Working out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, James Peterson is a professional consultant, writer, and editor. He specializes his consulting and editorial services around equity, inclusion, and diversity to a wide range of clients. Peterson earned his English PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied and found a passion for black popular culture. Last year, James Peterson was enrolled as a columnist for the Philadelphia Citizen, where he wrote the compelling series, “The Color of Coronavirus”, which focuses on racial disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What do you love most about the industry you are in?
I hate the writing process. It’s like bleeding to me. It’s hard. It’s difficult. It’s grueling. I’m my own worst critic. But I love to see and read the finished product. It’s like magic.
What keeps you motivated?
My family keeps me motivated. I come from a large family, and I have two extraordinary children who are both artists. One of them is a writer; the other is a visual artist. My wife is a professor. They all keep me super-motivated in the work that I have to do.
How do you motivate others?
I’m enthusiastic about the work that I do. I generally believe that enthusiasm is contagious, and that helps me motivate other people.
How has your company grown from its early days to now?
There are a couple of pieces here to consider. One, I had to realize that writing and editing is a service that’s in demand whether it’s for your own project or for other folks’ projects. Learning about ghostwriting and wordsmithing is what helped me grow my business. On the other hand, the reason why consulting services in the diversity, equity and inclusion space for organizations is on the rise again is because of the different challenges around racial equity, police brutality, and racial discrimination that we’ve been experiencing over the last several years in this country. Last year in particular, it reached a fever pitch and it created more demand for my services.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
I’ve had a lot of great role models, but my parents are my best. My mom is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known in my whole life, and my dad, as well. At different points when I was growing up, my mom would somehow work two to three full time jobs at the same time. I think that work ethic has probably rubbed off on me as an adult.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
I’m not so good at that. I have a lot of work to do in that area. What’s great about the pandemic for me is that I’ve been working from home a lot and it makes it easier to work towards a good work/life balance. I have to work harder to dedicate time when I’m not working. It’s so easy to sit in the family room with my laptop and be working on something while we’re watching TV. It’s so easy to be checking my phone when we’re having a conversation. I have to be very deliberate about not doing that. It’s an important goal because finding that work/balance really helps to make the work more sustainable.
What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?
One, I’m an effective communicator, whether it’s verbally or in writing. Even more important is that I believe that leadership is really about servant leadership. If you’re a lead on a project, or you’re in a leadership role, your first challenge is to figure out the best ways to serve the people that you’re working with.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
I’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles in life, some professional and some personal. It’s hard to pinpoint just one. I would say that what’s happening right now is there’s so much mortality all around, not just from the pandemic in general, but also because of my age. I’m 49 now and friends are getting older and passing on. Learning how to grieve in a healthy manner has really been on my mind this year. Learning how to process getting older and what that means, not only about my own mortality but the mortality of the people around me, has been my toughest obstacle of late.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
I’m from New Jersey, and I went to Duke University for my undergrad. I was putting myself through school and working really hard to make it, but there were often different crises that would come up at home. Duke is in Durham, NC, and home was a long way away in New Jersey, and sometimes when there were these crises I would want to go home. One of my mentors, an extraordinary man by the name of Charles Harris, said to me, “Listen, son. You can run home every time you think there’s an emergency, or you can’t stay focused on your work here and position yourself to really be able to help your family.” I can remember being really angry when I first heard that, but that has stuck with me because it’s about being focused on preparing yourself to provide and to be supportive in a way that’s sustainable. It wasn’t sustainable for me to run up and down the road as a 19-year-old young adult. But by focusing on my career and graduating and all the things I have had to do to become successful, I’ve been a better resource for my family since then.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment is raising two beautiful children.
Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
Family. Family. Family. Spending time with them. Loving them. Traveling with them. That’s what defines me more than work itself.
Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?
In five years, I’d like to be in a position where I can work less and spend more time with my family. We were empty nesters at the beginning of the pandemic. We’re not now, but in five years, we’ll be empty nesters again, and I think I’m going to want to travel to visit my children and siblings, and be in a position economically where I can work a little bit less and spend a little bit more time with family.