Shaun Berstein began his career in journalism, but a life change was necessary so he reinvented himself as a lawyer. Later he returned to his former life, but on his terms. He began to focus his energy on helping people tell their stories so that it would inspire others to reach out and build a stronger patient community.
Now he runs The Write Stuff Agency where he tells other people’s and businesses’ stories. It always goes back to the story.
“Once a journalist, then a lawyer, but always a storyteller.”
Follow Shaun Bernstein: The Write Stuff Agency https://www.thewritestuff.agency
Follow Patti Dobrowolski – Instagram
Up Your Creative Genius
[2:03] Shaun’s previous life as journalist
[3:21] How Shaun went from a journalist to a lawyer
[4:44] Shaun specializing in employment law (in Canada)
[5:24] The art of quitting
[8:45] The beginnings of The Write Stuff Agency
[10:33] Inspiration and role models, and how to find them
[12:41] The source of resilience
[15:02] How to build stamina for a pivot
[18:11] Shaun’s next big dream
[19:31] Advice for how to pivot
[20:58] Launching a business: the ups and downs
[21:50] What bravery really looks like
creative genius, people, story, pivot, business, lawyer, writing, love, employer, started, bit, patti, life, couple, inspired, leap, law, write, read, job
Patti Dobrowolski, Shaun Bernstein
Patti Dobrowolski 00:03
Hello superstars, welcome to the up your creative genius podcast where you will gain insight and tips to stomp on the accelerator and blast off to transform your business and your life. I’m your host, Patti Dobrowolski. And if this is your first time tuning in, then strap in because this is serious rocket fuel. Each week I interview fellow creative geniuses to help you learn how easy it is to up your creative genius in any part of your life. Hey everybody, it’s Patti Dobrowolski from up your creative genius. Oh my god. Today for the podcast. I have Shaun Bernstein Who is the most amazing pivoter because this guy was a lawyer. Well, no, he was a journalist and a lawyer. And then now he started his own thing, helping people, the right agency, helping people with writing and blogs and their website. And I’ve been you know, snooping around on you, Shaun, it’s been really fun to stalk you and see what you’re up to. So welcome to the show.
Shaun Bernstein 01:14
All right. Great to be here. Patti, thank you so much for having me.
Patti Dobrowolski 01:17
Oh, gosh, I love that I found you kind of through the back door. And I love your story. And the fact that you drew a picture of your future, which of course, you know, I love anybodys story about that, and how it helped inspire them. Oh, look, he’s holding it up right now, for those of you that are just listening, he just held it up and showed it to me, I love that. But tell all the listeners a little bit about yourself and your story. Tell us your story. Because you love storytelling, I can’t wait to hear your story.
Shaun Bernstein 01:47
Gladly, I’m happy to walk you through it. It’s been a bit of a doozy. And really what happens is when I hit a brick wall, I just like to go left or right. And I sort of you know, make a turn and make a pivot. So that’s kind of been the, the ongoing theme and what’s gotten me to where I am today. So I started as a journalist, I’ve been telling stories. As I say, on my sites, since I could hold a pen, I was a little kid, right? Writing storybooks and full stories from age three.
Patti Dobrowolski 02:12
Did you save those stories from your childhood? All right, good, good.
Shaun Bernstein 02:18
They are classics. I was you know, I did writing in the elementary school paper, in the high school newspaper and doing interviews in high school and just talking to whoever I could, and I loved it. And I went to grad school for journalism. And I had the absolute time of my life. I did an internship with the national broadcaster up here, which was a great experience. And I just loved every second of the newsroom and the energy in the chase. And all that was exciting.
Patti Dobrowolski 02:46
Oh, I bet I bet Oh, it sounds exciting,
Shaun Bernstein 02:49
It was rapid fire and the show is live whether you’re ready or not. You gotta just be there and get it done. And you know, I had an interview that I recorded that was terrible with a top level diplomat and the sound quality was just terrible. I had to call him back five times before we were on the air, and I ran with the tape and we put it in. So you know, everyone has these, a newsroom has crazy stories. I’ve got my own. I love sharing those horror stories that are fun. Those are fun.
Patti Dobrowolski 03:20
Well, then you loved it so much, then how in the world and why did you become a lawyer?
Shaun Bernstein 03:26
That’s a great question. First of all, there were just no jobs. It was a dark time in the media world. I’m up in Canada, the media world is a much smaller landscape up there, you know, fewer opportunities to really kind of earn some cash. And it was just not going my way. I spent a good six months hunting and said, You know what, I’m not gonna sit on my behind after you know, six years of school and just wait around for things to come to me. And law was kind of always on the backburner. Had a couple family members who’ve been through law, you know, few relatives were still practicing this. My mother had practiced for a bit and left and went to go run businesses and did other things. And so I always saw law as a road to doing something else. And my journey into law was never typical of, “Oh, you’re going to be a lawyer” and you know, look at paperwork until you drop at your desk.
Patti Dobrowolski 04:16
Which I think is well, every time I think about lawyers, I think about seeing them on the airplane with those big briefcases with all of their files in there and thinking, Oh, I couldn’t one drag that thing around and couldn’t read that much information that was disinteresting, frankly.
Shaun Bernstein 04:34
And read the fine print on the information.
Patti Dobrowolski 04:37
That’s right to make sure it’s accurate and correct. That’s right. That’s right. What kind of a lawyer, then did you become?
Shaun Bernstein 04:43
So I got into employment law. I had a bit of an HR background as well as the journalism, and I have just always loved talking to people and helping people. And employment law looks a little different up in Canada. There’s a whole set of strict laws for the employer, and employees to follow. So I was representing both sides, which was great, because you can kind of put both hats on. Yeah, you know, if I’m representing an employee who’s just been let go and thinking okay, so the employer is going to do this in the chess game. Yeah, I’m gonna move my rook here. And then you know, we’re gonna do this and this. So it’s neat in that sense, but there’s a whole lot of law that I did not enjoy.
Patti Dobrowolski 05:22
Oh yeah, yeah. And so then why did you decide to quit? And then how did you do that? Because that’s a leap from something solid to something that is like, boom, you know, out in the middle of nowhere, you’re not standing on a net, or a bridge or a little rope between two places, you’re kind of in thin air. So tell people what you did then, and how you got out of it?
Shaun Bernstein 05:45
Sure, so I’ll take a step back, I actually quit twice. I had a first job that, you know, I was practicing for a couple months, it was just not the right setup for me. Oh, yeah, we’ll leave it at that. Okay, I walked away and said, that’s it. I’m never doing this. Again, not feeling it. This is not the way that I want to run a business. I left, I did other things. And I had some new jobs that were kind of peripheral to law. And I had actually a great gig that was at a law firm, not practicing, that was really quite cushy. And I was, I was going and I only had left because my dream law firm, who I was wanting to work for, who I you know, loved still called me and said, Hey, if you want to come join us, we’ve got an opening. This is the time.” And I said, You know what? I would be remiss if I didn’t try it again. Yes, I tried it again. Yeah, about a year with them. This made me realize a year of law that I don’t ever want to do that again.
Patti Dobrowolski 06:39
Yeah, that’s fantastic. So what I love about this is that you started off with something you’re really passionate about, and then you felt compelled to get a job. And this is, you know, going in a different direction. And so you did that. And then when you were in that you realize, Oh, no, no, no, that’s not it. And then you went back, because sometimes I think that’s what we do. We think, Oh, well, I’ll give it one last shot. Because why not? Right? But now you’re not doing that at all. Now you’re doing what? Tell us about that.
Shaun Bernstein 07:08
So I left for good in the summer of 2019. And I said, Yeah, like my brain was just done to put it mildly. And I could not go back. I said, Okay, so what comes next? You know, what’s next for me? I was still young and still sort of had a career ahead of me. And I didn’t really know what I was going to do. And I have a partner who I believe you know, Patti, who is much as you probably know, already as much sharper than I am. And she kind of elbowed me in the ribs, and said, you’re a writer, go and write. And what stopped me from making that pivot earlier, I’d looked at sort of, you know, different ways that I could pivot my career. But what I think held me back was that I was so afraid of starting my own business, my own thing, not having that net, not being an employee, you know, can you really make this work? And thankfully, with that encouragement, I said, Okay, you know what, let’s try this. See what happens. If I fall on my face, I fall on my face. And thankfully, I did it.
Patti Dobrowolski 08:11
Well, fantastic. That’s great. So you just started to write for people, and put it out there that you could help them write. And so I see that you’re doing some writing for other people, and you are doing your own writing. You do your own blog, posting around things that are really simple, short things to promote yourself, but also helpful information for other people. So now, what is it that inspires you about what you’re doing now? What do you really love that you’re doing? And tell us a little more about what you do for people so you can help them?
Shaun Bernstein 08:44
Or gladly? So I started up as the right stuff agency in the fall of 2019. My initial model was, don’t say no, just say yes. If someone asked if you can help, give it a shot. Like I said in the beginning, I’ve been telling stories forever. And so to me, it’s all just a different way of storytelling. And sometimes the storyteller changes or the audience changes. But everybody understands stories, stories that we latch on to. And spoken. Or maybe I could really help him because I had had a background as well in blogging that won a couple national blog awards. I knew that I could sort of tell stories that could be easily understood, and because of the legal, I can make complicated things simple. I said, Okay, maybe that’ll translate more broadly into businesses. Yeah. So I sort of targeted myself initially to small businesses, had a couple sort of initial industries that I was going for – legal, obviously, because I can talk the talk and I can understand your pain points and why they don’t have time to write. I did some work with real estate as well talking about, you know, telling stories of homes and neighborhoods. And yeah, you know why you want to move here… Well, that’s something that people want to hear from an agent, get some material there, and then I’ve sort of branched out, I have no industry that’s off limits, really. But I do a lot of work in health.
Patti Dobrowolski 10:03
So you were doing some work with legal and accounting and healthcare. And now what are you doing now?
Shaun Bernstein 10:11
Really a little bit of everything, exactly that, I am telling stories in all kinds of different formats. So I am writing websites, and writing blogs and newsletters and articles and speeches, and you know, open letters and ebooks, and that is finding only ways to tell stories.
Patti Dobrowolski 10:28
I love that. I love that because now you’re back to your journalism self. Now, tell me who inspires you in what you’re doing? Like, who do you look for? And what do you love to read and look at when you’re online? What can we get from you, learn from you, and who can you tap us into so that we can just expand a little bit? What are your favorites?
Shaun Bernstein 10:50
That’s a great question. I love. I love stories. I love a good life story. For anyone who’s actually watching, you can see the bookshelf behind me is not a backdrop. It’s real, and it’s mostly biographies. So autobiographies of people who are interesting, that led really interesting lives, and a lot of mostly autobiographies of them sort of telling their stories. I love that, I love figuring out still, what makes people tick, and what interests them. And that’s what I try to do in my business. So I love any sort of good writing. I’m still a bit of a news junkie, I still love good reporting, good storytelling.
Patti Dobrowolski 11:22
Where do you find good reporting? Now? I mean, like, really?
Shaun Bernstein 11:27
It’s a combination, right? You know, in school, you’re taught how to do it, right? There’s no question a lot of folks along the way somehow lose their way. But good reporting is really, you know, you don’t need to overly complicate it, in the way you tell a story, to tell a complicated story.
Patti Dobrowolski 11:44
Like your tip for people about when they’re writing their own blog posts, if they’re doing their own posting, you know, what should they consider.
Shaun Bernstein 11:52
Doing your own posting, you have to put yourself in the shoes of your readers. And ideally, those readers or your prospective clients, and what do they want to know? You are probably the subject matter expert in whatever you’re writing about. And that’s great. But remember, they’re not. And your goal is not to make them the subject matter expert, your goal is to make sure they know that you are and they have to call you next time they need something. So don’t try to over educate them, don’t go into you know, lawyers are the worst at this to go into the weeds and you know, really the nuances of a legal case. They are interested, they just want to know that you can help them when they have the same problem.
Patti Dobrowolski 12:29
I love that. I love that. So really don’t give it all away is what you’re saying. I’m terrible at that. I just give it all the way all the time, you know, to help people that’s part of my DNA, right? And now, who inspired you when you were young to be resilient like this? Who was somebody that was an influence for you growing up or somebody you worked with, a teacher, tell us a little bit about your story of how you got to, you know, this pivot point and were able to find the courage to do it.
Shaun Bernstein 13:00
I have to give it all to my mom. Because you know, I know it’s a cliche answer, but she’s pretty incredible. And she’s also the queen of the pivot. She went into law, she was a lawyer, right? She went to school because she was going to run a family business. And when she was in school, the family business closed. Wow. So that was not what she was expected to give us that way. I was born and I had a couple serious health issues as a baby. So she really couldn’t manage a legal career and that so she had to pivot again and became a full time caregiver for a while, she wound up running a very successful clothing store for a couple years, then pivoted into a sales business that really took off, then pivot into another sales business and a totally unrelated industry that helped her retire. And now she golfs six days a week, and she’s living her best life. But she is the absolute Queen of the pivot. My hat goes off to her, she is fearless.
Patti Dobrowolski 13:53
Well, I think it’s courageous for anybody to leave something. And I have left many careers, you know, big careers that I had, and pivoted. And I think that I grew up in a family like you did, where my father, he worked in his same job for, I don’t know, 40 years or something. And then they glass ceiling him, you know, they said, we’re not going to promote you, you can stay here, you can make the same amount of money, but we’re not going to promote you and expand your role. My father was like, forget it, I’m out. And he went and became an entrepreneur. You know, he started his own consulting practice and he won awards. And you know, his specialty was concrete. So I tell people, you know, my dad was very concrete. And he really was, he liked it, you know, his affect was so flat, you know, flat affect, he really was flat. And then every so often he laughed like that you know, like that. But what’s true is every single one of us has been entrepreneurs in some way in our careers, you know, all three of my siblings and I were just, that’s it. And I think once you see that, then you know It’s possible, right? So when you’re thinking about that pivot, what did you do to encourage yourself on the days when things didn’t happen? Like, how did you get yourself out of bed? Or what kinds of things, self talk? How would you work with yourself to still feel inspired to go back to the page and go back to try to get in clients.
Shaun Bernstein 15:22
So I told myself something that I think still sticks with me today, because I had a bit of a history of betting on the wrong horse when it came to jobs, and I had some great employers, and some not so good employers. And there were times where I had an option between the two. And unknowingly, I you know, would take the not so good employer and had some knots of great experiences. And there’s never such a thing as you know, a real problem in hindsight, because you’ve learned from those experiences as much as you do anything else. But had said that I’ve often bet on the wrong horse. And I realized that look, when you bet on yourself, you can’t lose. And if I bet on myself, and I knew that I could do this, I knew I had the skills like, I know where my strengths are, so I just have to play to my strengths. Yep. And if I bet on myself, there’s no way that I could really lose doing this. It might be rocky, but I’d win in the long run.
Patti Dobrowolski 16:13
Yeah, I love that. And I think when you bet on yourself, really, you’ll always win. And even as it’s hard, because it is hard at times, there are days where you think, Well, I’m not sure what to do next. But if you have the courage to go forward, and just get up and for me, sometimes it’s just keep moving forward, you know, small steps add up to big gains. And so for you, it seems like what I love about it is that you went back to what you’re most passionate about, and that passion… So for people that are listening, you know, if you don’t have a passion that you found yet, you know, search around and think about the things that you would do when you have free time. And it’s just you doing what do you do when you’re just playing? Right? Because there’s a key in there for the things that you will love to do? I think, so one of the things that I was thinking about was… You said you did a map what’s on the future state side of that picture of yours that you drew that picture
Shaun Bernstein 17:22
On the future state side, I wanted to be stronger which I am I’ve been exercising fairly regularly want it to be popular, which the business is.
Patti Dobrowolski 17:33
I’m really liking that you said popular. So anybody like Him and follow Him, you know, the right agency, or the right agency, the Right Stuff Agency,
Shaun Bernstein 17:46
I wanted to be busy, there’s a picture of a bee and I’ve been busy as a bee lately, and then some! I wanted to be energized. And I like to think that I am.
Patti Dobrowolski 17:55
Oh,so you definitely are. It’s just crazy. And I think that something about you, your energy is like already excited about the story that you’re about to write or you’re about to find out. So I can’t wait to see what else happens for you. So if there was some big dream that you still have that you haven’t tapped into, what’s that secret dream that you have at night, that you have not quite stepped into yet?
Shaun Bernstein 18:21
That’s a great question. I have a project potentially on the horizon of writing a book with someone I talked about in a blog posts a couple of years ago. I haven’t had that dream of writing the great novel, I don’t write fiction, generally speaking, don’t read a lot of fiction, as you can see behind me. So this is gonna be on the self help genre, it’ll be nonfiction. But it’ll be really interesting to sort of put that many words together that work in a long form, but not that long. A really interesting challenge to help, you know, jump in on that one and then see if that’s something that takes me in the future if I’m gonna start.
Patti Dobrowolski 18:57
Hoping to write books, yes, yes. And I think you know, you having a podcast too, would be fantastic. Because you’re a great journalist, I love your writing style. You know, the stuff that I read, I was like, Oh, it’s so crisp and clean, that guy really knows how to write, right? So I’m engaged from the very beginning of the story, but to see you launch into, you know, what you’re passionate about, which is people and understanding them and getting to the heart of what it is that they need. I love that and I can’t wait to see that all happen for you. So if you were to give some advice to anybody about how they could pivot, or what to do when you pivot, what would you tell them? What advice would you give about because you seem to do that, like, you know, your partner, she said, “Go do it! Go write”. And you were like, oh, okay, boom, like that, and then you started, but what advice would you give what do people need to be thinking about or doing?
Shaun Bernstein 19:57
I think you have to just kind of, you know, I mean, it sounds cliche. But just summon your courage and make that leap. You know, it is a leap. And we stop ourselves because we get so afraid. What if it doesn’t work out? What if this happens? What if that happens? If this didn’t work out? I can’t get a job. It’s really the worst case scenario was not so bad. And in most things in life, the worst case scenario is not so bad. And I think the second you realize that and it clicks in you kind of go, Okay, what am I going to lose?
Patti Dobrowolski 20:24
Yeah, fantastic. I love that. And then it seems like that the marketing part of it is, you know, how’s that going?
Shaun Bernstein 20:32
The marketing of the business? You mean? Yes. It’s going. Well, I’m so grateful. Most of my clients are almost exclusively referrals. So much of it is coming from word of mouth. And clients are happy. And when they’re happy, they send more people their way.
Patti Dobrowolski 20:47
Yes. And I love that because it’s a tip like, Don’t forget, don’t ever burn a bridge, right? Always stay in contact with the people that you know, did you put anything out on LinkedIn? Or how did you let people know that you were launching your business?
Shaun Bernstein 21:02
My first website, I say, was one of the worst that I’ve seen. It was a joke. And it was done haphazardly. I’m a writer, I’m not a web designer, I hire those out. But it was done very haphazardly by me, in an afternoon. And it was one post of me saying, Here I am, I’m now available to go write. And, you know, do whatever copywriting content you need. And you know, I put up a couple old posts that I done for other employers and a short resume. And the barn doors burst open. It was wild, people said, No, I’m lucky that I have a big network of people, reached out and said, Hey, can you do this? Can you do this? Can you do this? And I said, Sure, let’s give it a shot. Oh, well, what have you got to lose? Let’s give it a shot. And it kind of blossomed from there.
Patti Dobrowolski 21:47
Oh, that’s so fantastic. And I love that you were brave enough to put something out there, even if it wasn’t good. And I think that, you know, when I tell entrepreneurs, the thing is, you just have to leap and the net will appear, you’ll figure it out. And every day, you have to learn something new to get there. But if you put it into a picture, you solidify it by writing it down, you think about it and dream about it, see how you’re going to build this story of your life, then you get to a place where life becomes so exciting and expansive, that, you know, it’s just not like “going to work”. And that I think is part of it, is that when you feel like you’re working. That’s the question, you know, whenever I’m doing something, and I don’t know if you’ve come across that with writing any stories, but when you feel like you’re working, it means that you’re not really aligned with your passion. You’re not really because when you love what you do, nothing feels like work, even if it’s long hours. It’s not work because you’re doing something you love. Right?
Shaun Bernstein 22:52
Exactly. I love this. I love this work. It tires me out sometimes. And it’s you know, this, I can’t believe how many words I wrote today, bouncing like a ping pong ball between six different clients and totally different industries and different ideas, but I’m having fun.
Patti Dobrowolski 23:08
Oh, that’s fantastic. Having fun. Well, thank you so much for taking time to tell us about your story. I just can’t wait to read more The Right Stuff agency, you want to check out Shaun Bernstein and all the things he’s doing because you’re amazing. Shaun, you’re a great example of the pivot. For people who are ready to make a change, you know, follow him. I’ll put his information in the show notes. And if you like what you heard today, and you want to bring people to up your creative genius, the podcast, I would just love for you to send this out to your friends who are really ready to pivot. And they want to do something new. Because this is a great story of how you can create change in your life. And it doesn’t have to be that hard. We make it much harder than we need to because we get so scared and you were really brave in this whole thing. And I love that and I’m so excited to see what you’re going to do next, Shaun. So thanks so much for taking time with me today. I loved, loved hearing your story. Thank you.
Shaun Bernstein 24:09
Thank you so much, Patti. It’s been a pleasure. All right.
Patti Dobrowolski 24:12
So we’ll see you soon next time, everybody. Until next time, have your creative genius. I mean it. Thanks so much for listening today. Be sure to DM me on instagram your feedback or takeaways from today’s episode on up your creative genius. Then join me next week for more rocket fuel. Remember, you are the superstar of your universe and the world needs what you have to bring. So get busy. Get out and up your creative genius. And no matter where you are in the universe, here’s some big love from yours truly Patti Dobrowolski and the up your creative genius podcast. That’s a wrap