Every entrepreneur has a story, but Amy Oestreicher’s life story is big enough to fill a Broadway stage! A survivor – or “thriver” – of sexual abuse, PTSD, coma, and total gastrectomy, Amy has dedicated her life to inspiring others to live their fullest life regardless of any detours they’ve had to conquer. A lifelong lover of theater, Amy combined her talents with her experiences to create musical comedy hit Gutless & Grateful. Here, Amy shares her struggles, triumphs, and motivation to prove to others you don’t need a stomach to maintain your hunger for life.
Why were you inspired to start Gutless & Grateful?
Having been affected by illness, dissociation, disability, and chronic conditions, I aim to provide hope, help, and resources, starting a vital conversation on how we each work to build a culture of empathy and empowerment through Gutless & Grateful.
Inspired by the resourcefulness required to go from coma to career in under a decade, I devised a program that combines dynamic storytelling with resiliency building, leadership strategies, and sexual assault prevention, in order to empower women with the e-tools needed to transform adversity into creative and personal growth, which I’ve toured internationally to organizations, conferences, hospitals and universities since 2012. This was also the keynote presentation at the 2016 Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability in Hawaii and will be the featured keynote at the 2018 International School of Social Work Conference in Ohio.
How did your business get started? From the good, bad and ugly, what was your startup process like?
I never intended to start a business – it was a beautiful byproduct of wanting to get my story out there. I had always loved musical theatre and was always fascinated by how the art of song and story could be so seamlessly woven together to share a universal message and to inspire others. All my life I studied music, drama, writing, and lived for the world of the stage.
It was only when I underwent my own beautiful detour that I discovered just how powerful the world of theatre and musical storytelling can be. Coming out of a coma just as I was supposed to be entering my freshman year of college was confusing to say the least. Suddenly, the career path that had seemed too apparent to me my entire life was pushed to the wayside while I took on the more pressing task of fighting for my life. It was easy to feel like a has-been and wonder “why me”, or how my life would ever maintain a steady course again.
With no clear roadmap on how to get my life back on “track”, I just stayed true to what had always felt like home – expressing myself through the arts. Although I had lost my ability to speak for a while, I committed myself to arts that I could express – I lost myself in the world of painting and mixed media and ended up putting on three professional art shows. The Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda ended up hearing about my story and my art, and had me on for a segment they do called “Everyone Has A Story.” It was there where I met David Friedman – a kind soul and a talented composer. I went right over to him and told him I admired his work and would love to put together a cabaret act with him. Two years later, using excerpts from my thousands of journal entries, and songs that effectively expressed my journal – some songs being original – Gutless & Grateful had its New York premiere. It was intended as only theatre until I started developing it for colleges. When I premiered Gutless & Grateful, I had no idea it would be any more than musical theatre. But people started lining up after every show, just to tell me their stories. That was my lightbulb moment: Wow, we heal through telling our stories.
Based on my own personal experience surviving ten years of medical interventions, 27 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse gastrectomy, and PTSD, I’m giving others an empowered approach to mental health in Gutless & Grateful with storytelling, music, and mental health advocacy and education.
From my own decade of medical isolation, I learned that nobody can heal in a vacuum. Being able to reach out for help and find support is what helps us realize we’re not alone.
Now, my show Gutless & Grateful aims to share how we can all build resilience. I’m sharing the story of my life and then helping everyone create their own resiliency toolbox – a must-have in order to deal with stress and navigate life’s detours.
Now, years later, it’s become mental health and sexual assault prevention program, which I’ve toured internationally. From there, I developed presentations on trauma, creativity, leadership, and entrepreneurship, as well as private coaching. I’ve been traveling and leading workshops all year, which I’ve even started devising for corporate companies. Becoming a business owner was like a right of passage to me – it made me feel like I had finally taken ownership of what had happened to me, and done something beautiful with it.
I literally was a girl waking up from a coma trying to find her place in a big world. I didn’t know where to start. So I just started somewhere – anywhere. And just kept going from there – blindly at first, but eventually finding a focus, and then just following it intently.
I literally was a girl waking up from a coma trying to find her place in a big world.Click to tweet
What niche or hole in the market are you filling with Gutless & Grateful?
The art of the personal story. I think all big companies are going back to their roots – the people and the stories behind the brands.
When I started sharing my own story, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Other people were struggling with what I had faced in isolation for years – shame, fear, PTSD, anxiety, depression, loneliness- I wanted to encourage people to start speaking up and bring marginalized voices into the spotlight. Only when I was finally able to share my story could I truly heal, and now I want to encourage everyone to start sharing their stories.
Through sharing our stories, we become empowered, inspired, and more comfortable with our life circumstances, as well as with who we are. That is why I turned Gutless & Grateful into a mental health advocacy program. Sharing our stories starts the conversation for others, and brings out the stories that unite us all, to show that creativity is an essential mindset, a survival skill, and a way to see the world.
With every obstacle, stories help us find a new opportunity. Stories saved my life. Sure, I have wounds, scars, and some medical issues that still haven’t been resolved. But if I took away all of the setbacks, hurdles, frustrations, and detours, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Telling my story made me realize that. That’s what inspired me to share my story with the world, and call this my “beautiful detour.”
How much has your business changed from day one until now?
Well, it started as musical theatre…and turned into global presentations, trainings, speaking, and workshops!
What are your biggest challenges in marketing Gutless & Grateful?
Turning a musical theatre show into corporate training seminars and leadership programs – but eventually, I did! I’m a survivor and “thriver” of sexual abuse, 27 surgeries, coma, organ failure, six years being unable to eat or drink, and the PTSD that comes from ten years of trauma – or what I like to call my “beautiful detour,” which is also the title of my upcoming book – amyoes.com/book
I’ve headlined international conferences on women’s leadership, entrepreneurship, mental health, disability, creativity, art therapy, and domestic violence prevention. I’m a regular lifestyle, wellness, and arts contributor for over 70 notable online and print publications, and my story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, MSNBC, among others.
I’ve toured the country for five years with my award-winning one-woman musical, Gutless & Grateful, which includes a song specially written for me by Kathie Lee Gifford, after appearing on the TODAY Show in 2011. I’ve devised workshops for the Transformative Language Arts Network National Conference, the Eating Recovery Foundation, League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling, Mental Health America, and others, and was this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability.
To improve student mental health, I developed a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness, PTSD education, and Broadway Theatre for college campuses. I am living proof that anyone is capable of launching a business from scratch with a story and a passionate drive. Since my coma, I’ve worked relentlessly for over a decade to achieve authentic success. In my book, I share practical, efficient tips, tools, and insights on building a business from the ground up and transforming adversity into creative growth. I also share the real-life experience to back up these tried and true survival tactics.
What types of marketing are most effective for your business?
Social media – I’ve definitely gotten a handle on using it for my business. TEDx was a huge deal for my business. Also, if I can start up a business as I have, then anyone can. After years of being isolated and only conversing with my parents and doctors for seven years, it was difficult figuring out how to get back into the professional world of networking again. I wasn’t sure how to get out there. I was intimidated by the world of theatre and felt as though I didn’t know how to form connections. So I did it the old-fashioned way. Posting flyers everywhere humanly possible, researching the contact information of every news source I could get my hands on, and spreading my name shamelessly wherever I could. There were no shortcuts and it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it. It taught me valuable lessons about publicity and business, and I created connections that were truly invaluable.
With marketing, there is no easy shortcut. A lot of people ask how I “land” my gigs. Again, the word “land” makes me squeamish. I’ve never “landed” anything. Everything I’ve done, I’ve had to work for – very hard – and sometimes, that’s not always the best thing in the long run– I am long overdue for relaxing, I admit, but when I looked through old journal entries when I was going through everything and was really struggling, I see that all I wanted was to get my story out there, in the hope that it could help others. So I think that is the “manic” and very fervent drive that pushes me to not stop. What I’ve learned from all of this is if you have a dream, you can do it – I’ve heard that obviously, but I think my work ethic and my passion really proved that to me. Also, I am on social media all the time – Facebook, Pinterest, anything I learn about, constant website updates – and lots of research. Finding out who I can network with and sending out literally hundreds of emails. Time-consuming, but many times, very worth it – you never know!
What is the #1 lesson you learned since starting Gutless & Grateful?
Never say never. And leadership/mental health programs can be entertaining as well as effective!
If you have “failures” or “setbacks,” keep going anyway!
The fact that I had just been discharged from the hospital and had no idea what I was doing. Furthermore, everyone was telling me I should just stay in bed and “get healthy.” It’s natural when someone tells you you can’t do something to think about it a bit. And many times I believed them. I went to auditions with bags attached to me. I attended hot yoga daily while connected to an IV pump. I have gotten many funny looks over the years and some awkward situations made me feel very embarrassed and upset. It’s never easy to ignore what other people think of a career move or a comment that might touch on insecurity. So it made me think about what they said, occasionally pity myself for a bit. In the process of putting together Gutless & Grateful, it was easy to compare me to former colleagues that were doing theatre, but “bigger” and “better” than I was – on Broadway, on tours, seemingly “breezing through” their career. But I think the most important (and difficult) thing for me was patience. Telling myself that I will get there – this is my own unique path, and as long as I am still doing what I love, in whatever shape or form, I am staying authentic to my own path.
I nicknamed one of my favorite doctors Dr. Doom because he never had one positive thing to say until I was discharged. I was read my last rights, I was told I would never eat or drink again. I will never forget an innocent occupational therapist that told me to never give up because one day I might even be able to walk on my own without a wheelchair – there was no way I would settle for walking as my greatest strength! And even as I became healthier, it was hard for others to not see me as “sick” even though my determination and passion could conquer an entire army. If I did listen to one person that told me “not yet”, “too soon”, or “when you get healthier” – I would have never put up my art shows, taught yoga, and I definitely would not have performed Gutless & Grateful internationally. Beating the odds and defying expectations is one thing, but I believe for the psyche it is detrimental to ever let yourself believe you can’t do something, even when the odds are against you. It’s that spark of “well, maybe there’s a tiny chance” that lights a little fire in your soul, it’s that something that keeps you going, that wakes you up in the morning, that put the little smirk on your face that warms whatever you do with heart and an unbeatable spirit.
It is detrimental to ever let yourself believe you can’t do something, even when the odds are against you.Click to tweet
If you won $50,000, how would you invest it in your business?
I’m being serious: to charity. I just gave to a sexual assault organization I support. Giving back is key. Sharing our story builds empathy – my biggest goal is not to inspire people, but to empower people – these are the causes I support – amyoes.com/causes
Giving back is about showing gratitude.
We live in a traumatized society. People are looking for ways to make sense of hardships in their lives. What do you do when life pulls the rug out from under you and you are forced to grapple with uncertainty and figure out who you are after the world you thought you knew disappears completely? If we know where to find ourselves, we’re empowered with the confidence to move forward and make decisions. And where do you find yourself? In knowing what you’re about. Gratitude tells us what’s important to us. Gratitude showed me who I was after my life was forever changed.
I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world. But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell.
And I believe in karma. Help your community in the fullest sense and it will come back to you.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Start from anywhere. Seriously – just WRITE! Don’t edit as you write. Do that after!
Don’t compare yourself and work with what you have. But don’t accept what you start with. Visualize what you’d like to be and manifest it – will it. The most important thing is to really tune into your passion and work from there – wherever it may lead you – no matter how crazy. If it is authentic, it’s real. And with a bit of dedication, it will happen.
What can we expect from Gutless & Grateful in the next year?
- My upcoming book
- My private coaching (creativity, consulting, speaking, resilience)
- My art is for sale
- I’m currently booking my show
In terms of upcoming – I’ve just put a fun reel together of everywhere I’ve toured with my speaking and performance you can see here. I never expected that a little show that premiered in an NYC theatre in 2012 would take me across the country to colleges, headlining conferences, even a TEDx talk!
Next year, I’m planning on more of the same. I also have my book coming out, My Beautiful Detour. I’m set to present at a few conferences and do my show at some more colleges. I hope to keep creating my art and hopefully be selling more of my prints as inspirational cards and prints and such. And most importantly, I just graduated from Hampshire College. Besides Gutless & Grateful, I’m also continuing to workshop my full-length, semi-autobiographical play, Imprints, which will go into full development this summer. And a lot of corporate consulting this year!
To learn more about Gutless & Grateful, and more about Amy, please visit amyoes.com.
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