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Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Broadway Actor Justin Schuman Is Helping To…

Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Broadway Actor Justin Schuman Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

I believe that ‘human’ is not just a noun, but is also a verb. And if it’s a verb, then it’s something we can continue to hone and learn to do better. The way any one individual humans best can only be defined by them, but I do think the commonalities involve authenticity, deservingness, ease, and happiness. And if I can, in any way, be a part of the change that I feel coming then I have to show up.

As a part of our series about leaders who are using their social media platform to make a significant social impact, we had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Schuman.

Justin is a Broadway actor (Tina: the Tina Turner Musical), owner of his own headshot photography studio (Jshoots), a content creator across multiple platforms, and a Human Creative Director, helping people human better every day. A TED speaker, with a following of over 200k across multiple platforms, he empowers people to break out of their boxes and practice authenticity in a conscious and purposeful way. Graduate of Northwestern University, based in NYC, you can find him on all platforms @JustinSchumanOfficial

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The pieces of this puzzle only recently became clear to me. I’m a Broadway actor who is also an entrepreneur…and while those paths might seem unrelated, in reality, all actors are basically their own CEOs. From the time you get into this business, it’s clear that no one is going to carve out a space for you but YOU. So, you need to be smart, diligent, stubborn, and patient…it’s hard work and timing.

Part of my journey included starting my headshot photography business in 2015. I knew I had a passion for photography, and I also knew I wanted to live a lifestyle that I couldn’t afford unless I made money doing something aside from performing while pursuing this dream. My photo company, at least for the moment, is called Jshoots…not Justin Schuman photography. That’s an essential part of this story.

My coaching/consulting business, originally called just human well, was born out of the pandemic. I hoped that I could help people with my listening skills and ability to create compassionate spaces. I was again, hiding behind a brand name.

While both ventures were successful, I was hitting this ceiling. I felt like I wasn’t connecting with the right audiences, and my dream clients didn’t know I existed. So, after being on TikTok for a month or two, I ditched the idea of hiding behind names that weren’t my own and claimed my name, Justin Schuman, loudly and proudly.

And just recently, it all clicked. I am here to help people lean into the very deservingness I wasn’t willing to explore myself. I show up these days as a version of myself that I needed six or so years ago. And when I stopped hiding and embraced the idea that I matter and my voice is worth being heard, not only did my social media presence grow in a very big way, but my audience and clients started finding me.

I work primarily with content creators, CEOs, startup founders, and business owners who are not only hungry for an authentic social media presence but feel stuck in the process of zooming in on exactly the story they want to tell.

I do not champion the idea of niching down, though I know many who swear by it. Instead, I ask people to be willing to explore the idea that what they have to say and share is and will be inherently specific because THEY are intrinsically specific. So, I post under the large umbrella of Justin Schuman, where I discuss everything from entrepreneurship, Broadway, practicing authenticity, and monetizing a passion to 6-figures.

I’m finally taking up space in a way I’d never dreamed of when I started my photography business, and I help others be themselves loudly in their lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

I got to give a TED talk! At the time of this interview, I am a week out from giving it but I believe by the time of publishing it will have already happened. I am beside myself with excitement and cannot wait to share what I have to say with everyone.

I will say that the talk is largely inspired by what I’ve learned by being a content creator on social media. I believe that social media might be a perfect tool for exploring our authenticity and prompt self-discovery in a very real and meaningful way. And while the talk didn’t COME from having a social media presence it did come from me having the confidence to show up as an incredibly honest and revealed version of myself while applying. And that version of self is absolutely born out of the space I’ve learned to take up by showing up on social.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t always put “funny” and “mistake” in the same sentence but let me think for a second! I don’t think this is particularly funny but it was definitely the most telling mistake I made (and I made it several times.) When you’re starting a new venture it’s very easy to want to look everywhere for information, validation, and help. Oftentimes you’ll turn to “experts” or people you’ve looked up to and they’ll come to you with very specific and pointed advice. Well, I made the mistake of perhaps asking too many people, too many times for their thoughts. This inevitably steered me away from following many of my own impulses, especially in the beginning of this journey. I don’t mind laughing at some of these instances now because they all ultimately became learning opportunities but I can say with 100% surety I am far happier with the decisions I’ve made based on my gut instinct rather than what people told me I should do.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

I think if you feel the prospect of failure to be daunting I would ask you…”When did you decide you were going to fail?”

I think that if you give too much weight to the possibility that whatever venture you’re pursuing could be a failure then at least a small part of you believes that failure is possible.

I have decided that failure is simply not an option. Does that mean everything always goes perfectly? 1000% no. But, I use every single opportunity when things go in a way I didn’t expect to learn, and shift, and grow. And in that way, nothing is ever a failure so much as an opportunity to pivot and move forward with new knowledge.

So my words of advice would include redefining what “failure” means, and looking at it as a continued opportunity for growth and not a daunting negative that would prevent you from starting something you believe in and enjoy.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

Happily! My social media presence is dedicated to helping people human better.

I believe that ‘human’ is not just a noun, but is also a verb. And if it’s a verb, then it’s something we can continue to hone and learn to do better.

The way any one individual humans best can only be defined by them, but I do think the commonalities involve authenticity, deservingness, ease, and happiness. And if I can, in any way, be a part of the change that I feel coming then I have to show up.

The change I feel approaching is one where we celebrate authenticity, honesty, and muchness above all else. We’ve been through too much in the last several years and the collective exhaustion we’re all experiencing is at an all-time high. I don’t think anyone has the energy these days to put up a false front or waste time on performing a version of themselves that is built on fear of what others may think and people-pleasing.

I believe we are all entitled to a place where we can practice how we human and experiment with different versions of ourselves so we can show up in a conscious and chosen way. One tool for doing this is social media. So on my platform, I talk a lot about how using social media can not only help answer the question “Who am I?” but also helps people focus on “How DO I?”, which allows them to step into the practice of being their authentic selves in a much more active way.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

I am adamant about maintaining the privacy of my clients, so without giving away too many details, I can share that on more than one occasion I have worked 1:1 with some content creators that most readers would recognize. Often, the reason they come to me is they’ve been showing up for so long — with the pressure of such large followings — they feel they’re now playing a version of themselves that doesn’t feel authentic. Frequently, this comes out of having some initial success with a certain type of content piece only to feel the pressure of recreating it, or having niched down early in their social media life only to feel pigeon-holed and burnt out by it all.

My 1:1 sessions are one hour long and they really end up being a mix of personal branding, authenticity content strategy, storytelling, and therapy. The work is really deep because the things keeping these creators hidden are often versions of self they’ve been performing for such a long time that they’ve become habit, so it’s important to really explore, identify goals, and see what’s keeping them from achieving all that they want.

This process, by the way, looks very similar for my CEO clients. It’s anyone in a position of high-visibility that feels like they’ve lost themselves after having eyes on them for so long.

Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?

As a Broadway actor, I’m able to inhabit roles written and created by others. As a photographer, my job is to capture the best authentic version of others. As a coach, I have the ability to help people see the roles they have created for the outside world and work toward crafting the personal satisfaction they are craving and deserve It’s hard to BE yourself and SEE yourself at the same time. I’m there to SEE you so you can focus on BEING you.

I can’t isolate one particular story that demonstrates this because it was made clear to me so many times. I can’t tell you how many headshot sessions turned into partial branding/career/therapy sessions. I believe strongly in my ability to know a person very deeply and very quickly. Because of this, I am able to show up for people and make them feel at ease, allowing them a space to land thoughts they haven’t previously verbalized or allow ideas to come to them that had been muddy until then.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Oh wow! Absolutely.

1. Cut your box open ASAP — this has to do with the idea that so many people are walking around hiding things in their box that other people have made them feel shame about. This manifests in people living small versions of themselves built to please others based on the fear of their real selves being seen. If we all continue to walk around in boxes we’ll never really SEE each other and we’ll also continue starving for meaningful connection.

2. Mental health/wellness/mindset education in schools — this one feels aggressively obvious to me. So much so that I cannot believe it hasn’t already happened. If emotional wellness and mindset management were implemented into school curricula I feel like kids would grow up with so many techniques the previous generations don’t/didn’t have.

3. Normalize individuality and authenticity. Celebrate uniqueness. Everybody has characteristics that set them apart, and we can appreciate and applaud those instead of deriding them and encouraging conformity. I’ll show you my weird if you show me yours — and we’ll all be a whole lot happier being ourselves and knowing we have the space and comfort to exist that way rather than hiding our gifts.

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

I work very hard to nurture a real bond between myself and my community, based on them seeing me and me seeing and reacting to them. While vitality on social might feel good, and it might get many eyes on your content/message quickly, it can be fleeting if an authentic foundation isn’t present.

Great change can take time, and I am playing the long game. If I plan to make any real and lasting change, this cannot be (nor has it ever been) just about views and dollars.

People need to hear things several times before it even starts to resonate or sink in. So, don’t feel like you’re being repetitive and don’t feel like your audience is going to get bored. With algorithms and how fast platforms move these days, there’s a chance that some of your content won’t even be seen by many of your followers. Take your time. Craft your message. Let your message evolve. Lean on your community and let them lean on you. Form a real relationship with the people who respond to you and what you say and you’ll have the most valuable resource there is: genuine connection and true influence.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. You don’t have to niche down — this is a lesson where social media is concerned but the message behind it is also applicable on a much larger scale. When you jump on social media and begin to create content very quickly you’re going to be met with noise/feedback from certain accounts claiming that the only way to grow on social is to pick one thing incredibly specific to post about, identify your ideal target audience, and create only for them. Not only is this a surefire way to guarantee burnout, but it also effectively eliminates any chance of your audience actually getting to know you. You are too vast, too complex to be boxed in like that. Why create from the outside-in and reduce yourself to a label?

2. It’s never too early to invest in yourself — you will never regret the money, time, and energy spent investing in yourself. An investment in yourself is a downpayment on every single dream you hope to make come true. That expert you want to work with who can help you accomplish your goals faster? The piece of equipment you need that will make your home business 10x more efficient? The new suit you’re going to buy for the job interview? All worthwhile investments in self that will bring you more returns than you even know. You are your single best investment.

3. When you love what you do for work it’s very easy to lose your balance — Of course, it’s a goal that you love what you do to make money. But if you’re lucky enough to monetize a passion or be in a job that you genuinely love,it can sometimes be hard to remember that there is life outside of work. I find this is something that I still struggle with. I’m not very good at taking time off from work, and not only because I enjoy productivity. But because I enjoy everything that I do so much, I don’t often feel like I should need a break because it doesn’t usually feel like work. Don’t neglect the other parts of your life. They’ll inform both your work and your personal satisfaction outside of work, making your world that much richer and more interesting.

4. Imposter syndrome isn’t real — what I mean by this is that, with love and respect, we are ALL faking it. You just learn to fake it better and better until your faking has become doing. When you feel like an imposter it is something only you are seeing. The only way people around you will ever think you don’t belong is if you telecast to them that YOU don’t believe it first.

5. Everything didn’t make sense at one point — before I started my social media journey and sharing the idea of human as a verb I was told by so many people that while the idea was ‘cute’ and ‘interesting’ it was too difficult to understand. You can’t build a brand or a business on a concept that isn’t easily understood, apparently. Well, I’m going to disagree with that as I’m quickly turning my business into a 6-figure venture, and the social account nears 200k followers. Everything, at one point, didn’t make sense until someone was passionate (and stubborn) enough to shout it loudly and explain it patiently until it became clear.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe the idea that ‘human’ is a verb has the potential to change the world. If we consider how we human to be something worth leaning into and practicing, and then take it a step further by creating SAFE spaces for people to feel like they can do this exploration, we will be promoting self-discovery and expansion in a very real way.

I am suggesting social media as one viable option for this self-discovery and exploring, but imagine if there were actual places you could go to meet others who are possibly on a journey just like you. You could share experiences, make adult friends, work through things in community, and feel SEEN. So many people don’t even believe they are worthy of doing this work because they think they don’t deserve to take up space. The antidote to that is giving them the experience of really being seen for who they are. That’s a scary ask so there needs to be trust, integrity, and safety built into these spaces. But giving people a place where they can practice how they human could change the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve always enjoyed the phrase that “anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” I think it’s important that we follow our impulses, whether it be that little tiny whisper telling you to do something or a download you get from the universe. You can take the quote at face value or you can read into it more deeply to mean that the things you think you should do/go for you should with 1000% of the full force of your being. I believe if you’re going to commit and say yes to something then you should be willing to dive headfirst into it. I suppose it brings up another life lesson quote that lives in a very similar land — “If it’s not a f — k yes, It’s a f — k no.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I am a big fan of Bethany Frankel. We’re both New Yorkers and absolutely cut from the same cloth. I find her honesty and humor incredibly refreshing. And paired with her business acumen and philanthropy (as well as being an awesome mom) she’s an amazing role model. She also did an article recently on how her ‘overnight success’ was years in the making and I fell in love all over again.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way to follow me online is on TikTok and Instagram! My handle on both is @JustinSchumanOfficial

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.

In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.

Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.

With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.

At Sycamore Entertainment he specializes in print and advertising financing, marketing, acquisition and worldwide distribution of quality feature-length motion pictures, and is concerned with acquiring, producing and promoting films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subject matter which will also include nonviolent storytelling.

Sylvan has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and has been seen on Fox Business News, CBS and NBC. Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc is headquartered in Seattle, with offices in Los Angeles and Vancouver.


Social Media Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Broadway Actor Justin Schuman Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.