[Interview] Meet Isabel Thottam, Who Wants You To Hold On Another Day

Photo: (HoldOnAnotherDay.org)

Remember like last decade when people used to swap mix CD’s? The best ones were from your BF/GF at the time? No? OK, well mix CD’s filled with lots of love are back thanks to 21-year-old Isabel Thottam. She recently started the org, Hold On Another Day, which uses mix CDs of music to brighten your day.

After suffering from depression, Isabel realized music could really help her (Jo Bros were her savior) and thought that making different inspirational CDs with music from indie artists could be super beneficial. Plus, every time she sells a CD, another CD is donated to someone who could use a little cheering up. “I just wanted to find a way to send a positive message through music to help others the way music helped me,” explained Isabel. We wanted to learn more about this cool new project, so we spoke to Isabel to get the deets.

Photo: One of the campaign images for Hold On Another Day. (holdonanotherday.org)

ACT: What inspired you to start this incredible project?

ISABEL: The Jonas Brothers. No, seriously! When I was in high school, I suffered from depression and self-doubt. I was in a pretty bad place but I used to listen to music when I was feeling depressed to keep me positive. I listened to all kinds of music –- The Academy Is, Hanson and, of course, The Jonas Brothers. I used to make these mixtapes that I’d listen to on my drive to high school in the morning. Feelings of self-doubt started to hit me again in August 2010, so I listened to the mixtapes that helped me when I was a teen. The song “Love Is On Its Way” by the Jo Bros came on and it instantly lifted my mood. When I heard the lyrics “Hold on another day/ you’re fine/it’s going to be okay/‘cause love is on its way,” I thought how true and perfect those lyrics were. That’s when I had the idea – what if I could tell anyone who feels depressed that if they “held on another day” things would get better?

ACT: It must be tough balancing your college course load, internship and Hold On Another Day! How do you manage your time?

ISABEL: It’s definitely stressful and it’s been especially hard this summer since I’m interning in Los Angeles and my business partner, Emily Smith, is in Boston where the business is based. I try to balance the work so that I’m not spending time on HOAD when I’m at work or need to do homework — so sometimes that’s a matter of waking up at 6 am in LA so I can be in contact with people on the East Coast at a decent hour. I’m a writer, so I’m naturally an insomniac, which helps me get a lot of work done at night. It’s really just a matter of making time for what’s important to you!

ACT: What’s the process like for teaming up with the local artists featured on the mixtapes?

ISABEL: Some artists will find us and send us their music; others will be friends of friends who heard about it. My favorite part of this whole process is just going to local shows, listening to the bands. If I think they have a lot of potential or a song that would work on one of our albums, I’ll contact them after the show. Most of the artists on our “Songs For Soldiers” CD were people Emily or I knew personally or had a friend in common with. I also did a lot of surfing on YouTube and Myspace, just clicking on different artists looking for positive songs. A lot of it is a matter of word of mouth, though, because we’ll work with artists from across the country. They will tell other musicians they’ve played with, which is cool because it’s a connection between a bunch of people.

ACT: How do you choose which causes to focus on and which non-profits to partner with?

ISABEL: Before going into business together, Emily and I were classmates in an entrepreneurship class at Emerson College. We were assigned to do a group project together and Emily had the idea of combining our ideas. Two friends who wrote songs about soldiers serving overseas inspired Emily to support U.S. troops, so she suggested that I make a Hold On Another Day CD for them. I loved that I could help Emily support soldiers through music with this CD. I read Blake Mycoskie’s (founder of TOMS shoes) book “Start Something That Matters” and wanted to test out the One For One model — so I decided to operate HOAD as a for-profit that would donate a CD to a non-profit every time we sold a CD. In order for that to work, I needed to find non-profits that have access to or work with people suffering from depression, stress or anxiety. I found Operation Gratitude online and suggested to Emily that, for every CD we sold, we could donate one to Operation Gratitude and they’d put them in a care package for a soldier.

Also, a friend of mine, Alex Horsey, who runs an anti-bullying organization, Project Believe In Me, contacted me to see if I’d be interested in making a HOAD CD for anti-bullying campaigns. Alex works with many organizations and public schools in the Portland, Oregon area — so we decided that, for every CD we sold, we’d donate the CDs to one of those organizations or a public school counseling department to hand out to teenagers going through a rough time.

We’re open to anything really – I want HOAD to be shaped by people who are inspired by music and the causes they believe in. The whole point of me doing this is to inspire other people through music, so if there is a cause that can be translated through music, we’ll make it!

Photo: Emily Smith and Isabel Thottam of Hold On Another Day. (holdonanotherday.org)

ACT: What advice would you give to a young person hoping to start a pro-social business?

ISABEL: Just believe in yourself, your ideas and your ability to achieve your goals. Also, you have to be patient and take everything one step at a time. I can’t tell you how many times I’d feel like giving up or listened to people tell me I should focus on a more realistic career choice. But you have to remember that great things don’t happen overnight. My boss tells me, “If you want to be extraordinary, you have to think extraordinary,” and I think that’s very true in starting your own business and wanting to make a difference in the world. You have to remember that to change the world — to help someone’s life — you don’t have to do some big, grand gesture. Small works of kindness all lead to bigger and better things.

ACT: What message would you leave to a young person battling depression?

ISABEL: I know I can’t guarantee that a Hold On Another Day CD will help you; and I know I can’t guarantee that holding on another day will instantly make things better. But I know what it’s like to feel lonely, to feel sad constantly and to hurt yourself. Feeling weak doesn’t make you weak; in fact, it can make you stronger when you overcome it. Just don’t give up. I know it’s hard when you’re young and everything and everyone is changing around you, so giving up seems easier. But I promise you that if you hold on another day, you’ll be amazed at how it can get better, just by believing that it will.

ACT: How can others get involved with your cause?

ISABEL: We want to hear how YOU think you can help us! This organization is about helping people who care about causes and music — so if you’re passionate about either, we want to hear your ideas! You can go to our website and fill out a form to let us know your ideas. If you’re a musician and want to be a part of our mixes, you can send us a song on our site, too. The best way you can support our idea is by showing others how music has helped you. The more people that believe in our idea, the stronger bond we can build together over music.

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