Michael Tennant Is Working To Spread Empathy Through His Business Ventures—One of Which Earned Him a Shout-Out From Beyoncé

Photo credit: Curiosity Lab

We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet. 

This week we caught up with creator Michael Tennant over email. Tennant is an entrepreneur who left an emotionally draining corporate job to start his own purpose-driven marketing agency, Curiosity Lab. Curiosity Lab, Tennant says, is centered around values of empathy and inclusivity. Michael says he seeks to be a “radical example in media and advertising of business diversification and progressively inclusive hiring practices.”

Tennant leads “empathy” workshops and is also the creator behind a card game called Actually Curious. The game is based on Tennant’s research on the psychology of emotional connection, trust-building, and vulnerability. It was featured by the New York Times and NBC’s Today. It even received a shout-out from Beyoncé. Tennant and his company have more than 14,000 followers on LinkedIn and Instagram

The interview below has been condensed and edited.

What’s the first thing you do to start your day online?

Lately, the honest answer is to check email, messages, and overnight revenue across DTC platforms. But I usually catch myself quickly and get started on my morning routine of meditation, journaling, and tidying my place before an official start to the day.

What do you wish you knew when you were first starting out as a creator?

I wish I knew to pay attention to long-term goals like knowledge, network, alignment with my values and purpose versus the short-term things that grabbed my attention, like my college debt, or my low salary. I was so focused on the money I didn’t have. No one taught me to appreciate my time and build my life around the abundance of ideas and passion that I’ve always had.

When did you realize you’d broken through and become a successful creator?

In 2021 when a historic ad agency signed me on as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence. My card game Actually Curious was already becoming successful after being featured by the NY Times and NBC Today Show. It was when a company agreed to pay me to bring them what I do, rather than hire me to do a job that they were offering to anybody.

If you hadn’t become a creator, what would you be doing right now?

I’d probably be a social worker or a therapist. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was at a crossroads. Continue this idea of spreading empathy and fighting injustice through products, content, and experiences, or go back to school to learn how to heal people. I was not going back to a toxic corporate or non-profit environment. My past workspaces, mixed with my own areas of trauma and need for healing, proved detrimental to my long-term mental well-being.

What’s one thing you do to manage your relationship with your fans?

Because the work I do deals with difficult emotions and often trauma, I try to be super responsive to anyone who is reaching out to share their joy or their pain. I’m not a great communicator on text and social media generally, as I have to navigate how it interacts with my anxiety, confidence, and focus. But when people reach out, somewhat asking to be seen, I make sure I meet them. Truthfully, being trusted to give support makes me feel seen as well.

What do you think of the idea of cancel culture?

I think cancel culture is about accountability and taking the power out of the hands of the few and putting it in the hands of the many. I can understand the critiques about cancel culture. Many of us, myself included, have actions we aren’t proud of in our past. The problem is, left unchecked, people in power use an addiction to skirting accountability, to hurt people. Many people. Let the cards fall as they must in my opinion. Let cancel culture do its’ thing.

How much of your true self do you show online?

I’d say about 95% of my true self I show online. I process through writing, and I have found great healing in sharing the things that I’m afraid for people to know. My most popular Medium article was where I shared my decade-plus struggle with drug abuse. The conversations that followed were hard, they still are sometimes. But that was me, and it isn’t anymore. I mean to celebrate growth and transformation, not to shame people for doing what they thought they needed to do to survive and find happiness.

What’s one of the best interactions you’ve ever had with someone who follows you?

It was back before Actually Curious started taking off, and literally the night before I set out on a three-month road trip to find and heal myself and spread the message of empathy behind the game. I got a DM from a woman who had found Actually Curious on a bookshelf, fell in love with the message, looked us up on IG, and saw my tour announcement. She invited me to stay with her and her son in North Carolina twice on that trip. She was one of the first people to show me that strangers would be willing to give me love and support.

What is your most treasured tool?

My most treasured tool is my life experience and the experiences of others. And my willingness to fully feel the emotions associated with those experiences. Each time I feel something intense, be it joy, fear, anger, or the like, I get this signal that I just experienced something important and worth recalling. I didn’t always have that awareness. But I and we all, have always had that tool.

What holds you accountable?

If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that tomorrow is not promised. Perhaps as a Black man, I think about this more than many, but even at 37 years old, it’s a blessing that I am here with this opportunity called life. Knowing this is what keeps me accountable. I don’t want to waste one more second of it living outside of my power or outside of my integrity and purpose.

Thank you, Michael, for speaking with us! 

We’ll be featuring a new Q&A with a creator every week, so shoot an email to [email protected] for a chance to be included.

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