Today's episode features special guest Brian Falduto, who was made famous as "that gay kid" in School of Rock, and who has since re-emerged as an artist and certified life coach. Known as The Gay Life Coach, Brian joins us for a conversation to share the story of his journey into coaching and how his own inner journey has motivated him to help members of the queer community achieve massive transformations in their lives.
Take a listen as we talk about the relationship between art and coaching, self-doubt and impostor syndrome, and the age-old question of whether (and how) to niche down.
Since his role in School of Rock, Brian has shared his story far and wide, most notably his viral interview with Now This News (5+ million views) & his self-written piece in The Advocate (4+ million shares). Because of his work as an activist & storyteller within the LGBTQ+ community, PrideLife Magazine named Brian one of the "the 20 most influential, outspoken, & optimistic individuals on the planet."
Brian describes his music as “gay country.” His recent single, “God Loves Me Too,” went on to become a final nominee at the 2020 International Independent Music Video Awards & won the Fan Favorite category. In addition to garnering support from The Trevor Project, GLAAD, & several other LGBTQ-affirming organizations & advocates, the song was chosen as both the Loud & Proud feature on Apple Country's Proud Radio & also as the official theme song for Beloved Arise, a non-profit organization celebrating queer youth of faith.
Brian is also a certified Life Coach, primarily serving clientele within the queer community in the areas of Mental Health & Mindfulness. His malleable coaching approach is aimed at expanding client awareness in a way that will allow them the emotional competence & mindful capability to rejoin the flow of life when stuck. Brian hosts The Gay Life Coach Podcast (currently on hiatus) & is the creator of Brian’s Big Gay Book Club, an online community committed to inducing self-discovery by creating a fun, supportive, & welcoming space where gay men can be authentically visible with one another through meaningful connection & heartfelt conversation.
Connect with Brian
JACOB RATLIFF: Hello and welcome to the Client Attractor Show, where we talk about concrete tactics and strategies that you can use to attract your dream clients. Today, we are joined by a special guest, Brian Falduto, who is best known for his child actor days as “that gay kid from School of Rock” but has since reemerged as an artist with beautiful opportunities and avenues to share his story. In addition to being a musician, Brian is also a certified life coach, and he primarily works with clientele within the queer community in the areas of mental health and mindfulness.
JR: His malleable coaching approach is really aimed at expanding his client's awareness in a way that allows them the emotional competence and mindful capability to rejoin the flow of life when they're feeling kind of stuck. Brian hosts The Gay Life Coach Podcast and is the creator of Brian's Big Gay Book Club, which we're going to certainly talk about throughout this episode because it's something that, personally, I am very excited about. So Brian, thank you so much for being here. I'm really excited to see what we get into in our conversation today.
BRIAN FALDUTO: Yeah, me too. Thanks for having me.
JR: Certainly. Let's go ahead and dive in. The thing that I'm really curious about is that you've done a lot of things throughout your life, from being a child actor, like you said, to this music career. I'm curious: when did the idea of being a life coach first even occur to you as something that you could do with your life?
BF: Yeah, I actually remember the moment. I was in LA at the time. I was there for the winter, and I was on a hike, just hiking Runyon or something like that. At the time, I was waiting tables on the side of being an artist, and that was really weighing me down. Being an artist often comes with a side hustle, and I wanted to find something that I was passionate about alongside being an artist that I could invest my time in.
BF: And it just simultaneously coincided with this point in my life that I was starting to question, the way I had been living a lot. I was starting to develop self-awareness in new ways that I hadn't in the past, and I really was enjoying that inner journey I was on. I was like, “Well, maybe I can find a way to incorporate this inner journey into what I'm doing as a career.” I don't know how the actual term “life coach” came to me; I think it was a Google search. Then, being a life coach came up, and all the websites lied at the time, like five years ago; they were like, “It's so easy. Just become a life coach, and you'll get to be your own boss and make the difference you want to see in the world,” and all these things, right? And I was like, “I'm sold.”
BF: But no one told me at the time that becoming a life coach was going to be just as much of a hustle as becoming an artist. So, I just entered; I just gave myself double duty. But it ended up working out because I think it is where my passion lies. A lot of times, I get the question “How do you divide your mentality between the two—being an artist, being a life coach—or divide your time and energy?” and I'm like, “You know, they are different, but they're also not that different.” Both are about the human condition. Being a life coach and being an artist have to do with being human, and understanding that, and reflecting that back to people. It wasn't as hard of a transition as you would think, but it was definitely a hard journey as far as getting together a business.
JR: Yes. Hearing you talk about this similar mindset, really just being similar things between being an artist and being a life coach, I'm curious: how do you see those two identities intermingle and support one another, maybe sometimes get in each other's way? What's the relationship between the two, insofar as your coaching business and your career as an artist go?
BF: Well, being an artist is all about digging deep inside of yourself, and trying to find the most authentic truth you can find, and sharing it in a way that's going to resonate with other people because it's also truthful for them. You know what I mean? That's what being an artist is; it's reflecting back that vulnerable humanity that we're all afraid of inside of ourselves. I think, a lot of times, storytelling helps us normalize these things that are going on inside of us, and coaching is similar. It's not me telling my story, but it's me listening to someone else's story, and trying to find the context and the common themes that make it human, and helping them see that what they're going through isn't isn't something to be ashamed of or anything wrong with them.
BF: It's very understandable, and it's universal because it has to do with being human. It's finding the universality and everything that I think is a common theme between the two. The only thing that changes really is the seat I'm in. As an artist, I'm the storyteller, and as a coach, I'm the one listening to the story and helping…I'm more like the copy editor, right? I'm listening to the story, and I'm like, “Well, what if I suggested these edits to the story you're telling yourself?” I think I answered your question.
JR: Yes, yes, absolutely. Brian, you definitely answered the question there. I'm curious: in your coaching journey, what has surprised you along the way? Obviously, when you set out to become a coach, you, I'm sure, had some vision of what it was going to be, what it was going to look like. I'm curious what surprises you've had along the way to where you are now.
BF: I feel like I've learned a lot about myself, especially doing things like a podcast and having to sell yourself; they really make you ask questions like “Who am I?” “What do I want to say?” “What's important to me?” “How do I want to package myself?” and that's sort of slapping an identity onto who you are, which is difficult to do sometimes because who I am is so layered and complex. It's not always pitchable. Being an artist is also similar, I suppose, trying to package yourself up in a way that resonates with people.
BF: I think that's one of the things that surprised me, that I needed to be okay with some of the inconsistencies I found with myself along the way. I think I set out and was like, “This is my coaching philosophy. This is what people are going to learn if they coach with me,” and it's changed a little bit. As I learn, as I grow, what I offer is growing as well. What’s interesting is it becomes less specific over time. I truly believe that I'm a strong coach and that I can create space for people and I can help guide them with curiosity and compassion, but a lot of coaches out there are like, “If you work with me, in six weeks, you'll be the most confident version of yourself you'll ever be.” I don't really have a selling line like that.
BF: It's more “I want to talk to you about where you want to go, and maybe we can work together to get there.” I don't believe that there's a one-size-fits-all as far as how to get you there, and what might work for someone else might not work for you. But if we talk, and I learn more about you, I can probably help you see what it is you need to do in order to get where you want to go. I think what surprised me is the inconsistency of the journey, and maybe inconsistency is a negative word to use. Maybe it's more just that I've learned to be more malleable in my coaching approach.
JR: When you started off, did you have that really high level of specificity and focus in terms of who you help, what you help them with, and what that process… Did you have that initially?
BF: Yeah, and there are aspects of it that I've kept. I grabbed the handle The Gay Life Coach while it was available, and I still pitch myself as such, and I work with a lot of queer folks. But I really find that, you know, going back to that word universality, there's a lot more that's unspecific than there is specific when it comes to coaching, when it comes to a productive coaching conversation. It could look like a ton of different things. You know what I mean?
JR: Certainly. The reason I ask is that, I think, in my experience at least, a lot of coaches really want to be at that point where you are, which is that really malleable, nonspecific approach and offer and way that they communicate. I'm wondering, if you did not start out so specific, do you still think you would have been able to zoom out and be where you are today?
BF: Yeah, I think I would have gotten here just because of my level of dedication and commitment to myself and my own journey. I think if I'm that committed to myself and my own growth, it's impossible for that to not translate to what I'm offering. Yeah, I do think I would have gotten here. But you know, when you're out of the gate… I remember attending a conference and someone was like, “You should be able to sell yourself in five words,” and someone else was like, “Your niche should be an inch wide, a mile deep.”
BF: Like, as far as your niche, who you're marketing yourself to, so that they can find you and all the things. I don't not agree with these things as far as a marketing approach and whatnot, but it's so much more complicated than that. Being a human is so much more complicated than that. What I care about is really getting down to the nitty gritty of humanity, not necessarily “Six weeks, and you'll get this.”
JR: Oh, absolutely. I think you hit on a really important distinction there, which is between what you’re marketing and how you're phrasing and messaging versus what it actually looks like to work with you. Oftentimes, I feel like I see those two things getting conflated, and it seems that, in my experience at least, it's really important to have those two things aligned but not being the same thing.
BF: Yeah, I can definitely agree with that. Yeah.
JR: One thing that I've heard you mention a couple times so far in our conversation is this intense inner personal journey that you've gone through prior to becoming a coach, and that has continued as you've been working towards building your coaching business. I'd be curious to know, when you're working with a client, what do you need to do for yourself to sometimes set your own stuff to the side? Maybe it's not setting your own stuff to the side, but how do you handle that relationship there?
BF: I'm glad you did that follow-up sentence with the “maybe it's not setting your own stuff aside” because it isn't. It isn't. I truly believe that a client can sense whether I'm fully present as my full self, and sometimes that means that an emotion comes up for me or maybe I didn't come into the call as present as possible, but it's creating a mindfulness of that and allowing it to be there but not necessarily taking over the space. It's the definition of mindfulness if you think about it. It's noticing something and holding it in your hand and looking at it, but not necessarily being the thing, not being the problem, not being the emotion.
BF: But I do think being able to sit in that mindful space, where I'm noticing what's coming up for me, is going to inform the conversation and inform how I respond and inform how the client responds to me. It's so essential to the relationship, that mindfulness, but also it's not necessarily about leaving it at the door. It's just about creating room for it so that it's not the only thing in the room. Does that make sense? Like, I'm giving it the space that it needs alongside all the other things we're giving space to.
BF: I truly believe that if you're able to get to a mindful, aware place, we contain a lot more space within ourselves than we give ourselves credit for. And I believe when we feel contracted, or when we feel overwhelmed, or when we feel like there's not room for everything, that’s because we're not allowing, we're resisting. So I think the more that we resist what might be wanting to come into the space, the more contracted we get. And the more that we can just allow what's coming up for us to be there without necessarily acting on it, the more space gets created. Does that make sense?
JR: It makes perfect sense, and it makes me think of all the coaches I've worked with being a client of theirs. The two that have been the most effective for me and that have really helped me the most have done exactly what you're describing now in that they also verbalize it; they verbalize what's going on with them. And I remember getting on a coaching call or getting on a call with a coach. I asked her, “How are you doing?” because, of course, that's what you do when you start a conversation.
JR: And she actually answered me. It wasn't just, you know, “I'm good,” I'm great,” “I'm fine.” She took 10 seconds and was like, “Yeah, you know, here's what's going on in my life,” and that didn't take over the focus of the call, but it was there. And it wasn't her trying to, like you said, leave it at the door and pretend it wasn't there. I think those two coaches that have been the most effective for me, they've always been really intentional about having space for it, but not focusing on it.
BF: Yeah, if you enter with that, if you enter the session already suppressing something, just think of the energy you're giving out. You're giving out a closed-off, resistant energy, when coaching is about allowing. It's about receiving. It's about making space for things. I really think that the more we can do that internally… I'd also challenge people at home: if you're ever in a tough, difficult conversation with someone, notice how you feel in your body, if you ever cross your arms or cross your legs or be defensive.
BF: Notice what that brings up in your body and then have that same conversation but open your arms in an allowing, welcoming way. Notice how that feels in your body. You're automatically opening space in your body for what's going on between you, which is going to move the conversation in a more productive direction than if you're closed off. It's an acceptance principle, I think.
JR: For myself, the way that looks for me when I'm having a difficult conversation is my jaw gets tight, my neck tension has started to show up in my neck, and 100% of the time, if I take a second to focus on relaxing that tension, suddenly, the conversation isn't even feeling like a difficult conversation anymore. Suddenly, just the energy that I'm giving off is just entirely different. It, like you said, creates the space to move forward in a more effective direction. In talking about this inner journey that you've had, I know that something a lot of coaches deal with, myself included, is self-doubt or impostor syndrome, so I'm wondering if you've ever dealt with any of that, and if so, how did you or how do you work with that and overcome it?
BF: Oh, no, I'm immune to that. No, no, I suffer from that big time. I recently connected with a life coach on Instagram whose handle is The Imperfect Life Coach, and I was like, I love that. I definitely struggle with that. It definitely becomes a challenge in what I described earlier, which is that area of selling and pitching yourself, especially on days where I feel extra self-doubtful, right? It can be hard to be like, well, let me go post about something inspiring because I'm not feeling very inspired today.
BF: That's why I've stopped doing that for a while; I stopped all my social media recently, and I took a hiatus, and I revisited how I was putting myself out there. I decided that I want to be more authentically visible, including my tough days. Now, I've outsourced; I have someone running my life coaching account, which has tips and quotes and stuff about the book club and about coaching.
BF: But on my account, my personal account, if you were to follow me, just yesterday, I posted about how difficult dating is. I'll post things that I see in the news that frustrate me because I'm a human and I get affected by those things. For me, it's very important that the people I work with professionally present themselves as authentic and real and complicated and human and flawed, so I'm just trying to put more of that energy out. I guess my answer to your question is I deal with impostor syndrome by trying to embrace it and trying to show it, rather than viewing it as something I need to overcome.
JR: You know, about a month ago, I was working through some depression that I've dealt with my entire life, and it was a very similar thing. I was like, I need to go and I need to post something today, but Dear God, I can't post anything motivational or happy-go-lucky because I just don't feel it. I ended up writing a post out, like, “Hey, I feel really depressed. Here's why. Here's what I'm doing to work on it,” and that probably today got more likes and comments and reactions than any of my “business-related” posts. That's the thing, especially with coaching, but with anything really, is that people don't want to do business with faceless companies; they want to do business—especially with coaching—with people, with real people that they know and that they like.
BF: Right, yeah. Half the mental health battle, I feel, is the allowing, is the noticing, is the curiosity, is the compassion. Most of my approach with my clients, like 50% of it, is removing the bully, removing that inner bully that you shouldn't be feeling this way. I found that at the beginning of my self-marketing journey, that I would be bullying myself on days where I didn't feel like posting that inspiring post, or the imposter syndrome would really creep in. Now, on days where I feel like that, I'm just like, oh, here it is. Here's my human condition coming back up. Here's my patterning. Here are my behaviors.
BF: And it all makes a lot of sense, once I consider the context. If I can give myself that understanding, sometimes that compassion is not posting the inspiring thing. Sometimes it's just accepting that that's where you are today, and that's half the mental health battle. It's not shooting the second arrow, as they say in Buddhist culture, not adding a second criticism because this is how you're feeling today. What if this is just how you're feeling today and that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you?
JR: Yeah. I was reading something recently. I can't remember what the book was called, but it laid out this really interesting concept that was totally new to me, although I'm sure it's been around in a lot of different forms, the idea that when you're feeling contracted, that's generally not the time to push forward. That's the time to think and reflect, then figure out why you're feeling constrained and what's going on there. Then, when you're feeling open, that's the time to move ahead, full force.
JR: Personally, with that kind of distinction in mind, that's been really helpful for me, just in my ability to say, “Okay, this is where I need to be spending my energy and my time today. I need to either…” It’s really clear for me all of a sudden: “Okay, I need to spend my time working on this part of my business,” or, “Okay, I need to step back.”
BF: The criticism is not helpful. It needs to be replaced with curiosity. That's one of my biggest tools. It's just replacing that criticism that This shouldn't be happening internally with curiosity about what is happening internally. Why is it happening internally? Can we change that into… Because if you do that journey, if you start digging, you'll find that it's probably something from your past that's coming up in this present moment, or if you actually contextualize what's going on with you today, you probably had a series of stressful moments that triggered an anxiety reaction that triggered a negative thought, which then led back to the anxiety loop, and now you're stuck in a stress cycle, and you need to go straighten the stress cycle.
BF: By saying that it shouldn't be happening, you're kind of complaining about something that happened in the past. Like, if the stress cycle is already activated, saying that it shouldn't be isn't going to stop it; it's just going to activate it more. Something I read recently was that the limbic portion of your brain, which is like the reptilian part, gets messages 150 milliseconds faster than the cognitive part of your brain. Don't quote me on the 150, but it's something like a significant amount of milliseconds faster than your cognitive brain.
BF: The limbic brain is what decides whether you're experiencing anxiety or not, so for your cognitive brain to say something to yourself like “You shouldn't be anxious over this,” you're literally talking about something that happened in the past. The anxiety reaction has already begun, so how can we just get curious about what you need instead of shaming yourself for what's already happened?
JR: We can bully ourselves all day into making that social media post or into reaching out to these prospects; we can bully ourselves into doing it. And if we are “successful” enough in bullying ourselves, things will happen, but usually, nine times out of 10, the results that you get from doing that are not going to be nearly as good as when you are able to approach it with curiosity. Because when you're bullying yourself into doing something, when you actually do the thing, that energy comes across, and it really affects the outcome of whatever action you're taking.
BF: Right, and all that suppression will eventually creep up with you because it'll live in your body, and it'll get back to you, and then you'll crash, and then you'll really be in a tough place, which I've definitely had happened to me. The more we can be curious with ourselves and create that context and then be compassionate for what comes up, I really think that's where the work is.
JR: Yeah, absolutely. So, Brian, before we wrap up our conversation, I'd love it if you could share a little bit about how people can find you if they want to connect with you, if they want to learn more about working with you. I also definitely want to hear a little bit about this Big Gay Book Club that you're doing because I know I'm super interested myself.
BF: Yeah, Jacob's going to join, everyone. I'm going to make him. Yes, everyone should come check out the book club. I'm on social media as The Gay Life Coach, or you can follow my personal page, which is just my name, which is where I post music updates and stuff if you're interested in the artistic lane of what I'm doing. The book club. Yes, I'm so excited. We're starting it back up.
BF: It was a pretty successful venture that we did like a year ago. It's just a group of GBTQ+ men reading books together, and we have not exactly coaching conversations, but coaching-style conversations around the material over Zoom. And if that doesn't work out for your schedule, or if you’re just sick of Zoom these days, there's an online community associated with the book club, so you can make a post or you can participate in an online chat. It's really just an opportunity to read a book alongside other like-minded men and develop self-awareness in a fun setting.
BF: One of my frustrations with the queer community sometimes is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of places to go to have difficult conversations or make meaningful connections, so I'm trying to create a space for that with this book club. A lot of the things that I know and the things that I've learned have come from books, and it's one of my most passionate places as far as a learning vantage point, so I definitely encourage people to come check it out.
JR: Especially for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs in particular, it can feel really difficult to find community and connection in a life-giving way. If you're listening to this, you probably are an entrepreneur, so think about that as well, your own need for life-giving community. I will definitely, Brian, link to all of that below in the show notes, so that if you want to learn more about it, you can just scroll on down and click those links, and they'll take you right there. Thank you so much for such a great conversation. I've really, really appreciated having you on today.
BF: Thank you so much for having me.
JR: Of course, and thank you to everyone for tuning in to the Client Attractor Show. I'm your host, Jacob Ratliff, and I will see you for our next episode. Take care.