Episode 25: Visiting with Jen Cochrane and her story, “Better.. Faster.. Stronger..”
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices—one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
MUSIC: intro music plays
JENETTE JURCZYK: Welcome, friends, to another episode of The She Said Project Podcast.
We’re so grateful to have you joining us here. I’m Jenette Jurczyk, your host today, and I’ve got some special ladies in the studio with me. With me always is:
KERRY ROSSOW: Kerry Rossow, founder.
JENETTE: That’s right! She helped create this incredible movement that is now continuing on six years in Champaign-Urbana. We’re going into year number two in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, and I’m telling you by the time this podcast airs, I’m confident we will be in, you know, ten more cities, but that’s the goal—the goal is women have stories, Kerry. Everyone has a story—Coast to Coast. There’s not a woman, you know, that wouldn’t benefit from having a safe space to be vulnerable and share a personal story.
KERRY: Today’s episode is really special to me because part of how we started the show was women sitting around either making inappropriate ‘That’s what she said’ jokes or telling stories—telling the worst parts, like “you’re not going to believe what a jerk I was today. I have to tell someone,” all those stories that I sit around our kitchens telling with my girlfriend’s is sort of what I wanted the show to become.
KERRY: Then when we create the show, we’re very purposeful and getting—making a seat at the table for everyone.
KERRY: And our guest today is someone who literally sits in my kitchen all the time. And so it’s very personal and so I might just have to sit over here and be very quiet because I’ve never cried at a show and that this is the one that’s going to do me in because it is personal and it’s somebody that I love and felt super protective of—I feel protective of everyone when they’re up there, but especially this person—because, I’ll just say her name, I keep saying this person—Jen Cochrane is in the house
JENETTE: Yeah, she’s right here in the studio. Jen appeared in the second That’s What She Said show back in 2014. Welcome Jen!
JEN COCHRANE: Hello!
JENETTE: Thank you so much for being here today.
JEN: No problem.
KERRY: Alright, how did this happen? Let’s just start there. How did you wind up saying yes?
JEN: Lots of begging… and threats maybe, from Jill. I’m not sure how it happened.
The first year, I said absolutely no way ever—no, no, not a public speaker. I have nothing to say. Nothing in my life ever I thought anybody needed to hear. I’m boring. Like there’s nothing in my life that I thought anybody would want to hear. And so I said no and then the next year, of course, Jill came at me hard. And, I finally, I think, I think I… I don’t know, I finally got tired, I think, and I just said, all right, and I thought in my mind, like, I’m going to say, yes now and I’m going to back out. For sure, I’m going back out.
KERRY: I always laugh because you agreed and then just tried to put it out of your mind, and then…
JEN: Yes, I did… and when I, when I finally realized that I wasn’t going back out I kept in the back of my mind, I can cancel this at any point in time. I can throw my body down the stairs. I can break a leg. She can’t make me talk on stage with a broken leg. Right? So I had things in the back of my mind—and then when I finally realized no, I’m going to have to do this. I.. I just kind of tried to put in the back of my mind and then you kept texting me—like not just me but the group—we need your.. your.. your…
JEN: Outlines. We need your bios. We need pictures. We need.. and I’m like every time you texted me it’s like, I wanted to vomit—all over again. So it—and then, and then the night comes, or, you know, close to it—and there’s practice? She’s like you have to get on stage and practice … No, mm-hmm, you’re going to get me onstage once… maybe—but, but I did it.
I took, I brought my kids with me. I don’t know how I did the practice. Practice was worse for me than the actual night. I don’t know why, but it was.
KERRY: Well, it was the first time.
JEN: Yeah, maybe ...
KERRY: Like, oh my gosh, this is really happening in twenty-four hours and…
JENETTE: But there’s something incredible when there is an audience there that is reacting to what you’re sharing so that,
JENETTE: ...that moment of your life that you thought wasn’t interesting or wasn’t valuable—suddenly you have validation and not that you need validation, but—but Jen! Of all the stories to, to say you didn’t think you had anything special to offer—the life lessons and the bravery and silliness and amazing moments, shall we say, that you exposed and shared in your story were so delightful and inspiring. Like I’m sitting here in shock that you were this nervous about how it would be received and obviously when the audience was there and they laughed with you and cried with you—
JENETTE: I mean, what a beautiful, emotional experience for everyone.
JEN: Yeah. I debated on what to talk about. You know, I think everybody thought I was going to talk about my horrible marriage and living with an alcoholic and, you know, that was just too deep for me. I thought I can’t get up there and talk about these things, first of all, I didn’t want to put that out there with my ex-husband—you know, you just don’t want to get too personal, and the kids… you don’t want them to know everything. So I just went light and I talked about…
JENETTE: You went light!
JEN: Somewhat light..
JENETTE: You were, you were incredibly vulnerable as well. And I think, I think there’s no better time than right now to share with our audience today your story.
So Jen Cochrane shared her story, “Better.. Faster.. Stronger..” on stage—out of her comfort zone. [laugh] The Champaign-Urbana That’s What She Said 2014. Let’s take a listen.
[hoots and hollers, applause]
JEN: All right. There are a lot of people here. [laughing] OK.
I am a hypocrite.
I’m a single parent to three kids and I’m constantly telling them to try new things. Color outside the lines. Don’t worry about who’s watching. Just have fun and be yourself. Be comfortable with who you are because that is who you’re meant to be… blah blah blah. The entire time I’m lecturing my kids about this I’m hiding behind them everywhere we go.
I struggle with social anxiety and they are my buffers.
They’ve been my buffers for thirteen plus years, and I’m really not sure how I’ll handle it once they’ve outgrown me, so… I am here to practice what I preach and stop hiding while facing two of my biggest fears, which are: public speaking and ... being in the spotlight.
[loud applause and cheering]
Thank you. So if I cry, you cry with me. If I laugh, you can laugh with me. I have spent the past fifteen years of my life avoiding situations such as these. I… if I’m quiet and move through life undetected, nobody can judge me and yet here I am, putting myself in front of a group of my peers—serving myself up on a platter, begging to be judged.
How did I let this happen? That’s another story. [comment from audience] Yes.
As I was trying to decide on a story to tell I thought of myself, I thought of my kids, and I thought, if I could go back in time to the age my kids are currently at what would I have loved to hear from my parents? Which sort of advice would I like to give my kids to get them through the tough years ahead. So, this is to my babies.
Here are my Top 5 Biggest Screw Ups that I hope for them to avoid. (The first two, couple are hard, so I might cry.)
1. Never allow anyone to make you feel small.
I’ve come a long way. I struggled with everyday things that you would laugh at—like going to the grocery store. There are many days where I would just sit in the car, trying to get the courage to go in—I was worried about running into people I knew, people who judge. I felt small and vulnerable all the time, never really comfortable with myself.
This is what happens when you allow people to get into your head.
Nearly every night for many years, I would hear,
This is something that I allowed to happen. This is my fault. I look at my girls and I pray they’re stronger than me and never allow anyone to make them feel like they’re not enough.
2. Be yourself and don’t compromise your beliefs just to fit in.
Way too young—I’m not even going to tell you how young because it’s really embarrassing, I was afraid to say no. I was afraid that he wouldn’t like me anymore. I was afraid that people would make fun of me for being scared.
Never be afraid to say no. Respect yourself and trust the people who truly love you will always be there for you, no matter what.
3. Laugh at yourself. Embrace your imperfections.
Recently, I’ve been to Victoria’s Secret. [laughter] Yeah, why would I go to Victoria’s Secret? Looking for a strapless bra—a store associate was guiding me through the store. She found a couple of different options. I tried them on, but I’m like, eh, don’t love them—so she found another one—but can’t find my size. So we’re standing here and she looks at the manager on the other side of the store. Holds the bra up. “What is the smallest size that comes in?” [laughter] as heads turn and focus on my breastless chest. [laughing]
Twenty-five years ago that situation would have completely humiliated me. Growing up, boys and girls made fun of my small boobs. I was embarrassed and always wore baggy clothes to try and hide. I want my girls to own all of their imperfections and never feel like they need to hide.
4. Make good choices.
Everyday I tell my kids to make good choices. Understand the consequences of your choices. Some choices have long-term consequences that keep you wishing for a do-over.
For example: When choosing someone to spend the rest of your life with, choose someone who is selfless and adores you, someone who will make a good father and spouse, someone you can laugh with and cry with and grow old with. Know that you can’t change people—don’t even try. While poor choices like that will stick with you forever, some consequences are quick and nearly painless.
Like when I was sixteen years old, my parents moved me from a small town in Iowa to a small town in central Illinois. I wanted simply to go home for homecoming weekend. They said no, of course. So at 3 a.m. I borrowed the car keys. Crawled out of my bedroom window and drove 450 miles.. in a stolen car.. with no cell phone.. and no GPS. This is when we had paper maps, you know, good stuff. Good choice? Not so much. Consequences? Yes, there were consequences, but to me, it was totally worth it.
My hope.. [laughter] My hope is that my girls make better choices than I did.
Number 5. Communicate.
Ask questions. Talk to me. Please talk to me.
My parents were non-communicators. We didn’t talk about anything. I have adopted a rather unconventional parenting style. While some agree with me, most are appalled—I am brutally honest. When my kids ask me how babies are born, I tell them, ‘they come through your vagina.’ And yes, it hurts. It hurts badly. When they use words they don’t know the meaning of, like ‘douchebag,’ I not only define it, but I show them pictures. [howling laughter and applause]
My only struggle is with the subject of masturbation. I can’t find myself because I can’t do it. In fact, I had the perfect opportunity one day and I totally lied to them—which goes against my grain. But when I got divorced, a few of my girlfriends got me some battery operated devices. I put them in a box on the top shelf of the closet. One day, I get home from work and my girls and two of their friends are lying down and giving each other back massages. [laughing] My first reaction was to snatch them out of their hands, throw them away and hide in my closet. But I didn’t want to freak ‘em out or draw more attention to it.
So I simply said, “What you doing?”
My youngest: “Just giving each other back massages.”
“Yeah, baby. I see that. But you know what, those back massagers, those belong to Mrs. Rossow. [laughter and applause] And I really don’t want anything to happen to them. So let’s put them away. Okay. And please, Lord, don’t go home and tell your parents about this.”
So, my mother always said she hoped I was blessed with a daughter much like myself some day. As my kids are crossing the threshold of puberty, I’m getting a little itchy. I have two girls and both of them are a lot like me, but the youngest of the two is the one my mother has been praying for.
This is for my girls (and a reminder to myself:)
Life is about living, not hiding. Put yourself in the spotlight on occasion. Love yourself. Take chances. Challenge yourself. Be strong. Be kind. Be loyal. Work hard and play hard. Have fun. Focus on the people you love and love you back. Just be you and you will be enough.
JENETTE: Can I place my order now for one of Mrs. Rossow’s back massagers?
KERRY: Yeah [laughing] I still to this day, say, OK .. so, I want to be remembered.. all of the things—alI the experiences I’ve had with her children— I want them to grow up and be like, ‘Oh, our childhood friend, Mrs. Rossow. Oh, how we loved her.’
No. No. Now they’re going to grow up and say, ‘Creepy Mrs. Rossow, who left her vibrators at our house.’ [laughing]
JEN: It is funny because I.. I just told them, told you before the show, I had my girls watch it last night with me and—that was interesting.
JENETTE: How old are they now?
JEN: They’re seventeen and sixteen now. I’m sorry, eighteen and sixteen now—sorry, somebody turned eighteen in October. You know, they just laughed. My youngest said, um [sotto voce] ‘Mom, why did Mrs. Rossow have those at our house?’ [laughing]
JENETTE: Oh, she still didn’t put two and two together…
JEN: Last night.. still didn’t process it, for a second.
KERRY: Please tell me you corrected this!
JEN: I just looked at her, and I kinda smiled and walked away… and I don’t know what they told her after that.. but anyway, they had their own conversations… but it was just funny because she was, like… still. I know…
KERRY: No! No! Stop talking! This was your chance!
JENETTE: Kerry, you’re a.. you have, you have a legacy.
KERRY: So they still think?
KERRY: No. This was your chance.
JEN: I’m still pure.
JENETTE: That’s right. That’s right. And you know what? That’s okay. So we all need…
KERRY : You’re pure and I have the Traveling Vibrator Show. Whatever.
JEN: Oh, I love it. It made my night.. really.
JENETTE: But what a great story to share that night with a room full of people, strangers, friends, but it broke the ice and it allowed you to be real and vulnerable because things happen—things happen in life post-divorce, you know, you have to deal with this moment in time.. I personally love how you dealt with it, but you really did share something that just made all the women laugh, and cry together, but you did it for a reason and you shared the side of you for a reason because your whole goal was to show your children how to take chances and how to be their best selves. That was the theme of your story—not just the vibrator story or the bra story. You know, you shared those examples to make a point and your point was so touching and so beautiful and so necessary.
JEN: Yes.. having girls. I don’t know.. I could just kind of looked back at myself and I thought, what are things that I would change? I was never.. I wasn’t always this anxious. I didn’t always have this much anxiety and think that I wasn’t enough; it came later in life. I used to be pretty vibrant and outgoing and I had no fear and no problems whatsoever. If this came by making bad choices—this came with making bad choices basically.
JENETTE: So it’s natural for you to want to help them prevent some of those…
JEN: Yes and so yeah, absolutely—and, you know, you want to be.. you want to see your kids thrive and you don’t want to see them make the same mistakes you do, and, it’s inevitable—they’re going to, I know, seven years later on—you would know, how it’s 2014 to 2020…
JENETTE: It was 2014—we’re here in the 2020s…
JEN: Yeah, so anyway, years later, I’m looking at them and I’m seeing some of them make—they’re making some of the same mistakes, you know, that I’ve made and, but they, some of these things they have to learn on their own and I’m learning that—but as a parent it’s hard to watch your kids hurt.
JENETTE: It’s a rite of passage. It’s something they have to go through. You did your best though, man!
JEN: I tried.
JENETTE: You, but you …
JEN: I know.
JENETTE: … tried, not just behind closed doors, but you tried in a very public space. And I love that Jen was courageous enough to join us here today, Kerry, ‘cuz you always talk about her story as an example of—the stories don’t always come from polished speakers – they come from your friends, who are from, sitting at your kitchen table, you know, with their knees shaking, like… That’s one of your favorite stories from past shows. These are real women.
KERRY: Right, and so for me, Jen was that person. But everybody, we always want somebody up there that … There are people in the audience saying, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my neighbor, or my teacher or my mom’s best friend.’ Whatever it is. And for me, I was sitting directly behind Jen and I literally no, no embellishment, can see her legs knocking together and the first couple sentences her voice was so small and kind of shaky and then all of a sudden, she just sort of settled in and I could feel like everybody was like nodding and wanted her to succeed and wanted her like, it just it was the most powerful experience of the She Said show because all worlds came together—now it’s hard for me to look back at it because I know what we’ve gone through in those years since as you might guess, raising teenagers is not for the weak—and so seeing that and knowing how many times she said not just her own children to my children make good choices and all of that wrapped up together. I know that every single speaker is that for someone. She’s that for me but everybody that has ever spoken on the stage has somebody out there.
JENETTE: (18:26) Jen? Looking back, are you glad you did it? [laugh]
JEN: [long silent pause] ...yes… um.. [laughter]
JENETTE: She had to think about that one for a second.
JEN: I will… I was scared. It was it was one of the hardest things—not one of the hardest things I’ve done—like, I’ve had to do some pretty hard things, but… it was, um, just getting the nerve to stand up.. right? Bscut then, once I was up there, I’m like, ohh, I just.. this.. I’m not going anywhere, I have to finish this and then I can sit down. So I just kind of found a groove but well, a groove—it wasn’t pretty groove, but I got it done.
JENETTE: It was a beautiful groove.
JEN: But, yeah, I’m glad I did it. I loved the experience – mostly the backstage experience – because you have a lot of fun backstage when you’re not doing .. anything .. you know, just goofing around.. and laughing, and meeting people…and…
JENETTE: It’s a camaraderie.
JEN: It is, yeah.
JENETTE: The She Said Project has become, you know, what Kerry just said, ‘It’s so much women supporting women in all the stages of life and through that vulnerable experience and the women do form quite the camaraderie and it’s just a pleasure to be a part of that – and by joining us today in the studio and giving us permission to share your story with more moms who are out there, who are post-divorce or dealing with, you know, young girls who, who may be need some guidance making choices. Thank you for helping us pass the torch and empowering more moms and more women and that’s why you started The She Said Project – Kerry, and Jill, and Casey, back in 2013—was to make the world a better place for your daughters.
KERRY: Right, and Jen’s— I think I put on the, the same yellow music stand that we’ve used in every show, taped pictures of Jen’s kiddos because I knew by the time she walked up there that she would be pissing herself.
JEN: [interjecting] Jelly.
KERRY: Sorry—bleep it! But she would I thought she is going to be so nervous when she gets up there. But if she can see that picture of her kiddos and that’s, that’s sort of the image—when I watch her piece or listen to her talk I think of her kiddos and the gift that she gave them—that she continues to give them but, on that night, like literally it’s all wrapped up in a package for them and it’s a gift to ladies, like a reminder: ‘Hide your vibrators better.’
JENETTE: No kidding! I think that’s, this is like a—PSA here, women everywhere. Now, you know … knowing is half the battle.
JEN: We need to disguise them better. [hysterical laughter]
JENETTE: On our next episode, we’ll talk about Jen and Kerry’s new, new business concept, but that’s all the time we have today. Thank you so much for joining us. You know, it’s about all the stories and Jen, thank you so much for just being you.
JEN: Thank you for having me. I loved it. It’s been great.
JENETTE: You’re amazing!
Friends, we’ll see you next week, here on The She Said Project Podcast.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast, in partnership with Illinois Public Media.
All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to shesaidproject (dot) com.
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management. Empowering women to live their best lives.
(music plays out)
Jen Cochrane truly had to overcome her fear of public speaking to share her story on the "That's What She Said" stage. She chose to be brave and do it anyway to be an example for her daughters. Jen shares with Kerry and Jenette how taking that step has helped her be "Better... Faster... Stronger."
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.