In the latest installment of Cocktails & Conversations, our in-house mixologist Jonathan Maye-Cates speaks with local businesswoman and author Jamie Dahl about her faith, family, and much more. Check out their conversation below.
JMC: Jamie, on your Facebook profile you self describe as: Wife, mom, cancer survivor author and lover of God. I met you while bartending and you were a customer. Our real connection began, after months of not seeing you, when you openly shared your cancer diagnosis with me. We shed a few tears together. Where does the authenticity come from and why were you able to connect with me in such personal terms?
JD: Yes, those words definitely describe me in a nutshell! You and I have known each other for quite some time now. I have to say that your welcoming smile always lights up the room whenever I come into your establishment! I vividly remember that day when I first saw you after being diagnosed with breast cancer. A few months prior, I received a call from my doctor after a routine check of a lump found on a self-exam, that completely rocked my world. Never in a million years did I think I would hear a medical professional say, “You have cancer.” But in a split second, this was my reality.
What followed was a double mastectomy and four rounds of very difficult chemotherapy. I lost all of my hair and my ability to take care of my family like I had prior to that time. When I saw you that day, I had mustered up enough strength to get dressed, put a little makeup on, and tie a turban around my bald head so I could meet a friend for lunch. We connected immediately when I walked in the door and you graciously asked how I was doing. Cue the waterworks on my part. You graciously listened as I shared more details about my health.
I believe my desire to be authentic and vulnerable with my story comes from a place of seeing the importance of letting people know they aren’t alone. When I was first diagnosed, I felt like I was the only person in the world that could possibly understand what I was going through. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, and thankfully I found other breast cancer survivors who were willing to share their struggles with me.
Trials and pain can make people feel isolated. Too many times, people are unwilling to share their pain or failures because of pride, or the fear of showing the world that their life isn’t perfect and they might actually have some cracks. I believe when we allow ourselves to be real, raw, and relevant and come out from behind the perfect Instagram filters, we are able to truly impact people and meet them where they are. This is where true healing begins for so many.
I decided early in my cancer journey that I wanted to be open with my struggle. I knew if other women could see me go through my trial and watch the good, the bad, and the ugly, that it might possibly help someone else. I believe we are stronger when we allow ourselves to walk alongside one another and carry each other’s burdens. But to do that, people need to know that you can relate. It’s what creates really authentic, loving, and healing relationships.
JMC: You and Andrew have been married for 13 years and have two growing children. What was life like for you before your marriage? Was your commitment to God a priority? Was there a path at all you are willing to share?
JD: I would consider my life, before Andrew and I were married, very nomadic. I like to call myself a serial dream follower. Andrew and I didn’t meet until I was 30 years old so I had a lot of time to pursue lifelong dreams that took me all over the country. After completing my Bachelors of Science at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, I found myself soaking in amazing life experiences in places like Nashville, New York City, Los Angeles, and Austin, Texas. I also had the opportunity to work in a variety of professional arenas during that time. I danced professionally in New York City and on a national tour as a backup dancer for a Christian singer playing to full arenas upwards of 65,000 people. I also had the honor of being an elementary school teacher in a low-socioeconomic area of Austin and I worked in the fashion industry in Los Angeles assisting a stylist to the celebrities.
Some may say that those fourteen years were years of aimless wandering and inability to focus on one profession or passion for a lengthy period of time. However, I am now able to look back on those experiences and see how God used them to teach and prepare me for my current, and future, purposes. Which leads me into your next question about whether my commitment to God was a priority during that time of my life. Absolutely! But it has been a journey, and still is.
I began my relationship with God when I was a child, but it didn’t become truly personal and real for me until my later college years. At that time, I recommitted my life to Christ, and immediately my path began to change. You could say I was given a ticket to the wildest and best ride of my life. Where my faith had previously been a “religion”, it was now a relationship. A close and intimate relationship with the Creator of the Universe that touched and transformed my heart replaced the religion of just going to church, following some rules, and thinking that was enough.
My faith became my rock and my foundation that has grown over the past years. It is what guides me every step of my way. It doesn’t mean my life has been easy, but I have seen how God uses difficulties in life for His purposes, and that ALL things work together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
JMC: You also work for Beautycounter, as a Managing Director. The cosmetics company focuses on safety, clean sustainability, advocacy and charitable endeavors. Why is your work so important to you, considering all the hats you wear?
JD: I have worked for Beautycounter for over five years and feel so blessed by how this opportunity has grown me as a person. Beautycounter’s mission is to get safer personal care products into the hands of everyone. They believe that beauty should be good for you, and they are committed to formulating solutions and products, advocating, and educating.
I was introduced to the mission and business by a close friend who struggled with health issues. As she researched her condition and talked with her physician, she began to see correlations between some of the ingredients in her personal care products and the struggles she was having. At the time, I was a mother of two very young daughters, and as most moms do, wanted to do whatever I could to protect them and their health. However, I didn’t have the time as a stressed out, diaper changing momma, to do the research on what products were safe for my family.
When I looked into Beautycounter and their commitment to safety, and sustainability, it felt like a breath of fresh air. I now felt armed with more information to make my own choices about the safety and well-being of my family and what products I put on their bodies.
Working as a consultant with the company has given me other wonderful opportunities. I have the honor of working with a team of over 180 unique, yet like-minded men and women. We encourage and support each other, which I feel is so important. Unfortunately, in our world, women especially, tend to tear each other down, but the Beautycounter community has been a community that lifts one another up and encourages each other. I’ve seen relationships formed that may never have existed, and watched individuals on the team reach goals they never thought they could.
A few years ago, I was chosen as one of two consultants from our state to travel with the company to Washington D.C. to lobby for better regulation in the beauty industry. I was honored to represent Wisconsin alongside 98 other consultants representing every state in our nation. We advocated on behalf of this bi-partisan issue and shared our thoughts, feelings, and stories as it pertained to our concern for the health of our nation’s people. Because of our efforts, more legislators were educated about this mission and there has been significant movement in the right direction in this area.
My work with Beautycounter is important to me, because it has stretched me, challenged me, and given me more confidence in areas that I never knew I needed. It’s also given me a platform to serve my team, and help them achieve their goals. Some are looking for a relational connection, some love the advocacy work, and some need to earn additional income to support themselves and their family. Watching them grow and helping them with these areas of their life brings me so much joy.
JMC: You’ve also recently authored and co-authored two books. Has the Covid-19 pandemic allowed more time for writing and reflection? What’s next for you as an author and as an advocate for women?
JD: Yes, I am an author, and I released my first book on September 7, 2019. The title is, I Have Two Words For You, and it’s about my journey with breast cancer and how I leaned on my faith during that terribly trying time in my life. It’s meant to be a resource for women going through breast cancer, but it also speaks to any trial someone might be facing. I also co-authored a chapter in the book, The Identity Effect. This book is a collection of stories of women who have discovered their identity in Christ. My book is available on my blog, thedahliadiaires.com, and both books can also be found on Amazon.com.
Living in this season of a pandemic has definitely given me more time to focus on my writing. It has opened up pockets of time that I dedicate to just that. Now don’t get me wrong, when everything hit this past March and I was suddenly a home-schooling mom, as many moms out there still are, my world got rocked a bit. My pencil had to take a back seat to my daughters’ needs and our family had to do a quick pivot. Our sunroom became the classroom, and I think I wore a permanent trough in the floor running from our office that housed one computer and child to the other room and second child, answering questions all day long. Needless to say, there wasn’t much personal writing indulgences happening during that time.
However, I’ve definitely been focusing on more consistent content creation and I try to contribute to my blog at least once a week. I have also started a monthly newsletter designed to be an encouraging spot in someone’s life and inbox. It has a short, faith-based monthly devotional that I’ve written, links to blog posts, and any other “favorite things” that I feel like sharing that month.
As for what the future holds as an author and advocate for women, well that’s a great question! I am always dreaming and looking toward the future because I believe God is a God of big dreams. He created each and every one of us with a plan and purpose in mind, and He can do exceedingly more than all we could hope or imagine.
My daughters want me to write a children’s book, so that is on the list. I also love speaking to groups of women and using my story to encourage them no matter what their challenge is, so I look forward to more opportunities to do that this year. My goal is to consistently build upon what I’ve begun and see where God takes it!
JMC: I’ve also observed that you embrace diversity, especially with women of color, locally and across the nation with your work with Beautycounter. Why is this connection important to you?
JD: I was raised by two wonderful parents who instilled in me as a child the importance of loving others no matter their race, gender, or ethnicity. Some of my very best friends that I have met over the years working and living all over the country, are men and women of color. They have enriched my world in incredible ways, and I wouldn’t be who I am or have the fullness of life experiences that I have had if it weren’t for them in my life.
As it pertains to Beautycounter, this is also a company that believes in the importance of diversity and has created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Hub within their headquarters. My Beautycounter mentor, and dear friend, is a woman of color and has served on Beautycounter’s diversity committee.
In a world that struggles with so much division, I believe it’s incredibly important for each of us to do our part. Instead of judging someone that appears different from you, take the time to get to know them. Go in with an expectation that they can teach you something. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
For lack of a better analogy, imagine all the ingredients that go into a cake. If you only had the sugar, the cake would be an unbearably sweet, mound of grit. If you only had the eggs, you would be forced to slurp down nasty, raw gooeyness. But when you combine all of the ingredients with a whole lot of love, each so different in texture, color, and purpose, and they work together in the way they are designed to, the result is a delicious confection that is nothing short of a miracle. This is why I love and embrace diversity in my life.
JMC: The Dahl family name and dealerships are prominent in La Crosse and the region. How do you stay humble and grounded, especially in these times, where many people are in distress economically and mentally. Are you connected and cognizant of today’s societal issues?
JD: This is a wonderful question, and thank you for asking it. Oftentimes when people look at a family business that is fairly visible in the community it’s easy to make assumptions. The Dahl family has worked very hard for 110 years to build this organization, and I feel very blessed to have married into this wonderful tribe of people. And by tribe, I don’t just mean my immediate family. We consider our Dahl Automotive team members to be our family too.
One of the core values of our business is giving back to the community. This concept has been instilled through all of the five generations of Dahl family members that have been involved in the auto business. My husband and his brothers are the fifth generation and they take this core value very seriously. Our community has been so good to us over the past 110 years and it’s our way of showing our love and appreciation for this great place that we live.
Staying humble and grounded is something that we are very cognizant of. We are well aware that being born into a family business can oftentimes bring a level of unhealthy entitlement. My husband became president of the organization five years ago, and I can tell you that having this title alone keeps one extremely humble. Running a large organization is rewarding yet difficult at times, and Andrew has found that effective leaders not only strive to empower their team, but they humble themselves and admit when they are wrong.
We also know that every good and perfect gift comes from God and that is how we look at our role as business owners in the community. We are so grateful for the opportunity that we have to serve others through our business and we see ourselves as stewards of this blessing, not “owners” of it. Our faith keeps us grounded and just because our name is on the back of some cars driving around town, that doesn’t make us any better than anyone else.
Andrew and I are very committed to continuing this mindset with our children, and we make a point to be aware of the current struggles and distress that many of the members of our community are facing at this historically challenging time. When the pandemic hit, Andrew, his brothers and his father, personally contributed to a fund for our team members, the One Dahl Fund. This fund is designed to help our team meet additional expenses for both them and their families through an easy internal grant process.
I also serve on the La Crosse Community Foundation Board and am the chair of the Grants Committee. I love my work with LCF because I get to see firsthand the need in our community. The best part is being able to be a voice in helping award grants to organizations and programs that are really making a difference in people’s lives in this region.
This past year, Andrew and I opened a residential, faith-based drug and alcohol recovery center for women called Adult and Teen Challenge of Western Wisconsin (atcww.org). Andrew has personally been in recovery for 14 years and we lost his mother to the disease of alcoholism 13 years ago. We know that addiction is a problem that is gripping our community, and we felt God leading us to help be part of the solution. Our center is run solely by private donations and grants and doesn’t turn any woman away based on her inability to pay for the program. We just had our first graduate of the twelve-month program this month, and we are continually blown away by the stories of freedom and redemption that are happening within its walls. We give all the credit to God and our incredible staff for putting in the hard work to help our beautiful clients.
JMC: You are a fierce survivor. What is your mantra or focus as we enter 2021?
JD: hank you for saying that! I can tell you, there were definitely days when I was in the thick of my cancer fight that I did not feel very fierce. It’s hard to feel like Superwoman when you’re staring at the bird fuzz on your bald head in the mirror and just hoping you don’t scare the poor child in the grocery check-out line next to you.
But I do have a mantra and focus for 2021. Actually, I have a few. The first is “2021 is my best year yet and I will pursue progress over perfection!” I am a self-proclaimed perfectionist and it’s something I work hard to overcome. It’s not one of my better qualities. I am focusing on PROGRESS in all areas of my life, not perfection. If you’re a perfectionist like myself, it’s important to give yourself grace. Focusing on progress helps you celebrate the little wins that add up to big ones instead of focusing on perfection which is unattainable and will only discourage and paralyze you.
Also, did you notice I used the word, “is”, in this mantra, not “will be”? There is a very strategic reason for that. I believe in speaking goals in the present tense even when they haven’t occurred. I have found that by speaking in the present tense you are more likely to manifest those goals or dreams than if you timidly speak in wishful, tentative ways such as, “might be, or hopefully will be.”
My other mantra is straight out of the Bible. It’s Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I’ll be honest. I am the first one to admit that I can do NOTHING of significance on my own. I’m just me. A girl from a small, (yet wonderful) mid-western town, that is terribly flawed and broken. But when I put the power of my faith in Jesus Christ behind me that is when the cool stuff happens! That is when new arenas of creativity, boldness, and opportunity open up that are next level!
When I’m feeling inadequate in any area of my life, whether it’s as a wife, a parent, or a business woman, I speak this verse out loud over myself and then step into that challenge with conviction. It’s something I’ve taught my daughters and we recite it on the way to school many mornings. It’s the sword that helps them go into the battles this life throws their way. I teach them what I am constantly reminding myself, and that is to be bold with your dreams and speak over them with authority!
JMC: By the way, do you enjoy the smells of oil, paint and rubber when you’re at the Dahl Automotive dealerships?
JD: This question made me laugh out loud! I love the smell! Honestly, I do. I love these smells because they are aromas that are synonymous with serving. Our mission at Dahl Automotive is “To Keep People Moving.” This means that every wonderful team member that we have is committed to serving our guests to keep them moving in their lives. Especially now, due to the pandemic, when it feels as though so many of our daily routines have slowed down or in some cases, completely stopped.
A car is oftentimes an essential piece of keeping people moving. It takes them to work so they can provide for their families, it carries them to the hospital if they are ill, and it connects us to loved ones that we desperately want to see in-person. So those smells of oil, paint and rubber are reminders to me that our team is doing their job of serving our community, putting people in their vehicles, and keeping them moving!
JMC: Lastly, what libation would I be serving you across my bar?
JD: I’m not an alcohol drinker, but I do love a good cranberry juice and soda. If I’m feeling fancy, I might get crazy and order a virgin mojito! I always tell my husband that I’m a cheap date!
Support our writers! Click here to become a member of the La Crosse Independent for just $5.75 a month.
Jonathan D. Maye-Cates studied journalism at UW-Milwaukee and was an editor of the original Black student newspaper, Invictus, on campus. In 1979, Jonathan was hired as the Los Angeles Times/Washington Bureau’s first paid Black intern. He later worked as a reporter for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Jonathan now works as a bartender at the Charmant Hotel and serves as a commissioner on the La Crosse Human Rights Commission. He lives in La Crosse with his wife Laurie Ann Cafe.