Jane Jenkins Herlong, a former Miss South Carolina, takes adversity and turns it into success. Just recently she reached a pinnacle – she was named by the CPAE of the National Speaker’s Association to their Speakers Hall of Fame. So what was the adversity?
Here is how Jane tells it. She was nominated 13 times. 12 times she says she “failed,” but she got it on the 13th. Most folks would have just accepted the award and the accolades and let go the “adversity,” but Jane sees it as a truth (humbling) as well as a chance to bring humor into the picture, and by claiming failure she seizes the moment. Her timing is perfect, and that means she gets her laugh!
Have you noticed Jane Herlong among the folks in her hometown and home county? She is so at ease. She will be in the doctor’s office and will slip in a chair and start chatting with someone – a close friend? Not likely. More likely someone she has met along the way and she joins with the person in an affable, “I am your neighbor” kinda’ way. For this reason Jane Herlong is approachable. But that sometimes means she is not seen. Easy going, approachable folks are often the invisible ones.
So she dares to be invisible, and being “hidden” but approachable probably gives her the best stories ever, as she talks quietly with folks.
You see, Jane collects stories. She would not publish a story, or use it, without the person knowing, but she is a great listener. She says at her performances she will let folks know she collects funny stories, and so people will come up to her after a show and offer their stories. Having heard her, they know the story will be repurposed well. This woman is a speaker, a writer, a humorist and a singer, and those stories could be found in all these phases of her work.
And speaking of work, she seems to have endless energy for her work. She travels constantly, from one part of the country to another. “I am leaving tomorrow for Portland, Oregon,” she shared at the interview (July 31). And her audiences can be the size of ones a reader may have been a part of here in the County, on the Ridge, or those FFA conventions where she was entertainer and motivator: at the National FFA Convention she spoke to 20,000; in Oklahoma she entertained 15,000 FFA members. To be nominated for the Hall of Fame award mentioned above, Jane had to have made 50 speeches in one year – about one a week.
What about this phenomenal energy? Jane said it started at home, with her parents. They both were hard workers at their farm. “Dad was so very kind hearted.” A tomato farmer on Johns Island, she describes him as “giving and very connected to the people in his community.” He shared what he grew. She notes that it wasn’t money that he wanted, but rather to help people. And that, one knows, is at the heart of what Jane does. A motivator, that she is, helps people. Her books are full of advice and self help remedies – all ways to cope in this difficult world.
“My mother was funny, “ she says, and then she regales the listener with tales of her mother and her ‘second mother’ Tootsie who was with the family helping in so many ways for 50 years. “My mother played a mean harmonica!” And her mother knew how, in the darkest hours, to add levity with her interpretations of what was going on.
Jane turns her mother’s stories and those of friends and acquaintances into “pearls” in her book, Bury Me with my Pearls. This book, her third, is a reminder of another failure (adversity) in her life – an 80 IQ according to the papers her teacher was protecting her (at a very early age) from, and she saw it.
No one believes that IQ for one moment (obviously an error on someone’s part) after meeting Jane, but the result of others seeing her as slow and possibly inadequate certainly made an impression on her. That was only one such “failure” in her life. Others came through being overlooked as a candidate for representing her class as a beauty queen (and later a candidate for Miss America). She was passed over and some anger began to stir in her – having been made to feel unattractive. As she missed out on other things, a strong force grew in her to fight back and overcome. And all of this can be found, related for the reader, in her books.
She has been writing since a child, she says. Although she received an F in college on a paper, she kept plugging away. Now her Pearls book achieved the Best Seller list on Amazon! As a pre-teen, she remembers loving to write and particularly remembers this first line for a story: “On and on the meadow never seemed to end for Jane and her horse Dixie.” So began a really successful story, giving evidence that she had those skills very early, but they were not recognized.
Asking, how do you do all this, Jane? And she answers,” I do not do it alone.” She has at least five team members guiding her. She has a humor coach, an editor, a speech coach, a booking agent, a social media person, and a Google expert. Is that five? Whatever the count she has a team supporting her.
And how do you take care of yourself? (The healthcare of women is an issue she is deeply interested in, she says) “I go to the doctor.” She speaks of there having been illnesses in her family (her mother died of breast cancer) and whenever she feels a symptom that may be something of importance, she calls the doctor. Also she says she takes vitamins and eats good food like “kale and spinach.” Then she says, “And there are movies.” She uses the movies to “get away” and to relax. (In the world of Netflix, today, that is easier than ever.)
There is a deeply spiritual side to this entertainer – and that is for another story. But not before saying that she won an award from a Christian publishers organization, for her Pearls book. There are dark pearls and damaged pearls that she writes of; she is not afraid to wear those pearls that have been examples in her own life. They, too, represent adversity that she has overcome, and lightened with humor. That’s Jane!