J.L. Kirkwood is a bestselling author, award-winning poet, and certified relationship/career coach.
With almost two decades of experience and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy/counseling, he provides tips and tricks as well as best practices to help people discover their true passion and thrive in their personal and professional relationships.
Kirkwood has been seen and heard on many national radio and television networks including BET, HGTV, TLC, 107.5-WGCI, and more. He is the first male writer for Yandy Smith’s (VH1’s Love & Hip Hop) popular digital magazine, Everything Girls Love, adding a male spin to the dialog. He is also the author of Memoirs of a French Kiss and the recently released Love Is a Business.
N’DIGO caught up with Kirkwood to discuss his start in writing, the similarities of pursuing a career and pursuing a relationship, and how notorious mob boss John Gotti came to be one of his biggest fans.
N’DIGO: In your own words tell us, who is J.L. Kirkwood?
J.L. Kirkwood: I’m an authentic, self-expressing creature! I like to view myself as a visionary who sees the world through a colorful prism and who lives without boundaries!
I’m just a kid from Chicago who grew up playing sports and became known for my skills on the basketball court. I’m in love with love, I am infatuated with happiness and want to see other people connected and living their best life. I am an artist, one who separates art and the voice in the same genre.
I remember a time when my friend – radio legend and personality from Chicago’s V103’s Quiet Storm, Chris Michaels – asked me to deliver some additional spoken word for his segment. He said, “I need some more material from you” and at the time I was working on my spoken-word book, Memoirs of a French Kiss.
I told Chris, “I need to write some material for you.” He said, “What do you mean, you have thousands of pieces, hundreds of which you’re putting in the book?” I said to him, “I know, but that’s what I consider written-word because I’m an author first.” So I had to write for radio.
Painting a picture in a book is totally different than how you deliver it via radio, or even as a performer. He appreciated me later for that philosophy, and my fans appreciated the performances as a result of that mentality.
As a kid, what did you imagine you’d be when you grew up?
As a kid I was pretty experimental. I enjoyed working with my hands to build furniture and install plumbing. My favorite television show was MacGyver. He would get locked into a cave or something and would think outside the box to escape.
He could find a sunflower seed, a safety pin and some charcoal from an old barbecue grill and make an explosive! So today, my philosophy is, where there’s a will, there’s a way; you’ve just got to be willing to figure it out.
All of my friends and family members thought I would grow up to become a basketball player, but after I broke my left ankle, my right wrist and dislocated my knee all in three years, it took a toll on my body and basketball career.
However, at a young age, I always knew I would be doing something with my voice. Teachers and professors were always drawn to my presence. I was always the lead in plays and school performances. I didn’t know I would grow up to be such a powerful voice, but I was definitely led down that road at an early age.
When did you discover your knack for writing?
I discovered my love and passion for writing in the fifth grade. I went to Academy of St. Benedict the African and my teacher, Mrs. Maddox, had us write something creative for story day. I wrote this poem called Elm Street, and it was about Jason, Chucky and Freddie all linking up to terrorize the streets of Chicago.
I actually can still recite half of it. After I performed, I remember everyone in the class thinking I was famous after that. It was the most amazing feeling in the world and my teachers told my mom that they had never seen anything like that before. At the time, I didn’t know what the big deal was, I just knew it was cool.
What was it like to discover as a college student that reputed mobster John Gotti was a fan of your weekly column in The Daily Egyptian?
There was a lot going on during the time I was writing for The Daily Egyptian. I had one of the biggest columns ever, and it was for poetry. One day I decided to go to the local Kinko’s and get them all bound to sell them on campus.
I put out this small announcement, not thinking much of it, and I literally sold out of 200 books in 30 minutes. One guy emailed me and said he missed me, but wanted to get a few copies. He was very persistent so I went and got several more made that same day and met up with him.
Once I met him, he told me that he was an inmate counselor at the Marion Correctional Facility. He mentioned that one of my biggest fans was John Gotti. This guy used to drive to Carbondale, where I was going to school, and grab 15 papers each Thursday that my column ran.
He mentioned they used to have a poetry den and they used my material to break down and discuss. I had one poem called Inmate that was a huge hit with them! I was honored and I am glad that I was able to have a positive impact on not only John Gotti, but the other inmates as well.
What was your inspiration for your new book, Love Is a Business, and what can readers expect when they pick it up?
I think we’re moving into a time where economic stability and two-income households are the norms. I didn’t write a book; I wrote a philosophy that so happens to be in literary format.
I believe that, like in our careers, we manage relationships. Great leaders develop their talent and in our relationships, we’re charged with doing the same. We’re here to nurture each other and motivate each other to be our best selves.
I’d say that 75 percent of people do not leave their job because they hate their job; they leave because they’re not satisfied with their management or the direction of the company. Now let’s take a peek at relationships. Do you see the similarity? People leave the relationship because of the person they’re with, not because they hate relationships in general.
In life, I saw those similarities. I talk about how to de-escalate situations, power tripping, micromanaging and customer service in our relationships. It’s fascinating how it’s changed so many people’s mindsets. I’m excited when I hear people come up with their own phrases after inheriting the book’s thought process.
Was making the connection between the similarities of pursuing a career and pursuing love an easy one for you to make?
Since I am both a marriage/couple’s counselor and senior career coach, I made this correlation almost immediately. At one point I was doing both at the same time on the same day. I would finish counseling someone on his or her relationship, then leave and coach someone about his or her career.
There were many times where my advice would overlap, and be relevant to both sets of clients. I would find myself talking to someone about their relationship and saying things like, “How do you feel when your manager micromanages you at work?
“The same way you feel that overbearing control and lack of confidence to do your job is the same way your partner feels when you’re double- and triple-checking their phone to see if they’re where they said they would be.” I would use a ton of correlations and after I saw their eyes light up, I realized that my process had woven together. That was the birth of Love is a Business.
In your opinion, what are three of the biggest things people typically do to get in their own way, career and love wise?
Not knowing where they’re going. A quote I often reference in my book goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, then any direction will get you there.” Basically, I’ll take slow steps in the right direction than fast steps in the wrong direction any day.
Figure out where you’re going in your career or at least get a general idea, then head that way. In relationships, figure out what it is that you need from a mate, then look for that in the person. If you don’t know what you want, write down a list of all the things you don’t want, and try to avoid that. You have to train your mind and eyes to see or blur out certain things, otherwise, you’ll find yourself repeating toxic habits that have led you down the wrong path.
Another trap is following other people’s vision and not your own. Discernment is key. Too many of us are getting life directions from people who have never gone where we’re going. They put their insecurities on you, which is there to hold you back and put doubt in your decisions.
We have to learn to trust our gut and instincts and seek out people we can shadow at both our job and in relationships who will lead us in the right direction because they’ve been there, and had success there.
Lack of patience! We live in a society where we expect instant gratification. I admit I have to check myself sometimes as well. I remember having dial-up internet with AOL and now I can get frustrated when a web page takes longer than 2 seconds to load.
Try not to let that thought process spill over into your relationship or career. Not every job is going to call you back the same day you apply and not every person you talk to is going to give you that instant spark that you feel you should have to see them as bae material.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
People are always surprised to know that I love to cook and that the secret ingredient in my world-famous chili is Cayenne pepper! My entire family began using this ingredient because of me. It provides a consistent flavor, it’s delightfully spicy, and it releases endorphins, which is the “happy” chemical in our body. When you eat it, you almost immediately feel better physically.
People are surprised to learn that I used to be a part of a very talented music group called “Deep Impact” and blew a huge opportunity with Kanye West in 2003 before he released his classic first album College Dropout in 2004. Up until about 2010, it was actually hard for me to listen to his music without getting angry at myself.
And lastly, I went to college with the comedian who brought down Bill Cosby’s career, Hannibal Burress. I actually never got the chance to apologize to him for being somewhat of a jerk when he tried to join my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha!
I was new to the frat and was giving him a hard time when he didn’t get selected. Before I left college I said to a good friend of mine that I wanted to apologize to a few people before I made my exit, him being one of them, and I never did.
Name one book that changed or really impacted your life.
Callus on My Soul by Dick Gregory changed my life! I was fortunate to talk with Brother Gregory on several occasions. It was because of this book that I learned the importance of health and complete well-being.
He mentioned that he saw something in me and that great people keep great company and are destined to be who they are supposed to be. I will always cherish those words he shared with me and the impact his book has and continues to have on my life.
Best advice to aspiring writers?
Take your ego out of it. As a writer, you have two roles – both the writer and the reader. As a great writer, it’s important to be a fan of yourself as well. If you don’t like it, why should anyone else? And if you do like it, own it, embrace it, and bring it to life. Remember, every writer has been rejected, so don’t focus on the no’s – all you need is one yes!
Favorite quote or affirmation?
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you look at it.” – Maya Angelou.
What’s next for J.L. Kirkwood?
I am working to make Love is a Business into a movie script as we speak. I’ve done a ton of television shows and radio so I think now is my time to bring Love is a Business to the movie or TV screen. Some of my producer friends are really excited about this project so giving it another audience will be monumental.
I use my social media platforms to discuss various relationship topics and plan on expanding to YouTube TV in the near future. I also miss performing spoken word and have made a few appearances that have been amazing, so if I can fit that into my super busy schedule, that would be ideal.
Lastly, traveling! With a 19-month-old son, I want him to experience so much of me and my wife’s world. It’s pretty exciting. Right now we’re always on the go, but now that he’s older, he should be able to enjoy some things a lot more than when he was an infant.
(For more information on J.L. Kirkwood, visit www.jlkirkwood.com)