You often will not get the credit you deserve for your hard work on a project and you cannot let it hang you up. There are shows I have worked on where all I have received is criticism every step of the way for my choices. It is much easier for people to point out what they believe you are doing wrong instead of complimenting what you have done right. As long as you know it in your heart, that is all that matters. Just do the job the best you can and do not let anyone’s criticism or lack of support stop you from doing the best you can.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon Evangelista.
Since starting Hot Snakes Media in 2011, husband and wife team Eric and Shannon Evangelista have sold over 100 million dollars worth of content including nine seasons of TLC’s hit franchise “Breaking Amish.” Every show coming out of Hot Snakes Media is created and developed internally. The couple has produced the two highest ever first season series in the history of both Discovery Channel and TLC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Los Angeles and raised in both California and South Dakota where my family was from. My father was a jazz musician and arranger and later opened an advertising company, along with my mother.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog”, by Mark Twain. There were a lot of really uncomfortable times for me when I was a defense attorney and prosecutor when I had to remind myself not to get intimidated.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Perseverance — My favorite movie is Rudy. In school and life, I do not have my son’s natural sports aptitude or my daughter’s natural aptitude for school work. But, I have a perseverance that makes me never give up until I accomplish what I set my mind to. And most of the time, that means putting in a lot more work than others have to, to get to the same place.
Acceptance — I had situations (two) in criminal defense where clients I very deeply grew to care for were sentenced to significant jail time. This was after our team had done everything we could at trial. And similarly, there have been great disappointments in the entertainment field as well. But I’ve learned to not worry about the things outside of my control. You have to accept that if you cannot change the outcome you cannot let it drag you down. You have to let go.
Loyalty — As an owner of a Production company, having integrity in your dealings with other people is everything. This is something I carried over from my career in law. My husband and I cultivated very strong relationships with the people that worked for us who are now buyers at networks. Recently, we had a moment at Hot Snakes Media where networks hired three of the people that were working for us all at once. And honestly, we were so happy for them, because, as the people you work with and care about go up in the ranks at networks, they remember you, and those relationships remain huge.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
My mother said to me that it’s like being a trapeze artist; when you let go of one thing and get to the next you have to be willing to float with no security for a bit before you get to the next level in your life. I quit working at the Manhattan DA’s office and did not have another job lined up yet. I had an uncertain future that I knew did not involve being an attorney anymore. I did contract attorney work to pay the bills. Friends in the legal field gossiped about it, and at first, my father was disappointed in me. But, I knew I had to do this for my fulfillment. It was scary and difficult. My husband opened a production company and asked me if I wanted to do it with him and I never looked back. We put our entire savings into our first two shows and they both received blockbuster ratings.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
Life has a way of telling us that we need to move on from a dead-end. I had the day off from the DA’s office to get a root canal and I remember being so excited to be out of work for the day. Then it occurred to me that I would rather get a root canal than be at work. It all culminated in a deep realization for me that I had to change.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skill set inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
Being a trial attorney and being a television producer and writer is literally the same skill set! With both you learn to interview people, only as a producer, I got to ask leading questions! You craft a story for an audience (jury) versus a television viewer. And in both positions, you are getting at the truth by investigating.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
I have had a lot more success as a television producer than as an attorney. Hot Snakes recently partnered with Nyle Dimarco and Netflix to create a series called “Deaf U” It won a Critics Choice Award and was nominated for a GLAAD Award and we hope many more. We also continue to have lots of success with our shows on discovery+ like “Pig Royalty” and “Return to Amish.”
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person I am most grateful for helping me get to where I am is my husband, Eric Evangelista. I came home after the DA’s office one night and I just knew I had had enough andI had no plans for what I would do instead. Eric supported my decision to quit my job and he paved the way for me to do what I love, to be a television producer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I have been working on a true-crime documentary for over six years, and in the course of this, I have been working with Ken Maxwell, a retired FBI Bureau Chief for the Anti-Terrorism Task Force. This show allows me to use all of the skills that I loved as a prosecutor with a person who is so much more skilled and capable as a mentor, that it satiated a craving I had for the parts of my old career that I loved. While working on this documentary, we ended up eliciting a confession regarding the murder of a cold case homicide from the 1970s. This was an accomplishment that is much greater than anything I ever did in my law career.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Yes. I think we all do, all the time. I still grapple with it. But, I am a firm believer that if you try your absolute hardest at whatever you do then the outcome is justified. We can control how hard we work at something but we cannot control the outcome. So just committing to putting in the work is all you need to do, to really believe in yourself. The outcome of your hard work is up to a lot of things you cannot control. This has been my approach.
In my own work, I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
My change came very suddenly. I tried for years to make my old career path work for me and after the work that went into becoming an attorney and the 120k dollars in loans I had to pay off, it was a bitter pill to swallow. My mother told me that I was not meant to suffer and I needed to just quit my career. I was worried my dad would be disappointed in me and she reminded me that he had never worked a job he did not like. She told me funny stories about all the ways my dad quit jobs when he was younger because he felt he was not being treated right or he could do better. This conversation ultimately was a springboard for me to quit law and figure out what was next.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
On my first show as an Executive Producer I was directing a crew and I did not know really how to do that. But it worked out and along with the team we created a show that garnered 4 million viewers and broke a 40- year ratings record for the Discovery Channel.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Have an outlet: Everyone needs a place to go to clear your head and feel the positivity of life. Work will beat you down without something to lift you up. Every day three Herring Gulls land on my porch and I feed them. They all have names and I miss them when I travel. They ground me. It makes it easier to go back in and deal with work.
2. You often will not get the credit you deserve for your hard work on a project and you cannot let it hang you up. There are shows I have worked on where all I have received is criticism every step of the way for my choices. It is much easier for people to point out what they believe you are doing wrong instead of complimenting what you have done right. As long as you know it in your heart, that is all that matters. Just do the job the best you can and do not let anyone’s criticism or lack of support stop you from doing the best you can.
3. Surround yourself with people who understand and share your vision. We find ourselves using the same strong groups of people on our shows because there is a deep level of creative understanding. The hardest thing in this business is when a network has you bring a showrunner on board who just doesn’t understand the creative approach we have and instead tries to make us fit into a generic mold that they are comfortable with. This never works. The people you choose on your projects must get you creatively, or it will end badly.
4. Exercise or Walk every day. Work is stressful and in my job when I am working in post-production there are days where I am sitting in front of a computer for 11 hours a day. I really do not feel like exercising. The Hot Snakes Team all got Apple watches and now we are monitoring each other’s activities and walks. Having your coworker cheer you on for your steps is a great way to just do the one thing you need most but never feel like doing, during a work crunch — exercise.
5. Hire great people and let them go. My husband and co-worker Eric always says this and this is true. He is a huge proponent of not micromanaging people. He always says “hire great people and just let them go do their thing.” People need the freedom to create and put their own stamp on things. Hire the best people and let them do that. You have to trust people to deliver.
You are a person of great 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?
Everyone is a person of great influence in my mind. We can all influence the world and our surroundings in a positive way. I am a big proponent of self-care, especially, for women. It is very hard to raise children and run a company without caving to the societal messages we receive, that we are simply not good enough. My movement would be for women in business to carve out a big chunk of every day that is dedicated to them. Yoga, meditation, hobbies, exercise, massage, a hike, or anything that makes a person feel replenished and positive. We are getting lost in the shuffle now more than ever because of all we were expected to do during Covid. There is so much guilt being thrown at us by impossible standards we are supposed to meet that men never have to worry about. It is time that women in the workplace carve out their own time to feel good.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
My husband, because we’re too busy to see each other lately without kids and work and he is who I love most in the world.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We have several shows across all platforms. You can follow our work on discovery +, VH1, Netflix. Our website lists our various current shows: www.hotsnakesmedia.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health.