet all of those needs.” 
Coaching also provides other perks, as well, she says. Included in that list is her ability to be location independent, to work inside her own schedule, to be able to be creative and have big challenges. 
She says that once she determined she would be a life coach, everything fell into place.
“I went home, I started researching, I got the LLC right away, and I made it happen,” she describes.
For the podcast, Val says it was a little bit different. “I liked the idea for a long time, but, I think starting a podcast is just really overwhelming for people, and really intimidating.” She says she got stuck on the tech stuff, which took a little longer.
Jordan confesses that he sat on the idea of a podcast from January, 2014 until 20 episodes ago, when he finally launched. He says he has tons of entrepreneurial ideas daily, so, he has developed a system for dealing with each of those ideas. You can find his system at about 21:30 on the podcast.
“How was it for you getting clients,” Jordan asks, “and what is the process of you bringing on new clients?”
Val says that whenever you start a new business, it’s hard getting clients. “I have a lot of clients dealing with that… they’re doing writing, or they’re in social media, and it’s always a struggle to get clients. So much about it is just building your name, getting exposure and visibility and getting the word out about who you are and what you do and getting credibility,” Val recalls.
She says it takes time, no matter what. “For me,” she continues, “what was really hard for me was making the shift from the non-profit mindset to be one of ‘I’m selling my services.’”
Continuing, Val explains that the comfort of being a social worker and helping people would motivate her to stay and work late… just because she wanted to help. “It was a big shift for me to go from that mindset of  ‘now I’m just helping,’ to ‘now I’m getting paid for it.’ So, that was actually kind of a big thing for me,” she expresses.
She says it was hard for her to move away from a sense of “calling” to making money for the same services to other people.
Many of Val’s clients have had the same issue, she says. “I think it’s kind of worth noting. I want people to be able to identify if they are trying that same transition from not for profit into something where you have to sell yourself,” which was very hard for her at the beginning.
To get testimonials, she offered her services for free, then she would slowly start to charge more.
Jordan says he’s happy that Val admitted she provided her services for free. “I have a lot of friends… that want to start… and they way, ‘Jordan, I’m having trouble getting my first client,’ and I tell them [to] do their first few jobs for free to do exactly what you say – to get testimonials, get experience and learn how to sell yourself.’”
Valerie says she really enjoyed coaching for free. “There’s one thing about coaching than other businesses. If there’s no investment on the part of the client, they feel like there’s not the full commitment and accountability than if they’re paying.” She admits to not doing the required homework when a course was free, versus doing all of the work in a workbook if she paid for the class.
But, she says, it is harder to stay committed to the challenge of making changes in life, if there is no financial investment causing the client to want to make the effort to make the changes.
Jordan says the same is true for all people, “if you’re paying for it, you’re going to use it.”
He then asks how Val gets new clients. “I get a lot of referrals. Most of my clients come from referrals or through the podcast. A couple have come through in-person events that I’ve gone to,” she says. Another way she’s been getting clients recently has been through Twitter, according to Valerie.
Val says she’s gotten more that just a few clients from the Twitter-verse. “I’ve gotten a ton of great guests for the podcast… business connections… speaking engagements through Twitter,” she explains.
When asked about the types of clients she coaches, Val says she gets a lot of clients in career transition, whether it’s people making moves up, or people making moves out. Either way, she says, “I work with their values, and brainstorming and thinking about where they need to be in terms of following their passion.”
She also deals with other transitions, in terms of “being stuck… lost their way… their confidence is getting low… getting back to a place where the mindset is where it needs to be… or overcoming fear.” She says she can see how her background has attracted the types of clients she has.
“We all have fear,” she says, “that’s just how we are as human beings. That usually gets in the way of us taking action. There’s always something getting in the way, and a lot of it comes from negative thoughts and habits and patterns of beliefs that we’ve had for many, many years,” Groth says.
She says a commonality among her clients is getting to the bottom of where the fear is coming from and how to work past that.
Jordan follows up Val’s talk about her clients’ fears with a question about her own fears as a business person.
“[Fear] was a big part of [questioning] ‘can I charge for my services and still feel like I am being helpful?’” She explains that she believed that there were two types of people who helped or who profited from their service to others.
“I think at first I felt like if I wasn’t helping people with life-and-death situations like I was being a therapist then it wasn’t valuable work. And it took a while to get [to where I realized that wasn’t the case.]”
She admits that the testimonials from her clients, hearing them say “it’s been live saving,” has completely transformed her, and she wishes she had made the transition a decade ago.
Now, she realizes, “you can make a living doing something and also being of great value and helpful at the same time.”
Jordan asks Val what she does when she’s not feeling up to the task of the day. She admits that it is a problem of hers, as well as that of her clients.
“I think we tell other people to do something, and we’re not great at practicing what we teach,” she admits. (Jordan laughingly agrees, as well) 
“I can look at your life and tell you, ‘Jordan, you’re going this and you need to be doing this…’ and that’s why I have my own coach, too,” Val admits. “It’s just impossible to look at your own life actively in that way,” she confesses.
Groth suggests one of the great benefits of having a coach is to keep you working forward, but also helping you know when to rein back in and take care of yourself, as well as taking care of your health.
Jordan relates the correlation between business and health to a previous podcast guest who’s health had put him on death’s doorstep, as Jordan puts it.
“He was six feet tall, but he lost 85 pounds. Was 104 pounds. He was not going to live, and then, he saw, like, 69 medical professionals,” Jordan relates the story. Then, he says, one doctor suggested the man go on a Bible-based diet, “the guy now has turned his life around and he built a company called “Garden of Life,” and it was number 14 on the Fortune 500 list – incredible!” he says.
Jordan says the man’s mission is to help people become healthy again. “I had one person tell me that they were going to sleep when they’re dead… you can’t do that! Get sleep right now and rejuvenate your body… it’s vital. It really, really is.”
Jordan asks Val about her history as a vegetarian. “I’m actually a vegan,” says Valerie Groth.
She says she read a book early in life explaining that if everyone in the world were a vegetarian, there would be no world hunger. The book explained that an acre of grain would produce 20 pounds of beef a year. Or it could feed 200 people for a month. “That concept really stuck with me,” she says.
Jordan asks Val to take him through the experience of being her client dealing with a life transition.
“It’s so individualized, depending on what is going on, specifically with that person and where they want to be. But, one thing I always do at the very beginning when we start working together, is a lot of work around ‘core values’… I think a lot of times people think they know what their values are, but maybe they were important to them ten years ago, and are no longer important to them. Or their values are placed on them by their family or by society, but are really not important to them at this point.” Val says she works on these issues to get really clear on them at the beginning.
Val explains that a lot of people get stuck because they’re acting in a way that’s not in accordance with their values.
Then, a lot of it is interviewing assistance to find where the client is getting stuck, and getting “into the stories that you tell yourself. A lot of them are stories that have been around for 20, 30 or 40 years, and creating new stories for yourself going forward.”
Val says that many of her clients have previously used therapists in the past, but are exclaiming about the time it takes for improvement with her. “They’re seeing progress within a couple of weeks, and within a month, versus they never had that much progress with even a therapist.”
This success typifies the main differences between counseling and coaching.
Jordan begins to wrap up the show by asking Valerie Groth what she would tell the younger version of herself ten years ago.
“When it comes to business, one of the mistakes I actually made… is I really tried to cut corners on costs… when you’re bootstrapping, like I did… you don’t want to spend a lot of money on certain things, and you can’t afford to,” she says. 
But, she continues, she wishes she had spent a little bit more money on things she should have. “Like, for example, Facebook ads. I would spend $100 here and there, and that was totally wasted, because I didn’t know what I was doing… I had no idea what I was doing, and I wish I had just spent a thousand bucks and did it the right way. Versus, spending 50 bucks here and there, and 100 here… I should have just done it right the first time… not always trying to cut corners,” Val admits.
“In general,” Val says “just taking action…” She says there are always things, like the podcast, where she has hesitation. She says she would advise her younger self more on “just starting.. and taking action.”
Jordan concurs, “when somebody does it wrong, then you pay them to do it wrong, then you pay somebody else to do it right, then you end up spending even more than you would the first time if you had done it correctly.”
VAL’S LEGACY (45:30)
Jordan turns the tables on Valerie, asking her what she wants her legacy to be. This is a question Val asks often on her podcast.
She admits that one thing she wants to do (with her second Master’s Degree which is in Education Leadership) is to start an inner-city boarding school in Chicago. She wants to help some of the students out of a home environment that is not conducive to their success. 
More generally, I hope that people are inspired in some way. Hopefully, I’ve said something, or brought a guest on the show and someone took something from it and took action in their life.
Val’s call to action is to “think about what you would do if fear was not in the way. If that fear wasn’t there, where do you want to be, what would you do if you had that ideal life. Take action today, take a baby step to work toward that goal. And that’s going to be the first step.
“If,” she says, “you can actually go home and do that, I think you’re going to see some pretty big results pretty fast.”
Val’s Website: InspirationWithVal.com
Inspiration with Val Podcast: iTunes     Stitcher
Twitter: @valeriegroth
I’m not an expert at life… but I am really good at figuring out where they need to be going @valeriegroth
@valeriegroth admits she wants to open a boarding school for inner city Chicago students
A lot of people get stuck because they’re acting in a way that’s not in accordance with their values @valeriegroth
There are a ton of (business building) resources out there that I didn’t even realize were available until I started looking @valeriegroth
 I had kids coming to me who had just had guns pointed to their head after witnessing a double homicide @valeriegroth