You’re reading What They Said, a project by Chris Gallo since 2014.

Saya Hillman

Saya Hillman. All I can say is I’m a fan. This is one of the first episodes of David Kadavy’s fantastic new podcast, Love Your Work. Saya shares how she started her own company after being fired, how she defines her own success, and how to find your own superpowers.

A few excerpts are below and you can listen to the hour long conversation here.

How did Mac & Cheese Productions start? [6:59]

I, for very selfish reasons, started my company Mac & Cheese Productions. When I got fired, I realized I never wanted a boss again.

And I also realized that there are really painful, awkward ways of meeting people. Networking events, single events. I’m sure everybody has been to one of those events.

It’s like I should of just stayed home in my yoga pants eating Ben & Jerry’s watching Friends reruns. It was a complete waste of time. Complete waste of money.

I couldn’t handle going to any more of those events. When I graduated, I went to school in Boston and came back to Chicago, and I kind of had to start all over again building my network and community.

Which I think a lot of us as adults go through, and it was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be and I thought that it should be.

So selfishly, I thought this is ridiculous. My life shouldn’t be work, gym, watch TV. There has to be more than that.

When I started my company, I wasn’t really around people all the time. I was working from home and it can definitely get lonely.

So I started throwing events that I would want to go to.

What kind of events did you start with? [9:01]

The first one that started wasn’t a business venture. I just enjoy bringing people together in uncomfortable situations and making them feel comfortable.

For friends, and I wasn’t charging anything, because it was fun to do, I started throwing these dinner parties called Minglers.

People would come over to my space. I think that environment is really important in creating a space where you’re allowing people to be vulnerable and let their guard down. And that’s why it was really important that we have it in a home environment.

People would come over on a Friday or Saturday night, and the caveat was you had to come over by yourself. Because I think when you go to places with people you know, you stand in the corner and talk to them the whole time.

Also, if you go somewhere, where no one knows you, it’s a blank slate. That can be very freeing, it’s really nice to be whoever you want to be.

Idea Potluck [12:02]

I’m a big believer of stealing and tweaking. There are so many wonderful things out there already. The whole don’t reinvent the wheel cliche, I think is very applicable.

There are a lot of things out there that you may like except for X, Y, and Z. A couple of things that you would change.

There are numerous events out there that have this kind of short format. Where a few select people, 6 or 8 people, are given 5 or 10 minutes to do whatever they want. That has existed for years now.

My husband and I loved the idea of getting a bunch of creative people together in a room and giving them a wide open blank slate to do whatever they wanted. But having the parameter of only getting 6 minutes to do it.

A lot of the similar events out there require you to use slides and technology. And not everybody is into that. I think that it can take away from some presentations.

Also, as an audience member, I don’t necessarily want to sit and listen to 8 power points in a row.

Our role is just 6 minutes. You can do whatever you want.

Making Friends Over 30 [21:05]

Being able to find your tribe is really important. After college, that tribe, you have to actively go and look for it. As opposed to when you were at summer camp, when you were in college, there was a huge friend dump on your dorm floor.

Here are all these people who are the same age as you and have similar interests.

There is a New York Times article that I always reference and love, called “Why is it so hard to make friends over 30?”

And the sociologists quoted in that reference the conditions you need to create authentic relationships, like you had in college and summer camp. You need three conditions.

You need proximity. Repeated unplanned interaction. And an environment that encourages you to let your guard down.

That’s what I keep in mind. Every time I create events, that is what I’m going for.

Social Media is Highlights [22:42]

It’s a highlight reel. That is what Facebook really is. It’s I got a job, I’m going to Hawaii, I just got married, I just got engaged, look at my babies.

People don’t post look at my stretch marks. I got fired. I didn’t get the promotion I wanted. I haven’t been on a date. I haven’t had sex in 6 months. Whatever it is, people usually don’t post that.

I feel like my events encourage people to be a voice and share their imperfections. It’s your imperfections that make you interesting and make you who you are.

And as soon as you say, I have debt. I hate my mom. I have infertility problems. Other people in the room are going to get the courage to say, “me too.”

That is how a community is built. I think that is the foundation for feeling fulfilled and living a life of yes.

Why name the company Mac & Cheese Productions? [31:50]

I made a list of all the things, that when I think of them, they elicit really positive, comfy, warm, fuzzy, feelings inside of me.

Things like Big Wheels and Cabbage Patch kids. Peanut Butter and Jelly, Mac & Cheese.

So for about 20 seconds, I was Peanut Butter and Jelly Productions. And then I was like, no, I think I like Mac & Cheese better.

I universally love comfort food.

Nike the bejesus out of life [34:51]

One of the main hurdles people [Cheese-its] they seem to face is - I really want to make a change in my life, socially, professionally, romantically, spiritually, whatever it is - but there are so many options out there. So I’m paralyzed by the choice.

I try to help people [Cheese-its] understand having choice makes us infinitely richer than so many other people in the world.

The fact that we have an education. The fact we have a support system. The fact we have these resources at our disposal.

You should see choice as a good thing and not a negative thing. And not be paralyzed.

I see way too many people say, “Oh, I would start my business, but I don’t have a website. I don’t have a logo. It’s not the perfect time.”

I always talk about the perfect time unicorn. He is never coming.

It’s never going to be the perfect time to do something. Just do it.

Nike the bejesus out of life. And it will work out.

Why you should be required to take an improv class? [39:35]

One of the best decisions I made as an adult is to take an improv class. I think improv is one of the most awful, horrible, scary, best, worse things that you can do for yourself.

As far as working on that fear of I’m going to fail. I’m going to embarrass myself. Getting rid of judging yourself. Getting rid of judging other people.

Even if you have no plans to be the next Tina Fey or be on Saturday Night Live, I think everybody should be required to take an improv class.

It makes you a better person. Better boss. Better employee. Better spouse. Better significant other. Better friend. Better parent.

Do you make your bed? [60:01]

No. I think that’s such a waste of time. Who cares?

Absolutely not, I do not make my bed.

Well, I make my bed when people are coming over like if my husband’s mother is coming over.

People say, if you work from home, in order to be productive, you have to wake up a certain time of the day and you have to put pants on.

That is one of the perks for me of being self-employed and working from home. I rarely put pants on.

The whole point of that is make your bed. Don’t make your bed.

Put your pants on. Don’t put your pants on.

Whatever works for you.

What advice do you want to leave? [63:18]

The power you can find in realizing you’re not alone. Not having shame about X, Y, and Z. And also voicing whatever it is your issues are or your concerns are.

I would highly encourage people to be vulnerable. Watch Brené Brown’s vulnerability talk, her TedEx talk is amazing.

Be vulnerable. Take an improv class.

If you do not know what your superpowers are, and you do have superpowers, you just may not realize them, a suggestion I would make would be to email 5 people in your life from different sectors. Friends. Family. Co-workers.

And ask them what they think your superpowers are. It’s such an eye-opening, awesome, experience to have that.

What’s your superpower?

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