Entrepreneurship

Women finding power in financial self care, with Diana Bacon

Diana Bacon is one of the co-founders of Financial Strategies Group, a boutique financial planning firm located in Dallas, Texas.  Shortly after having her first baby, she determined that “big firm life” just wasn’t the right fit.  She wanted to have more control over what she could offer her clients.  So with a new baby and an awesome “can do” attitude, she founded her own boutique financial planning firm.  We talk about everything from starting your own firm to the importance of financial self care and what that means for women of today (and their families)!  It was a great conversation and I learned a ton!

 

Transcript

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

 

Susan: Hi Friends, my guest today is Diana Bacon. Diana is one of the co-founders of Financial Strategies Group, (Financial Strategies Group on Facebook ) a boutique financial planning firm located in Dallas, Texas. I am so excited to share our conversation today because we discussed two very important topics; one, leaving a large service firm to go out on your own; and two, the importance of financial self-care. Even if you aren’t thinking about owning your own business, make sure to stick around for the financial self-care piece; I’m positive you’ll learn something.

 

Hey, Diana, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

 

Diana Bacon: I’m great. I’m really excited to be on this call today.

 

Susan: I am very excited that we are finally doing this. I know when I first started talking about even launching this podcast you were one of the first people I called and talked to, not even to come on the show but just to, you know, tell “Hey, I’ve got this idea, what do you think?” You’ve always been an inspiring woman to me that, you know, you’re one of the women that I look to who I think have already accomplished the world. So for you to come on and talk with us this morning, it means so much to me. I know when we first started talking about you coming on the show all I was thinking about was how fantastic you are and in your business and how you do all of that but you quickly brought up the fact that women really don’t talk a lot about financial self-care so that’s something that we’re definitely going to get into today while you are talking with us. But first, I just want to start off—and tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do you and how you got started and how you got to where you are now.

 

Diana Bacon: Okay, well, that’s a big one.

 

Susan: Yeah.

 

Diana Bacon: Well, I started in the financial planning field a little over 20 years ago now. So, I was in my mid 20’s trying to figure out what to do with a math degree, I decided I didn’t want to go into academia and be a professor so what to do with my life. So, I got in to fee only financial planning at the recommendation of a friend. I loved the idea that I didn’t have to sell anything—that I got to work with people. And I started working for a company that had a great training program. The company was not a good fit for me but they put me on definitely the right foot. They also moved me to Dallas, Texas, which I’ve been living in upstate New York and I’m from Southern California so that was quite a change for me.

 

So I’ve been in Dallas doing financial planning since the beginning of 1999. And I met my husband here. I went through several firms kind of looking for the right fit, you know, I was at one of the big four accounting firms and they didn’t really know what to do with financial planners. And then in 2004 and 2005 I left the big firms, tried a smaller firm; that wasn’t a good fit either just because of the differences in client bases. And so in 2006 I actually founded my own firm in my living room with a newborn baby next to me—well, she was at daycare so not technically next to me, but I just knew that I wanted to do things the way I wanted to do them, I didn’t want someone else telling me what’s best for my client. I wanted to work with nice people who were living their lives and doing the things they wanted to do and help them and not try to create this boxed product that I just ran everyone through.

 

Three years ago now I merged with another small firm—so two teeny tiny firms became a slightly larger small firm. And my partner, he’s in his late 70’s. He’s been doing this for 45 years, he loves it but he’s obviously at the end of his career, and merging with me gives him the chance to work with clients he loves but really let go of smaller clients or people who don’t need as much help, and you know he gets all the resources of my firm.

 

Susan: Wow! That’s really cool. Let’s step back just a second. So, in 2006 you’re telling me you had a brand new baby that you had just birthed and you were birthing a new company in your living room?

 

Diana Bacon: You know, I really wouldn’t recommend it, but during my maternity leave it became really apparent that the firm I was at was just a mismatch. We had, you know, I was working with a woman that I really respect and admired and she’s brilliant but it wasn’t a great fit and you know, it’s really important in life that we embrace those things that you’re like, “Wow, I tried this! This is a terrible idea and it’s not working, I need to cut my losses.” So I did that. Now, quite honestly, trying to go on job interviews while you’re carrying around a breast pump, it’s a little different—and not so surprisingly I had fewer job offers. I could have went into commission financial planning where you’re selling products.

 

Susan: Sure.

 

Diana Bacon: I have no issue with commission planners; it’s just not what I do and what I wanted to do. So instead I took that very naive approach which was, “How hard can this be? I just delivered this baby.” So I mean, simple things like getting registered with the Texas State Board of Security, I just called them up and got this great man who sat on the phone with me for, like, an hour, I took four pages of notes and that’s how I started doing my own compliance. I just did it and didn’t think too much about it because I wanted to keep working, I love what I do and to me it made sense so now I look back on it and just, “I can’t believe I did that,” but I made it work.

 

Susan: It’s amazing and I don’t know what it is about that period in life where—and I don’t know if it’s age, I don’t know if it’s because, you know, by the time you get your career going or where you think it should go, you know, you’re having children, or how that happens, I don’t understand it but it seems like so many women I talk to—be it friends or people on the podcast, whoever, there’s something about that time in life when you are six, eight months pregnant or you’ve just had a baby and all of a sudden here is this opportunity that’s in front of you and you’re doing them both at the same time and you are literally in the weeds, and it’s like you just have to go and there’s not a perfect answer and there’s not a perfect solution, you just do it, and it sounds like that’s what you did and I admire that, I really admire that.

 

Diana Bacon: I think it’s something about that period of time because your life, your sleep schedule, everything has been totally upended…

 

Susan: Your hormones.

 

Diana Bacon: Yeah, I think there is this thing or you’re like, “Everything is so different now anyway, I’m in a new body, I’m in a new life, like, what could possibly go wrong? And if it does, I already know that I can make it up because I am adapting,” that’s all I’ve been doing.

 

Susan: That’s a good point; you’re right, you have been adapting so you just keep adapting and just going with the flow. That’s a really good point. Tell me what success looked like at that time. Tell me how you were able to prioritize stuff. I know you said—you mentioned you had childcare at the time which is huge. That is of the utmost importance. I could do a whole podcast on how women need to have that available no matter what line of work they’re in, no matter what they’re doing. That’s a whole other issue. But tell me about how you did that time, how you prioritize that, how you how you had time for yourself, time for your family, built your business. I know it’s a lot of questions at once but kind of just give us an overview of how that worked.

 

Diana Bacon: I mean first—and I do want to touch on that point you just made about childcare.

 

Susan: Yeah.

 

Diana Bacon: I mean I want to make this very transparent. I was only able to do this because I had a spouse—well, I still have that spouse—but I had a spouse at the time that could support us and we could pay for child care. We had some financial help from his parents. Without any of that—if it was just me, if we were just struggling through I do not think that my firm would be where it is today, I think I would be in a very different spot. I had great childcare that I could trust my baby with, and that made all the difference. And then in terms of what that looked like in terms of taking care of me and everyone else, there were periods of time where I wasn’t great at self care, there were periods of time where I probably wasn’t the best spouse, there were periods of time where probably even my parenting…. My business maybe I wasn’t on top of things as I could have been but everything ebbs and flows and kind of just keeping in step with life and allowing things to happen and not beating myself up too much let me keep going.

 

You also asked about success at that point in time, and I believe in attainable goals and continually measuring against them. My undergrad is in math.  I’m in personal finance, I mean I love measuring things, looking at numbers, to me it’s just how my brain works, but the first thing I wanted to do was get in the black. That was my number one goal because I did have to pay for like filing fees with the state and setting up my business and buying a lot of software and all of those things. So the first thing was I wanted to be in the black, I wanted to be making money and making a profit. And then it was the next, you know, I wanted to be covering child-care with my income. And then I was able to look at, “Okay, I am getting clients, I’m not spending a ton of time marketing my business because I can’t take in a ton of new clients,” I mean it was just me for the first three years so I couldn’t do everything so I was slowly adding clients I started thinking about, “Okay, what sort of revenue do I need for each client? How do I want these clients to grow so that my business is growing with them?” And just I kept setting these smaller goals, and as I got closer to each goal then I would look at, “Okay, what else should I be looking towards so that I can quantify that and set in my measurable targets.

 

Susan: I love how methodical you are, and I know that’s your math background, and I love how you clearly had a method and I just find that so…I am a creative so I’m way on the other end of the spectrum and I need somebody in my brain like that to, say, pull it back and say. “Okay, this is how you need to proceed.” I like the planning aspect of that. So let’s switch gears just a little bit. We’ve talked a little bit about self-care. One of the things we really want to get to that you want to get to that you want to talk about, and this is what you do on a daily basis, is helping people with self care, with the financial aspect of self care. Tell me as a woman now you know me, I’m married, I have one kid, but what do women maybe…Is there a general thing women need to be thinking about? And I know one of the things that I’ve heard you talk about before and I want to get to is women finding themselves on their own. Whether they found it, whether they started out that way or they ended up that way, and I definitely want to touch on that and I don’t know how you want to frame this conversation of this piece but let’s think about that, let’s talk a little bit about that.

 

Diana Bacon: Okay, so I do work with a lot of women. My industry has very few women. It’s about one in five women and, you know, it’s what you’d expect, it’s white men, older white men. And it’s tough for women. A lot of my clients will say, “I really want to work with you because I know you’re not going to speak down to me. I can ask you any question.” And if you don’t understand your finances you’re just going to keep living your life like your money isn’t yours. And that’s the first thing I do with a woman is make sure that she really gets her head around that her finances, her money is hers. It seems so simple and it’s something that I just see women struggling with time and time again but we do this with our time as well you know we give all of our time and attention to our children, our spouses, our friends, we just give and give, and I see the same thing with people’s money.

 

So, you know, the typical client I feel like I’m seeing right now is a woman, you know, married or single but definitely in that she’s in her 50’s and she’s like, “Wow, I don’t want to work for ever,” and it’s just dawning on her that she’s been caring for everyone else and can she retire? Is she going to be able to stop working? And I’m seeing so many people, not just women, who are in their 50’s and have raised kids and poured everything into these kids: time, energy, and money. So it’s not uncommon that I’ll sit down with someone and they’re telling me about the college possibilities for their kid and the great private school they’re and how their kid is excelling, and all of these extra curricular activities and then when we look at, “Okay, what assets do you have that you could retire with? What does your savings plan look like? How do you go about investing?” And there’s just this blank stare because no, no, no, all the resources are going to the kid. Well, a lot of times the kid’s in high school, they still have to put the kids through school, they’re like, “No, I don’t want them to deal with the stress of student loans.” I mean the student loan issue in the country is really horrendous…

 

Susan: No kidding.

 

Diana Bacon: …And holding us back, our country, but you know they don’t want to saddle their kids with that so they’re looking at even more expenditures which means they’re going to hit their late 50’s and really not have much. So I really talk to women, men and everyone about, “You know what? This is really like we’re on that plane together and you got to put your oxygen mask on first and then put it on your kid. If you’re not taking care of yourself…And it’s just that thing, I mean you’ve mentioned a multiple times, like, you and I have a conversation but if you’re not going financial self care, how are you going to help your family? You know if you’re putting some accountability on your kid, whether it’s the student loan, whether it’s them working during a gap year or you know them pursuing scholarships, whatever that is but if you’re putting some of this on your kids and taking off your plate you can do so much more for yourself. So maybe your kid is going to spend a while in college and getting a grad degree and you can support for a longer period of time in different ways, that’s generally what I recommend to clients. Now, obviously, they’re living their life, I’m not living it so if they’re adamant in saying, “No, that’s not what we want,” I help them in advice but I just see so much giving and giving and giving. Even, you know, new parent in their 30’s and I’m saying, “Well, we’re not saving for retirement we have all this money in a 529 plan.” “Okay, well, look at that toddler…You’re going to have braces come up first but gosh, at least you already have money saved for college which they may or may not go to,” like, there’s just this disconnect. And then you know what? I’m broadening this to men and women but I do want to hold this back a little bit women and typically, you know, we’re not that involved you’re seeing a lot of times that if someone is staying home with the kids or scaling back their career it is the woman. And what that means is—especially if she’s going to wind up alone, whether widowed, divorce because she has taken that time out of the work force because she’s focused on her family, her earning potential is so diminished.

 

So, you know, men after a divorce, they get back to their previous standard of living pretty quickly because they haven’t had the hit to their earning potential. But women, because we’re either out of the workforce or we slowed down our career, worked part time for a while, we take something with maybe less responsibility, or as I also see, sometimes those opportunities just kind of go away when you have an infant or a toddler and elementary school kid so because we don’t have the earnings potential that means that post-divorce, women take a substantial hit to standard of living and most of the time will not get back to the previous standard of living, they just won’t. Women are more likely in their retirement years, A, not to be retired, and even if they are there, they’re living in poverty. Women are much more likely than men to be living in poverty in our elderly years, and it’s really because we have given our whole life and we didn’t take care of ourselves, we didn’t stop, look at what’s going on, look at our income and start saving because you have to start saving before you start investing. And investing really is this magical thing because it allows your money to make money for you so it’s not just what you’re earning through your effort, your blood sweat and tears, but your money works for you so all of your efforts are exponential but that’s really if you don’t start with the savings you can’t invest and then you don’t have a good plan.

 

Susan: Well, you can just drop the mic and walk away. And I say that because…

 

Diana Bacon: [Laughs]

 

Susan: I’m not kidding because I have been very involved within the past couple of years in the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and the research that has been done that I have seen talking about women growing older. And one of the other things is women often—even if you stay married your whole life—women tend to outlive their husbands, statistically. And so when he passes for one reason or another—and I don’t know if this is a generational thing because so many things are still in their husband’s names or whatever but you know, there’s a lack of like basic things like they didn’t have credit in their name. I mean it’s small stuff like that. And I mean obviously there are things like you know your house you can go back and through probate you can fix and things like that, but if you don’t have a lot of the savings and stuff on the front end, or if he had a pension and for some reason you know I don’t know how that works if that goes away or VA benefits or whatever… I mean you know my grandmother is a great example. My grandfather passed a few years ago and I think a huge…Now, obviously, she doesn’t have a house payment anymore and things like that but one of the things that her—a large chunk of her income is social security. And our generation is not going to be able to—that’s not even going to be…You should even be thinking about that so it’s you’re absolutely right, it’s one of those things women find themselves in this spot and it’s something we need to think about. Tell me if you—this is something we haven’t discussed but tell me if you see this; I have seen women, Diana, my age who’s husbands handle the entire financial everything and they have no idea how much money they have, no idea what investments they have if they have any, they have no understanding of their financial situation. Do you see that?

 

Diana Bacon: I do see it, and I have seen it as I worked with baby boomers, I don’t see it as much with Gen X, and then I’m seeing it again with millennials where they don’t pay the bills or if they do you it’s out of a household account that’s really separate from savings, from the investment. I’m really seeing that shift back to, “Well, he makes the money so he takes care of it,” and then something comes up where, you know, they’re splitting up, they’re divorced, or tragedy and the women are really unprepared, and not only does that set them up for financial missteps, you know, if you don’t know who holds your mortgage, how are you going to make sure that the mortgage payment is still being paid.

 

Susan: Right.

 

Diana Bacon: But it also opens up women to what I call a “financial predator.” So for an elderly woman, this could be that salesperson at the bank who now sells her an annuity, which I’ve seen too many times and it shouldn’t be allowed, or for younger women I’m seeing them take loans that they don’t need—just making decisions that if they had more comfort and confidence in managing their own financial affairs, they’d take a step back and not go that direction. So by the time I see these women a lot of time their personal balance sheet is a mess because they weren’t working with a degree of confidence.

 

Susan: It just breaks my heart. It’s just something we don’t think about and we need to.

 

Diana Bacon: You know I get that when you’re part of a couple you’re a team and one spouse takes this and one spouse take thats but I have a very difficult time with new clients when they say, “Oh no, he’ll be at the meeting, if there’s anything I need to know he’ll tell me.” No, especially when sitting down with your tax preparer, your financial planner, any additional investment advisers, your family attorney both spouses should always be there, always.

 

Susan: Yeah, if for nothing else that basic understanding.You don’t have to understand all the ins and outs; people can walk you through that but you just need to have the basic understanding for sure. Let’s switch gears just a little bit and go back and talk a little bit more about your business and how you have developed your client base and where you’re finding your ideal clients and how you’ve managed to grow that because I know that’s something that you’re really passionate about.

 

Diana Bacon: My client base has really changed over the years. When I first started I was working entirely with corporate executives. As they started in the early 2000, as those huge reduction enforced programs were going through with huge layoff, I start working with some small business owners because honestly, if you were laid off and you were 56 you’re not finding a job, you’re just not, no one’s going to hire you. So I started working with small business owners and really seeing some of them have an entrepreneurial spirit, which is really fun. I hesitate with entrepreneurs because the people who just start one thing after another never really become financially secure. I mean it’s very rare that it does, and that that’s one thing I want to see for my client right for them to reach financial independence you know I typically say I don’t really do retirement planning, I don’t care when you retire, I care when you’re financially independent because your decision process is going to change greatly once I tell you, “Hey, you know what? Your assets can now sustain your standard of living for the rest of your life so go to work tomorrow… don’t… I don’t care this is what you can spend, and so go live your life and make any changes you want,” and people do, they will start a business or start a foundation, or it’s probably one of the best things about my job.

 

But as I started my own firm, I really thought about who I wanted to work with and who I wanted to help.You know one of the things I do tell people and they’re like, “What do you do?” If I have just one sentence, I’m like, “I help people,” because I do, that’s all I do. I don’t make anything, I don’t build anything, I don’t sell anything; I just help people. Now, it is much more specific than that; I help people with their personal finances, I give them investment advice, you know all of that. But initially, when I started my practice I, you know, because I told you, I wanted to be in the black and so if someone wanted to sit down and talk to me and they wanted to sign my engagement letter and contract with me and as long as they weren’t doing anything illegal or unethical I was happy to take them. Now over the years as I’ve had clients leave because it wasn’t a good fit, either they decided that or I decided that, I’ve had more time to really cultivate good clients. So to me, a good client is A, someone that I can help and B, someone who sees the value in my help.

 

You know, when I do talk to people new to feeling financial planning, the first thing I tell them is don’t ever work with a client who doesn’t see the value in what you do because when you send them an invoice they’re not going to want to pay it. I don’t have clients push back on fees because they see the value I’m providing them and quite honestly, I don’t have a problem with reminding them of the value I’m providing them, but I really like working with people. And I don’t have a typical “I work with a woman who is this far in her career and she makes this…” my client base is a little diverse. And looking at the current division in America, I mean my clients are all over the board. I work with some very conservative families, I work with very liberal single women, I do work with every everyone, but the one thing that I keep coming back to is, you know, are they doing good in their little corner of the world? Am I providing value? Am I helping them, and do they do they see that value?

 

Susan: That’s awesome. That is just a cool way to think about building a business is really—you really seem to put your clients first, and I love that. I think that that’s not always an easy thing to do because in the day you’re trying to provide for your family as well. I find that very admirable; you don’t hear that a lot in big business, and maybe that’s why big firms weren’t the best fit. I really…I just love that. That just kind of warms the heart a little bit.

 

Diana Bacon: Yeah, I do think that that is a big part of the reason why I’m currently running the small boutique firm; I just don’t know that I would ever be back at a big firm because I just want to keep living my life, including what I do professionally but the way I want to do it which, you know, probably wouldn’t be in line with most of the bigger firms.

 

Susan: Yeah, one or two more questions because I want to be respectful of your time today. Tell us…You work a lot. I know you probably have a lot of hours you put in on the regular and I’m sure you have times of the year that are more busy than others. I think when we first started talking about this you were coming out of a busy time, so tell us how you, when you have the ability to, how do you recharge your batteries.

 

Diana Bacon: I really focus on the things that I know you know reinvigorate me, get me excited about life again. For me, I do need some quiet moments, but what really recharges me is people, being part of a community, feeling like I’m changing the world in some small way. I really love working out, being physical, you know, keeping a strong body but I actually also do that in a way that I’m part of a community. And being part of a community just speaks to my soul. I’m very involved in my church and that—yes, the church part of it you know I find very comforting and I do think it helped me be a better person, all of those things, but it’s that community, it’s having the people, it’s walking through the church playground on a Sunday and talking to several friends and the hugs and all the things that go along with it.

 

And then also I do, you know, I’m pretty busy, I work out, I have two kids, I have a husband who I adore, I have a business but I also make sure that I do give of my time. The best conversation I had with my mom was right when I was finishing my MBA and I had been working 50 to 70 hours a week and doing my MBA at the same time, I was exhausted. So mom’s like, “So, what are you going to do now?” And I was like, “I want to buy a television.” And she laughed a bit but then she said, “You need to figure out pretty quickly where you’re going to go volunteer.” She’s like, “You have this extra time…” she’s like, “You need to keep investing in yourself but invest in the world that you’re in,” and I constantly replay that conversation in my mind is investing in my community, investing in people around me. And especially now that I have kids, like, if I’m not investing in the world, I’m kind of dropping the ball because I’m not investing in them.

 

Susan:  And I’ve seen you doing some of your some of the stuff that you volunteer with and one,  it’s amazing, it is just amazing things that you that you found to get involved in; but two, you are investing in your kids but your kids are also seeing you do this, and I didn’t grow up—I  don’t know, it sounds like you did—I didn’t grow up in a family that was very philanthropic, they were with church but that was pretty much the extent of it, and so somehow that became a really important thing to me after graduating college is getting involved in giving back time, talent, finances. And I think one of the other things you’re doing is you’re instilling that into your own children so that they will have that to go forward with as well, and I think that’s really important, and I think that’s really cool.

 

Diana Bacon: Thanks.

 

Susan: Yes, one more question before we go, and that is the feedback that I’m getting on this podcast and the types of listeners who are finding us, they’re inspired, they’re empowered but sometimes they don’t know which next steps to take so I always like to ask the guest that I have on for an action step, what is it that if a woman is, for today, if a woman is seriously thinking about her financial situation and taking that next step towards financial independence, where should she start? What is one action step she can take today to move that ball forward?

 

Diana Bacon:  I mean, honestly, the most important part of this is don’t be afraid by your finances. Get to know your finances, get to know your spending, make sure you understand everything that’s on your paycheck, really take a look, make sure you understand at least most of what’s on your tax return but don’t be afraid of that. And then, you know, what I would hope every person listening to this would really focus on starting to save so that they can invest and have a bigger plan because that’s what really going to take someone so that ten years from now hopefully they are in a much more solid financial place.

 

Susan: Awesome, that is great advice. Thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it. I appreciate you taking the time and I appreciate you sharing with us, your thoughts.

 

Diana Bacon: Oh, I appreciate the opportunity. This was really fun.

 

Susan: Thank you so much.

 

Outro: Hey, y’all, thanks so much for joining today; that was such a fun conversation Diana. If you head on over to howshegothere.com, you’ll be able to find the full transcript of this episode. The transcript page is a great resource because it is not only the interview written out in its entirety, it has links to some of the things we discussed. Y’all, this podcast is truly one of my favorite things to do and bring to so thank you for listening and for sharing it with your friends. And, if you haven’t yet, you can go on over to Apple Podcasts and subscribe. I’d also really appreciate it if you would rate and review it. You can also follow “How She Got Here” on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Thanks again, friends. I’ll see you soon.

 

 

Akola founder Brittany Underwood shares her journey from undergrad to Top 10 CEO

Brittany Merrill Underwood is the Founder and CEO of the Akola Project. In 2006, Brittany, a Southern Methodist University sophomore, spent the Summer on a trip to Uganda with a few friends.   After meeting a Ugandan woman named Sarah, who was caring for orphans in her home, Brittany was inspired to roll up her sleeves and help.  It started with a proper home for the children and quickly grew into creating a sustainable work opportunity (The Akola Project) for other women like Sarah so that they could provide for themselves, their families and these children.  Today, Akola provides training, dependable living-wage work opportunities and holistic education programs to over 500 women in Uganda and Dallas, TX, who care for approximately 4,000 dependents.

 

Transcript:

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Susan: Hey, friends, I am more than excited to share my guest with you today. Brittany Merrill Underwood is the founder and CEO of the Akola Project. Akola is a full impact brand which means they reinvest 100% of their profits to support work opportunities, training, social programs, and the construction of training centers and water wells in impoverished communities throughout the globe. Akola has a social impact throughout its entire supply chain and offers women opportunity through the creation of their raw materials, assembly of their product, and their distribution center that acts as a second chance job program. Akola has created a new high impact model for social business that is paving the way for high impact millennial run businesses that seek to have an impact on the world. In 2017, Brittany was named among the top “The World’s Top Ten CEO’s” in Inc. Magazine, the best person in the world by Yahoo in 2014, and was honored by clothing manufacturer, Levi, as one of 50 women around the globe who have changed the political, cultural, and spiritual shape of the future. She was awarded the Emerging Leader Award from SMU in 2013, the Young Leader Award from the Dallas Women’s Foundation in 2014, and was awarded a Silver Medal from the Business and Inner Faith Peace Award given by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation in Rio.

Brittany has been featured on the Katie Couric Show, CNN’s Young People Who Rock, Fox Business, and Modern Luxury. In 2014, she was asked to join a mentoring class for the Laura Bush Women’s Initiative, and joined the Faculty of Southern Methodist University as an adjunct professor in 2015 where she teaches a new course on social innovation. Brittany continues to devote her life to creating a brand that empowers women through economic and holistic development as CEO of the Akola Project. According to Inc. magazine, “Underwood is a clear example of a servant leader practicing conscious capitalism to transform the lives of impoverished women and families.” So without further ado, here’s Brittany.

Susan:  Well good morning, Brittany. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?

Brittany: I’m fine, thank you.

Susan:  Well, it is so good to have you here. I know I shared in the opening with my listeners kind of a little bit about Akola and your story and what you did, but I would love to hear from your mouth a little bit about yourself and where you’re from and how you got to where you are now.

Brittany: Sure. I am Brittany Merrill Underwood. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and went to SMU, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas for college, and spent most of my 20’s back and forth from Uganda, which I’ll talk about that a little bit more later on in the podcast. And then I married my husband – he’s a Dallas native – in 2012, and moved back to Dallas, have two little boys, a three-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old and so balanced that with my work as founder and CEO of Akola Jewelry. And we are a full impact brand that’s devoted to empowering women to become agents of transformation in their families and communities and grow a business. And so it’s a busy life, it’s exciting, but a lot there. In addition to that, I teach a course every spring at SMU now on social innovation and do that as well.

 

Susan: I did read you have started that; you just keep adding to the empowering and inspiring of women and I absolutely – that just warms my heart. You go girl! So tell us a little bit about how you got to Uganda to begin with. Tell us a little bit about that story.

Brittany: Sure. So I was a sophomore at SMU and I was not involved in any community service activities and  didn’t grow up in a culture of philanthropy in Atlanta; that just wasn’t part of – yeah, wasn’t part of our lifestyle so I had really not done anything for others, which is true. And, you know, was 19 years old and had promised two of my friends in college we would have a summer adventure and I thought we would teach somewhere in Europe and I kind of tuned out of the conversation for a second and they picked the boarding school in Uganda. I didn’t know where Uganda was at a time on the map, and I just had no desire to be in East Africa or had never been to a developing country and sort of got dragged there by two of my friends.

So two weeks into being in Uganda, we were working with a group that was taking us to different villages to help us understand the culture, meet Ugandans, understand more about their lives, and I just – I was sick, I was tired, I was completely disengaged. And a local pastor that we were working with kind of noticed my discomfort and he said, “I want you to meet a local woman in our village who I think will inspire you.” So I said, “Okay,” and I followed him up this dirt road to a shack outside of Uganda’s capital city Kampala, and I met a Ugandan woman named Sarah. And it’s funny, there is not a lot of stories like this, I can trace this entire journey back to that single moment and it was that powerful. And I met Sarah and sort of didn’t know what to say and she had these sort of bamboo mats rolled up in a corner so I casually asked her what they were for and she said, “Children, children sleep on these mats,” and I thought, “Children on these mats on the floor. I mean, it was the size of my closet.” And 24 children slept on her floor every night and they didn’t have anywhere to sleep; they were street children, and she had shelter so she’d roll out these mats and they would come and sleep.

The problem was they didn’t have food, they didn’t have school fees and medical care, they didn’t have any of those things. And Sarah couldn’t afford to give them many of those, she was in poverty herself. So I saw this woman who sacrificed everything she had. I mean she would go hungry to feed these kids so others could live. And here I was, a selfish college student who had never done anything for others and it just shook me out of my complacency. So, that sort of began this what has been a 15-year journey for us. I kept up with Sarah after that summer and just kind of started sending her money for food or school fees for the kids and just wanted to help and it turned into a project to build a home for the children who slept on her floor. That was the beginning of the Akola journey.

Susan: So, the orphanage that you were building, that is where Akola started, was there?

Brittany: It was. I mean, it was just a one-off project; it wasn’t anything that I was trying to start for the long haul, I just wanted the kids to have a place to sleep. Beds and a bigger room. So this initial idea was just to build a small building for Sarah and her kids so they would have a place to sleep. And around the same time I met Sarah, another woman did and  started  a sponsorship program for the kids who slept on her floor. So six months after I met her, the kids were eating, they were in school so what they really needed was this building. So it started out as this tiny $10,000 project, started raising money for it. I was a journalism major so I figured if someone could just see the story and see what I saw, surely they would want to help in the same way that I wanted to help. So I filmed a promotional video and edited it in the halls of SMU and started these grass roots fundraisers to raise $10,000 for the small home, and we ended up raising over the next several years a million dollars which is just incredible. It developed a three-story orphanage for every kid.

Susan: That’s awesome!

Brittany: Oh yeah, that’s just being young and idealistic you’re 20 and you’re like, “Why wouldn’t we just build a building for everyone?”

Susan: Absolutely!

Brittany: Next thing we knew it was this massive project. And I graduated from SMU in 2006 and thought, “I’ve got to move over to Uganda to make sure this project actually happens,” you know, a lot of people just entrusted us with their money and I need to personally oversee this. And that’s what led me to Uganda. And during the construction of this building, my three friends who kind of we all thought we’d be there for 6 months to oversee the orphanage project and go on with our lives, and it took about three years longer than we expected, and we were just making construction payments but we had so much time to just listen and get to know the community and to learn. And we knew we were so young that we just didn’t know anything so we didn’t come in with any assumed knowledge. So, again, I think we listened in a way that was really special and learned in a way that was very special, and what we kept on hearing as we met more and more women  like Sarah is that what they actually wanted was not an orphanage, they wanted the ability to care for orphaned and disadvantaged kids in their own home. They had the heart and the vision; they just didn’t have the resources.

So it was pretty humbling as we were building this monstrous orphanage that in the end you know it’s better than a kid sleeping on the street but it’s not what they needed or really even wanted. And so I started Akola in 2007. Akola means “she works,” and as we were building the orphanage, I wanted to create a model to where we wouldn’t have to continue to build orphanages that supported women headed households to care for up to 10 kids in their home. And so we needed a way for the women to generate an income, and that’s when we started the jewelry business because we thought if we could create a product, sell it in the US, all the money would go back to the women, then they would be able to support their kids. So Neiman’s Marcus laughed, cause our jewelry is in Neiman’s now,  and when we tell them how little thought went into our initial product, it was easy to ship, I had some friends who owned boutiques and voila we had a jewelry business. And what’s funny is, you know, this is before Tom’s and before FEED, this was 2007, the social business movement didn’t exist. There really wasn’t a playbook for this, we just thought it was a better way to meet the needs of disadvantaged children, and so that’s how Akola began.

Susan: You were a woman with a mission and vision.

Brittany: That’s definitely true.

Susan: So tell us about these women; they’re taking these orphaned children – some of them are probably their own but others – orphaned children into their own homes, how did you identify who would be a fit for Akola? Was it every woman in the village? Tell us a little about that.

Brittany: Yeah, we have a pretty rigorous process where we figure out women who have the most dependents and the least support. So initially, our goal was how do we kind of fund women who are starting these home orphanages, like, how do we have those women in our program? And then we quickly realized that there were other women who had just as many dependents that were related to them as the women who were taking in street kids. So we sort of created a model where if women had an average of 9 or 10 dependents and they didn’t have much support from their husband or didn’t have one, then they would qualify for our program and the support.

So we would go through an interview process with their local leaders to kind of identify these women headed households and social mapping, we worked through a church, I mean everything you can imagine to really identify the women who needed this program. And that’s how we build out our Akola woman space, and we worked with an average 4 to 500 women every year in Uganda in seven different communities now. We started with 15 women under a mango tree in front of their church and now it’s a pretty full of blown operation. And we realized in 2010  as our business began to grow and we went from 15 women to 200 women making jewelry, that we wanted the women to have a dignified place to work and they didn’t really have that in their villages. These were remote agrarian villages in Northern Uganda and Eastern Uganda along the Nile River and they didn’t really have an infrastructure so we started building these manufacturing facilities and training centers; we call them hope centers in Uganda where the women could go and work and create these products, and also realized pretty quickly that what we were doing was not effective unless we created educational programs around the women’s ability to generate income.

In 2010 we had one year I think it was I mean close to five women die in childbirth in our program in their homes, and we thought how in the world was this happening? They’re earning a living wage, why aren’t they going to the clinic? And we realized when we did a little digging that they either had superstitions around going to the clinic or they didn’t even know that there was one five miles down the road. So there was an education gap, and it was sort of this aha moment that it didn’t matter if they’re earning four times the wage in their village if they don’t know how to use it to create meaningful change in their lives to address their maternal health, to address the needs of their children, to strengthen their families, to combat domestic violence, to save and loan and start small businesses, it didn’t really create long-term change. And so that’s when we created Akola Academy which is our suite of holistic services that kind of wrap around our work opportunities at Akola. And that’s really set us apart. I mean that’s something we do. I don’t think there’s any other social brand that puts as much into that kind of programming as us. And it’s allowed our women to really find a pathway out of poverty versus just receiving, you know, living wage work opportunities, which is great, but it’s not enough to pull their families out of poverty.

So built that, went to grad school to kind of understand what model to build and how to build it in 2010/2012, and launched Akola Academy with our chief impact officer, Erica Hall, who is the sort of architect of our development programming and that really took off. And what’s interesting is that people assumed that it was our jewelry business that took off first and it was actually our development model and social services that sort of gained notoriety and through that we were presented these amazing opportunities to create product lines for very special retailers and began to grow the retail brand. So that happened in 2016, and that’s when we expanded to Dallas – which I can talk about in a second – and launched through Neiman Marcus which is really when the brand really took off.

Susan: And that’s when I heard about it. I actually heard about it in 2016 through the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and we can talk about that at some point as well and your involvement there, but I always feel like I’m never, like, on the front end of fashion or hearing about fashion and when I heard your story as it was then, I was inspired and empowered and I said I have to go buy everything that they have. Hearing what you have had added and understanding the Akola Academy and what all that new how you have transitioned even into that, how did you – you said you went back to grad school, how did you surround yourself with the right team, with the right people, like, how did you find the people in order to create this?

Brittany: A lot of it was blind luck and just grace, just God’s grace. I mean we had the right people at the right time who just kind of fell in our lap, and also a lot of it is just learning. I mean I think I just – throughout this entire process, I mean at each point in our development there is something new that we have to learn and develop and I’m a creative, and I like to do that. So when we knew we needed to develop our social service models, I knew I didn’t have the tools to do that, I didn’t have the expertise. I had the experience in Uganda but not the learning to make this  sort best in class, which we strive for at everything we do at Akola.

So I studied under some of the top development practitioners in the country, the vice president of programming for World Vision, who is one of my mentors and professors [inaudible 12:11] and worked with him to develop this very unique model for our women. So a lot went into it. And then had just the luck honestly of having our chief impact officer apply to work at Akola, and she had worked for Jane Goodall for a while and sort of  established her women’s empowerment program. And she was looking for something new, she stumbled across Akola, reached out to us and came on in 2012 and she’s still with us today and she was able to really build out on the ground what I helped sort of create the lines for in grad school. So it just was a great partnership, and it’s something that we’re so proud of today just everything we built in Uganda and what that model looks like. And what’s fun is when we had a chance to bring it to Dallas.

So that happened in 2016 actually through a partnership with the Dallas Women’s Foundation. Roslyn Dawson Thompson, the president, I was lucky enough to meet her through some work we were doing at the Bush women’s initiative at the George and Laura Bush Presidential Center, and we met and she learned about our model and said, “Why in the world is this not in Dallas?” You know and I said, “Well, because this is an agrarian community in Uganda, I don’t know if this is something that can work,” and she said, “Well, we’ve got women in Dallas who are falling through the cracks, you know prostitution, poverty, incarceration sort of women who are in crisis and they come out of those situations and they’re growing through these non-profit programs where they’re being rehabilitate but they can’t get a job because they’re not stable enough yet to even go through a Workforce Development Program. So the door is kind of swinging in their face and then they end up going back to what they know and go back to prostitution, poverty, jail, you name it.

And there really wasn’t anything in Dallas that offered women like that, women in crisis a living wage flexible work opportunity, and she knew that our model could probably do that. So she said, “Why don’t we figure this out?” So we began to kind of do some diligence and try to build what a model would look like here. And what we realized is if we were going to do manufacturing for our jewelry, we needed a more elevated product line to pay women an average of $15 an hour which is our goal. We really stand for a living wage. And so we pitched this product line – or I pitched it to the CEO of Neiman Marcus kind of through a series of events, got a connection to her, she gave me a 10-minute meeting at Neiman’s, and I just as quickly as possible just told her what we were doing, what we had done and that we really wanted to help women in poverty in our own community and we needed a partnership with a major retailer like Neiman’s to sell an elevated jewelry line to ensure we could offer these women work. And she was amazing I mean, she said, “This is intriguing, design a product line at that price point, come back in a couple of months and we’ll see what we can do.” And so, you know, we didn’t have any retail infrastructure at that point, we were selling to boutiques around the country, we had no one on our entire team with any design expertise or any retail backgrounds, and I was six or seven months pregnant at the time and had friends come over who were jewelry designers to help me put together  this line for Neiman Marcus and had beads all over my house and had a one-year-old who was stepping around in a diaper and it was just total chaos, and came back and presented this line to Karen and her team at Neiman’s, and she was so impressed, she said, “We’re going to launch you in every single store nationwide and in our catalog and online and by the way, you’re our fantasy gift. Oh my gosh, we have a national roll out from Neiman Marcus and no retail  infrastructure to support it. And we had not really started a program in Dallas.

We’d run a pilot with about 15 different women but we hadn’t really built the program yet. So in a span of – I will never forget this time – it was in 2016, the summer of 2016 and in span of two months we produced a product line for every single store nationwide over, you know, a million dollars worth of product, we gave over a hundred women in Dallas work opportunity and partnership with, like, 13 different nonprofits who referred women to us in their program who went through a hard time and couldn’t get a job. We popped up in the Dallas Housing Authority for production, we popped up in Buckner Salvation Army, their domestic violence unit sent us women to work in the back of our store.

Susan: That’s awesome.

Brittany: Full out community effort to get these women work opportunities and make sure we could deliver this product in time, and we did. Even the financing end of it, we had Northern Trust, one of the most wonderful banks in the world take a huge risk on us and financed our entire product line and pour money into the infrastructure of our business with just incredible terms, and without them taking risk on us we wouldn’t have had the money to pull this off. I mean the banks came together and the community came together and nonprofits and it sort of took a village to work, but we launched our product line in Neiman’s and in our first season became a top 10 jewelry brand at Neiman Marcus.

Susan:  Wow, that’s the craziest story I think I’ve ever heard.

Brittany: It sounds crazy [inaudible 22:48] I mean at the time we had five people on staff in Dallas, we had 30 in Uganda, but I mean Dallas was just the support office for the work that we did in Uganda. We didn’t do manufacturing here, we didn’t do anything until suddenly we went from five people on our team to having to build out a retail infrastructure that could support our brand that was three months later competing against Oscar De la Renta. I mean our earrings sit right next to Oscar De La Renta’s in every Neiman Marcus store, and we had to do that in a span of about three months. I mean we kind of emerged from the fog, the spring of 2017. And what’s so funny too to add to the craziness of that story is I was pregnant with my second son. I had a one-year-old and I was pregnant again and I was due at the end of October and we launched through Neiman’s at the end of September. So I was literally I mean going to – up until I had my second son, going to these launch events in different cities. I had him and two weeks later I was flying for day trips to kind of launch Akola Jewelry at Neiman’s in Palm Beach and in Atlanta, you know, pumping on the plane under my sweater, like, saving the milk for my child in a little storage case that I bring on the plane. I mean the whole thing couldn’t have been crazier, and it just aligned with the birth of my second child who was only 16 months apart from my first so it just was like complete chaos .

But yeah, so we emerged from sort of the fog of it all in the spring of 2017. And that’s when we decided we had to get real serious and build a real team around this product line at Neiman Marcus and an infrastructure to support it. So we had incredible banks like Triumph Bank in Dallas, through their Community Reinvestment Act, and the money they could deploy from that as an impact investment along with Northern Trust who continue to invest in Akola in partnership with the Dallas Development Fund through their emerging tax credit program was able to get us the financing we need to build this infrastructure to compete. And so we did that in the spring and just staffed up our team and sort of just wanted to take it to the next level so we could ensure that we actually stayed in Neiman Marcus. Because it’s one thing to, you know, to be a top brand in your first season but you’ve got to put in a lot of work in to stay in the game and competing and just wanted to be around for the long haul.

So we did that, and at the same time we were still growing our social services and having donors fund those activities, and so it was just like another crazy season of building. And what we wanted to do was to build enough of an infrastructure where we could grow through other accounts as well, because once you set up a business that support an every store account at Neiman Marcus, that same business infrastructure can take on at least five times that business with the same team which is pretty expensive to build but we’ve got to grow really fast. And so that’s really fun to tell you over the past year what we’ve done to do that.

Susan: Wow, you were birthing a child and a part of a business at the same time.

Brittany: I know. It’s so funny. I don’t remember anything, like, there’s no [laughs] don’t remember what happened during that time but I [laughs]

Susan: Yeah, you would block out, I mean there’s no way you could remember all of that.

Brittany: Yeah, and actually just to add to that, my husband and I moved twice that year. We bought a house and then his grandfather passed away and he wanted to buy that house so we also moved twice during that year as well. You know it’s one of those things where you’re just going so fast and your life is just so out of control and so crazy that you don’t even know how crazy it is until you come out of that and then you look back and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, how did I do that. I don’t know.” So, I mean it was insane. I’m still apologizing to friends because I just didn’t return text messages for a year, I didn’t return calls, I missed my families birthday parties, like, I just couldn’t, I had no margin. And you can’t go like that forever but I think there are seasons that kind of require your full focus and that was one of those where it was just crazy.

Susan: Oh, absolutely, there are seasons that require your full focus but you had full focus plus.

Brittany: Oh yeah, I mean I got pulled in all different directions absolutely, yeah, I mean it was nuts.

Susan: So there had to have been – and maybe this is just me – but there had to have been a moment in that season where you were like I can’t do this, like, totally lacking self-confidence.

Brittany: Oh, I mean I was so burnt out that I literally, I mean I think there was a point I was just laying on my floor sobbing, I was so hormonal breastfeeding, you know, just coming off of the hormones of having two kids in a row, I mean I got pregnant when my first son was only 7 months old and so I don’t even think the hormones from that pregnancy had left my body, and I just was out of my mind and I had no time, I wasn’t sleeping because I had a newborn and with launching that I knew how much succeeding in Neiman Marcus, I knew how that would build our business in the future and I knew that it was imperative that that happened because that would set us up to grow the way we wanted to grow to make or mission come alive in a way that it hadn’t before, and so I knew how significant it was and we were moving and it just…

Yeah, I was so burned out, and I think I had – again, my friends gave me and my family gave me so much grace during that season but I didn’t have margin, I couldn’t work out, I couldn’t see friends – all the things that make you a person besides having children and building a business, like, I just didn’t have the bandwidth for, and so I just…Yeah, I remember laying on my bathroom floor and had a couple of key relationships as well within Akola that just got so burned during that time because I just didn’t have the bandwidth to give them what they needed during that time. And so there were consequences to growth as well, and it all hit at the same time really late in the Spring in 2017. And again, I was laying on my bathroom floor sobbing and my husband came in and he was like, “What is going on? What’s wrong? Like, are you okay?” And I just was like, “I can’t do this anymore, like, I’m dying, like, I literally… I can’t do this anymore,” and I just hit a wall, and I needed to hit that wall because my life was so out of control. But from that point, probably to this point where we are now in 2018 that next year was okay, how do I do this but also figure out a pace that’s manageable where I can have a full life and also grow this business and be there for my kids and my friends and my family. And so that was sort of the past year trying to figuring out how do we grow because we knew we had to grow really fast it just because again it was so expensive to build what it took to even pull off Neiman Marcus that we knew we had to grow. So I had to figure out how to grow Akola as fast as possible to keep up with our spend as well as kind of dial back and create balance in my life so that’s kind of in the past year. I’m excited to share with you how I’ve done some of that. I’m still kind of in the middle of it but we’re in a really good spot.

Susan: Sure. So, how are you doing that?

Brittany: Yeah, so I hit the wall, I’m on the floor crying realizing, like, this is not sustainable and I can’t, you know, I’ve got to slow down but also Akola has to speed up so how do I do that? And so what it was was just having a great team and getting the right talent. So at that point, I knew, you know, I’ve got to get some people in our business that can start taking stuff off my plate. And you know I’m a huge visionary, I’m a very big picture person, I’m very right brained. So the good news about that is I’ve never put myself in a position where I’m managing more than two people or I’m in our finances figuring out and crunching the numbers or I’m doing our manufacturing, like, that’s just not my skill set, and anytime I’ve ever been in that position, I’ve messed everything up.

So the good news is I’m really gifted and in one area and really not in other areas so it’s pretty easy for me to figure out, “Okay I need to not be spending my time in these three buckets, but I need to be spending all of my time in this one bucket because that’s where I create the most of value.” I read this book called Present Over Perfect.

Susan: Shauna Niequist.

Brittany:  Yeah, she’s amazing and there was certain antidote in the book where there was a pastor and he had this church that was growing so fast and he was in a conversation and he was like, “I’m so overwhelmed, it’s crazy.” He’s like, “The growth is out of control.” And someone said like, “You have control over that,” and he’s like, “No, I don’t, “and they’re like, “Well you’re putting up the chairs,” and he’s like, “Shoot, I do have the control.” So in our case, it’s a little bit different because we knew if we didn’t grow we weren’t going to make it. We built this business that needed to grow to survive and we had this window where we were a top brand at Neiman’s and we needed to grow the retail business. And so we didn’t have the luxury to not put up chairs because we probably wouldn’t have been around a year later, so we had to grow. But the question was how do I do that while taking care of myself and my family? And something else in that book that was so helpful, saying yes to something is a no to something else, like, it’s not just a lot of yeses. Like anytime you say yes to anything you’re saying no to something else; you only have amount of time and bandwidth and resources, like, that’s just the deal.

And so I started realizing anything I was saying yes to at Akola was a no my kids, my two baby infant children. And my husband runs a company so it’s not like he is able to fill in the gaps, so just to make it even more complicated. So I started getting laser focused and said I’m only going to say yes to things that that brings value to Akola and I’m going to delegate everything else. So I just got really good at that and had an incredible luck and just God’s grace and having some exceptional team members fall in our lap during that time. Brennan Lowery who is our COO now, she sort of built Kate Spade’s On Purpose program in Rwanda. She has been working for Kate Spade and they wanted to set up some sort of manufacturing facility for bags in Rwanda, and they’re one of the only groups like ours that actually built those facilities and built sort of this vertical operation. And they don’t own that, did it under another entity but they really built it. And they sent Brennan who had been working for Kate Spade, they send her over there and basically said figure it out. So she built that over two years and had just kind of come back from Rwanda and met with one of our board members who said, “Wait a minute, this is exactly what we need.”

So we’ve had these positions, and it’s so funny how just like the world works and God works in this way, but we’ve had incredible recruiters like to find the perfect talent for Akola and we’ve gotten it wrong. And then we’ve had someone just meet with a board member, kind of fall out the sky and they’re exactly who we needed, and that’s fine. So Brennan came on in January and what she needed to do and what we needed to do really quickly was to take sort of all of our production processes and calendars and manufacturing processes. That we sort of just organically built, like. We basically made them up. We just created them. They were not best in class. But it didn’t matter, we just retailed to  boutiques, like, we were on our own time schedule and it didn’t need to be best in class. But suddenly, you know, we’re retailing in one of the most prominent retailers in the country where we have to, you know, we needed an upgrade in our system the process that we just didn’t know how to do it. So she came in and because she had built this On Purpose program for Kate Spade in Rwanda, she built what we built but with a major company backing her with all the best processes and procedures kind of behind her. So she came in in January and started kind of transitioning us from sort of our mom and pop we figure it out on our own operation to actually building a supply chain that could support growth. So she came in and did that.

Around the same time we knew, like I told you we’ve got to grow fast, right? Because we’ve just spent all this money building a retail infrastructure to support Neiman’s Marcus but it’s really expensive and we’ve got to have, you know, probably 3 or 4 more account at least over the next year to make that spend make sense. And so we started looking for new business and to make everything more complicated, we had a verbal exclusive with Neiman Marcus through the end of this year so we couldn’t go into any other retailer at that price point and really any other retailers through the Akola brand at that level. We could do boutique but not other big stores, so we thought how in the world are we going to grow if we can’t compete with Neiman’s? But we wanted to honor that because they really built our business. What was so cool about Neiman’s too you know, their whole team came around us, their CEO, Karen Katz, their GM, their department manager, they all helped us figure out how to build this which is so cool. I mean they basically created our brand for us in partnership with us.

Susan: That’s really neat.

Brittany: Which was really cool and Neiman’s never gets the credit for that and people don’t understand kind of all they put into any of their brands, but especially one like ours that give back so they were helping us build it, but we wanted to honor that verbal exclusive with them but we needed to build the business so we created this idea of sort of a sub brand called One Bead One Hope. And our thought process was we could kind of create inexpensive jewelry at a low price point that anyone could afford that has our same impact made in Uganda but sell it through a different brand. And so we created this One Bead One Hope brand and they have these beautiful cards that have a picture of one of our women on it and you write down your hope for someone that you care about and you get to give them the product and kind of think about it as you where it and support a hope for women in Uganda through our program. And it was really successful and so we started testing these products and we thought, “Gosh, I mean we’ve got to get this quickly into some volume retailers,” so I met the CEO of Walmart through the National Retail Federation – we won one of their awards as one of 25 groups kind of reshaping the future of retail and Walmart was a part of that and met Doug McMillon and went up to him and said,”Hey, we’ve got this great product line and we’re in Neman’s with our Akola brand and we really want to create volume product at a lower price point that anyone can afford but through another brand to support our women and he did the same thing that Karen did at that meeting and he said, “Okay, shoot me an email and explain a little bit more,” and I did, and the next thing I know his entire team is coming to Dallas to learn about and what we do at Akola. And we’re test launching through Walmart this holiday which is really exciting so we’ll start in 30 stores and see how they do and 30 road shows and go from there. So that happened and then we secured another account with a volume retailer that I can’t reveal because it’s coming out in two months, and then another one with a major department store which also comes out in a couple of months.

So we’re able to build the business that we needed through this sub brand without having to compete with Neiman’s and we’ve done that, and that’s all launching this Fall which is really exciting and now we’re talking to some other retailers about the Akola brand as well. So it’s been an exciting season of figuring out with no playbook ever how to do this and how to be successful, knowing that what’s on the line it’s or women’s lives and their livelihoods and their ability to provide for their kids which gives anyone on our team the momentum to figure out whatever we need to to make this work. So it has been an exciting time and we’re looking at a lot of different structures that would allow us to grow like we want to grow in the future to support more women so we’re going through a lot of corporate planning and structural planning to even understand how we can do this kind of moving in the future. So yeah, busy, crazy season but I think I’ve learned in the past year to allow it to be busy but not to take over my entire life. And so that’s something that’s been fun is realizing you know I can make my family a priority and rely on other amazing members of our team to pick up some slack and we can still grow but grow in a way that’s sustainable for my life as well.

Susan: Brittany, I am so excited for you. One of my questions was going to be like where are you guys headed next and you’re on this whole crazy train to all these other different amazing places and I am so excited to hear what is to come, I am so excited what you guys are doing for these woman and for the brand in general and just for awareness, you know, what women are going through around the world and providing jobs. To me, that is something that if you can provide a job for a woman, you can change a whole family, and I think that’s one thing you even talked about before. I could ask you a million more questions, we could be here all day, I am not kidding, but I want to respect your time and I really appreciate you coming on.

I do have one question that I like to ask every guest before they leave, and that’s this, your story to me is just so amazing overwhelming, ambitious, and I really am a person who believes that there is something inside every woman that she is supposed to do before she leaves this planet, and I think you were really lucky and you found it at a really early age and you went from zero to like 900 miles an hour and I don’t even know if that’s possible but you seem to have made it possible. Tell us, if you could give a woman listening today just the one actions step – she’s had this thing in the back of her brain, maybe even since college that she knows that she needs to do one day before she leaves this planet, what is one action step that you can leave her with to take today so that she can take another step down the road?

Brittany: I think the advice would be take the step because here’s the thing, I think we all, you know, I totally agree with you, I think every person and this is something we believe at Akola and is fundamental in or mission, you know, every woman is created, any person, for so much more than they can imagine or dream, and unlocking that is the whole point, like, what is that? Why are we here, and what can we do with the one kind of precious life that we have? And our goal is the kind unlock that for our women and we have been able to do that, but what’s funny is through the journey I’ve unlocked that in myself. I mean I’m so much more than I ever thought. I never thought I could do any of this, like, I wasn’t a great student, I wasn’t involved in community service, like, there was nothing about me that was above average in any way, and it started out with one step of faith, you know, taking the next step and staying yes to something which at the time was very small, it was this little tiny home for these kids and then I took another step and another step. And I think sometimes people get so overwhelmed when they hear stories like this because especially if they do want to know the whole story because they’re like, “Well I could never do that,” and that’s not true at all, like, no one starts out, I think very few people, thinking they’re going to do these big great things, it just starts with one step of faithfulness and you continue to take those steps and fight against the disillusionment and failure and the fear and you keep on going and keep on taking those steps and you don’t give up and something amazing happens. So my advice is take that first step, and if you’ve already taken that first step, don’t give up, keep on taking those steps because eventually it will end up being what it’s supposed to be and you’ll end up being who you were created to be which is even more of the point, I think.

Susan: Well, Brittany, that was the perfect answer. That was flawless, I really appreciate that. There were a few times I kind of teared up a little bit myself. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your story. Thank you for sharing the Akola story. And I just really, really wish you luck. We’re coming up on the holidays quickly and I know that you are getting stuff in there because I’m sure September, October is really when you guys are really pushing that stuff out so good luck with that and thank you so much for sharing the story with us today and keep us posted on who you’re launching with through the holidays because I’m excited, I want to share that on our website and on our Facebook page.

Brittany: We’d love that. Yeah, we’re so excited about the One Bead One Hope line. And again, for anyone here who wants to buy more elevated jewelry they could do that through our Neiman Marcus account and we have a mass market line at akolaproject.org so that price point is really under $100 but the One Bead One Hope line that is launching in the three retailers this Fall, products will start at $7.99 so it will be a special brand, an incredibly affordable product where you can have an impact at a very low price point and be able to give great gifts through that. So maybe you go and buy the Neiman Marcus necklace for yourself and maybe for a very special friend or for a teacher’s gift or stocking stuffers you could buy from our One Hope line at these retailers. So I will definitely pass that information along when we’re launching and hope that everyone comes to see what we have in store.

Susan: Yes, and I will make sure to link all of this on our show notes and the Facebook and the Twitter and the Instagram and all of it so nobody fear that they’ve missed anything, it will all be there in the show notes. Thank you again, I really, really appreciate it, and I will talk to you soon.

Brittany: Thank you so much.

Susan: Bye-bye.

Susan: Isn’t she great. I just love Brittany and how she took an opportunity and literally ran with it. Through Akola, she is changing the lives of women around the world. I am a huge fan of Akola, the brand and the mission. Thanks so much for joining me today. I will have all the links Brittany and I discussed over on the transcript page on our website. So check that out for a link to their website as well as links to their Neiman Marcus line. As more retailers come online, I will try to remember to link them there as well. Thanks again for listening and for sharing this podcast with your friends. This show is truly a great love of mine and I appreciate the opportunity to bring it to you. Thank you for your feedback. Thank you for subscribing and thank you for rating and reviewing it.Y’all are my people and y’all are just the best. I’ll see you soon.

Balance doesn’t exist, but you can still be a business owner and a mom, with photographer Rae Barnes

Susan talks with Rae Barnes, owner of Rae Barnes Photography.  Rae is not only a professional photographer, but she is also a mother of four.  Rae shares that she wanted to be both a mom and a business owner and they discuss how she does her best to balance both.  

Transcript:

Susan Long:        Friends, today I’m talking with Rae Barnes, owner of Rae Barnes, photography. Rae and I met in college and for as long as I’ve known her, she’s been an incredibly talented artist. We talk about everything from owning your own business, being a mom, balance and boundaries. I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to talk with her and I hope our conversation gives you the same boost that it gave me. Here’s Rae.

Susan Long:        Good morning, Rae. How are you?

Rae Barnes:        I’m doing well. How are you, Susan?

Susan Long:        I am great and I am so excited to have you here with us today.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, I’m excited to be here too.

Susan Long:        Friends Rae and I met in college. I was very thankful and very lucky that she transferred schools and she transferred to my school. She is a photographer and I think in a little bit of an unusual way. She has been a photographer since the beginning of her career, meaning unlike a lot of us who have transferred our skills around and found other things. Rae started out here, so friends, I’m just going to let Rae kind of take it from here and I’m going to let you run with it Rae. Tell us how you got started, how you knew that’s what you wanted to do. If you knew that’s what you wanted to do. Just let’s start at the beginning.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah. So my journey is rather interesting. So when I was at Converse College with you, um, I really thought that I was going to either go into advertising or teach photography on the college level because both of those things were practical and I like to think of myself as a practical person. So I graduated and started pursuing advertising. Interning with the firm. And not long into it I got a call from the dean of the art department, at Converse College saying someone was looking for a student to photograph their wedding. And of course I always loved photography and I had studied it and pursued it, but wedding photography was always seen as the bottom of the barrel for artists at least at that time. But you know, being a recent graduate, I thought, what the heck, I’ll make a little extra money. So I photographed my first wedding straight out of college and I loved it. It took me about a year and a half to go full time. So I did have a couple different jobs in there. I also got engaged and married and moved to two different states in that year and a half before I went full time. But um, yeah, it was kind of wild road that has taken a lot of turns, but I can say that I have been a professional photographer since I graduated college.

Susan Long:        I did not realize that wedding photography was seen as the bottom of the barrel and we don’t have to go down that rabbit trail, but I find that fascinating considering how much wedding photographers charge.

Rae Barnes:        Well, so it’s not seen that way anymore. At all. In fact, I was talking with someone yesterday and they assume that if you are making your living as a photographer then you must be doing weddings and I do not do weddings anymore. Uh, I did that for eight years and I’ve been done for five. So.

Susan Long:        So talk a little bit about that. How did that transition happen and what took you down this same career? Kind of, but a little bit of a twist.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah.  So several things happened. So I was very passionate about wedding photography. I loved it when I first started my career when my husband and I had just gotten married. We were in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and it was a destination wedding market. The locals couldn’t necessarily afford photography, but all of the people coming in that were having their weddings there were spending a lot of money and they could afford photography. So that was my market and it was great. It was really great for that stage in my life, um, for being a newlywed. I was very passionate about it. And then in 2009 I had a baby.

Rae Barnes:        My last year before I became a mother was a crazy year. I probably worked 50 hours most weeks, sometimes closer to 60, I had someone on staff, I had a studio space, it was a six figure business it was crazy. It was really intense.

Susan Long:        You were living the dream

Rae Barnes:        Sort of. Accept I was exhausted. So then I had a baby and I was not prepared for how much that changed me and my life and my outlook on how I spent my time and working even 40 hours was no longer an option. So I cut back dramatically, and then my husband got a job in Philadelphia, so we moved in 2010 from that tiny little market where I was big fish in a little pond. Had the corner of the market was booking out a year and a half in advance to this huge city where there were tons of photographers. So, so, you know, to make a long story short, it took me about two years and two more pregnancies to decide that I could no longer do weddings  and part of it was just because of the market. It was very different client in the city than it was in the mountains, obviously and part of it was just our life.  I didn’t want to be on my feet for 10 to 12 hours so it was just a natural progression to move towards family photography and so that is a hundred percent of my income comes from family portraits. So you know, it was quite a rollercoaster making that adjustment. 2013 was a really slow year as I transitioned away from weddings into families but that was when our third child was born and I needed to be slow. So it worked out kind of a roller coaster and it worked out. I back up to a six figure business, but I only work 24 hours a week. So that’s amazing.

Susan Long:        Yes, it is. Holy Cow. And you’re not exhausted. Well, maybe you are now because you have four children.

Rae Barnes:        Now I have 4 children. No, but it’s a much healthier balance for me. It’s much healthier being balanced, having family time and it was time.

Susan Long:        and I love that you have found a way to do that and also have not only a successful business but I would imagine have something for yourself that’s outside, ya know, the “Momming”  thing.  Which I love “Momming” too, but I love having something outside myself outside of all of that just kind of for me. And it helps when you can make a little money doing it.

Rae Barnes:        Absolutely. Yeah, so even the years when I was pregnant and nursing and doing all of those Mom things, I never let my business go and part of that I think just is rooted from me being stubborn, but part of it is also because I have some very loyal clients and I just could not imagine letting them go and I also couldn’t imagine not having that outlet, not having that creative outlet. There are some amazing photographers out there that when they become moms seem to start focusing on photographing their own children and I just don’t find the same contentment there that I do in running a business. I want to run a business and I’ve always enjoyed that, so it’s always been a good thing for me even it was very part time.

Susan Long:        Well talk a little bit about that. Talk to us. Obviously you’re very passionate about your business and being a mother. How do you, I guess, how do you make that work?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, so I think it’s taken me a long time to figure it out. My oldest daughter is 9 now and I feel like I’m finally getting to the point where I have a really great balance, so it’s taken me quite a bit of time, but honestly it just comes down to boundaries. I have an office in my home and I close the door when I’m in here, and even if I have a nanny here that’s watching the kids in the summer, that door’s closed sometimes its locked if I’m on the phone. I have very clear boundaries of this is work time and then this is family time. Um, I don’t check my emails. I don’t usually make phone calls. I, I very rarely make exceptions for certain appointments outside of those hours. Now I do all of my sessions on the weekend typically, but I’m never away from my family for more than three hours. Um, and so I think that that has really been the key to keeping us all kind of happy is having those boundaries.

Susan Long:        Absolutely. And something, I’ll interject something here just a little bit because I know there’s a woman out there saying, well I have nowhere in my house. I don’t have a spare room for an office. Friends in launching this podcast. My family is also building a house, so we’ve got a lot going on and we’re currently in a rental home that has no extra bedrooms. We are using them all and so I have taken a very small closet. It’s actually a closet in our house and I have a very, very small desk and a little like wall shelf and a few things set up on those. So if you really want to find an office, you can make one in your home.

Rae Barnes:        So for 5 years I worked off of a laptop. I did not have an office because where my current office is used to be the nursery.  So I had a laptop and I would either hide in the basement, which is very dark and cold. Um, or I would go to Starbucks or the library or anywhere where I can find quiet. I, yeah, you just do what you have to do you. And I worked, you know, slower years. I worked during nap times, I worked after the kids went to bed. I didn’t have as clear cut bundaries as I do now because I was first and foremost mom during the daylight hours.

Susan Long:        Sure.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah. That was challenging. I wouldn’t trade that time for the world, but I also wouldn’t go back to that time for the world. It was hard.  Yeah. You just kind of, just make due with what you have, that’s for sure.

Susan Long:        So clearly you have set yourself up for success. You’ve done it over the years, but how do you define that for yourself?

Rae Barnes:        So, um, success for me is a really interesting thing to think about, because I don’t view success as a destination rather a journey. I really, I personally feel my success is a balance of contentment and discomfort. So the contentment is contentment with all the accomplishments I’ve had, all the wins that I’ve had, seeing how far I’ve come, but no comfort in staying there. I don’t find comfort in staying there. Um, success is something I hope that I never just sit here and think, OK, I’ve made it. I’m successful now. I can just coast because I think that’s really dangerous place to be. I think complacency is a very dangerous spot to be, especially as a business owner, a small business owner, entrepreneur, anything you’re in, especially creative fields. Things are constantly changing. So there’s no time to coast.

Susan Long:        Sure.

Rae Barnes:        So its just a delicate balance to me of being content with what I’ve done, but not content enough to stay there.

Susan Long:        Well, in that same vein then, how do you motivate yourself and how are you, I guess your best cheerleader? Like how do you, what is it that keeps you going?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, so I think it just comes down to my why, Why? If I’m ever feeling like I’m lacking motivation, I have to look at why that either the two levels of why, why am I lacking motivation? Um, is it because I’m doing a task that needs to be eliminated or delegated or renovated. Is it some task that would be better outsourced?

Susan Long:        Yeah.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, I’m really big on outsourcing. I couldn’t do it in 24 hours a week. Um, I couldn’t do it all, but I have a team of people that I outsource certain things to. But there are certain tasks that just don’t need to be done. And then there are certain tasks that you kind of have to power through it, you know, you do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do and you just kind of push through those things and you know, then the other level is the why is why am I doing this, you know, thinking about I only want to work a 24 hour week right now because my youngest is two and my next youngest is about to go to kindergarten and I want time with them.

Susan Long:        Absolutely.

Rae Barnes:        You know, even if it’s just two days a week I take off and I want to be there to take my kids to school and pick them up. Um, so, you know, it’s job that I love, I really love what I do. I love working with families. I love helping them create wonderful pieces for their home, but at the end of the day it is a job. It’s very fulfilling, but my family is the most important thing to me and so my time away from them needs to be spent wisely and I need to be efficient and you know, pursuing the things that are going to advance my business and make money so that I can provide for my family really, you know, those are the two things that keep me motivated,  keep me stepping forward.

Susan Long:        So you have these, do you have any fun tips or tricks or books you’ve read or blogs you’ve read or podcasts you’ve listened to that have helped develop that side of yourself to know?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, so I think, that for me, there’s no one thing that I pursue a lot of things. So I read or listened to books. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I am part of a photographer’s mastermind group that is full of education. I’m full of different business organizations and so I pursue education constantly and I think that that helps keep me going. All of those pieces of never stop, never stop learning, never stop listening because even if I’m listening to a podcast with somebody who, you know, it’s in a completely different industry from me, I still can learn so much about how to better my business through other people. So I can’t say that there’s one thing. You know, one of my favorite books I’ve read recently was by, Jeff Goins, Real Artists Don’t Starve.

Susan Long:        Oh yeah.

Rae Barnes:        That was really, really a great read, especially as a creative entrepreneur because so often, you know, we have this concept of the starving artists. And he says, you need money to make art.  Which is very true. My latest camera cost me over $5,000. So if I weren’t charging appropriately for my work I wouldn’t be able to afford my equipment or my computer or I wouldn’t be able to run a business if I didn’t charge appropriately. So that was really a great great book for me. But like I said, there’s so many different sources that I just every day am being fed by somebody different usually

Susan Long:        That’s, that’s really fascinating. I love that and think, I mean, you’re not charging your clients, you know, $5,000 for one photo. So they saved a lot of money right there.

Rae Barnes:        Although I do often have clients that spend that much, but it’s not on one photo.

Susan Long:        Exactly. But they didn’t have to go out and buy the camera. Oh yes. We’ve done a few. We’ve done a few family photo sessions at this point. I am well aware of what they cost, but I’m also very excited when I get the results. So it’s worth it every time. And I know you’ve talked about doing traveling stuff in the past. I don’t know, you still, we still have not been able to get our families together for any kind of photography or just anything because I’m never on the east coast. Um, or if I am, I’m never out of the state of South Carolina, but one day, one day Rae you will photograph my family. I am bound and determined to make this happen. I love your work. I love your work. We’ve talked a lot about family, we’ve talked a lot about your work, but let’s pull back a little bit and talk about yourself because I hear you giving, giving, giving a lot to your clients, a lot to your business, a lot to your family. How do you take care of yourself? How do you put it down?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah. So, um, I can’t say that I’ve mastered this.

Susan Long:        No one has.

Rae Barnes:        But as Moms, it is something that all of us struggle with. It’s so interesting because I’m an introvert and I work alone most of the time. Every once in a while I have my assistant in the office with me that most of the time.  And often that recharges me being alone, you know, but I do have a job that can be intense and stressful. You know, running a business is not easy. And so I think for me it’s really making sure that I do get alone time. That is not stressful. Taking time to be unplugged, I really try to leave my phone at home, we go to church on Sundays, and it kinda annoys my husband, but I leave my phone at home so can’t text me an tell me where he is in the church somewhere in the church.

Rae Barnes:        But I just love to leave that behind and stop looking at whatever I was looking at,  you know, exercising, going to yoga is, is always really great for me. I love being outside, you know, every season it’s just a little bit different what I do to recharge.  It’s really easy as an introvert to live in a vaccum, but we can’t do that. Even just going out with my girlfriends or one girlfriend meeting up, going out with my husband. We try to do regular date night. Thats just so critical for us because our dinner table is so loud.

Susan Long:        I can imagine

Rae Barnes:        I mean date nights are sometimes the only time we get to talk to each other. Like, oh, what are you doing, what are you doing at work these days? But it really is so important to seek out ways to be recharged. Because you get burnt out easily, otherwise.

Susan Long:        Absolutely and I love that you brought up making time for your spouse because especially working and working late hours, getting this thing off the ground like I have been doing. We have seriously had to make an effort and having a toddler, a three and a half year old. We’ve had to make time for each other that we haven’t had to do in a long time and I don’t know that we ever had to do it like this and finding that, making that happen has been very, very, very important. So I’m glad you brought that up.

Rae Barnes:        It’s so important to be intentional with your time. I think that balancing a business with the mom life has really forced me to be intentional and efficient with my time and I don’t mean efficient when I’m with my children.  Sometimes you just need to sit there and be there.  Or playing Chutes and Ladders. Candyland. Monopoly.

Susan Long:        Yeah. We haven’t gotten to that Monopoly stage yet. I’m not looking forward to that part.

Rae Barnes:        Monopoly Junior is a good start.

Susan Long:        Oh, that’s right. There’s a junior that that would be easier. I know many of our listeners have heard you talk today. They’ve heard our conversation and they realize that they can do this. They’ve had this dream in the back of their head. Whatever that dream is, whatever that goal is and whatever about our conversation today made them think maybe. Maybe I can do that. So what action step, because we can talk all day long and talking is great, but until you take that leap, there’s no action. So what is that action step that maybe you would advise a friend to? What would be that next step that they would want, that you would suggest they take if they are looking to do something on their own outside the box? Just starting maybe from scratch?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah.  So there’s, um, I haven’t read this book yet, but I’ve heard people say this, the title of this book over and over again, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.

Susan Long:        I know exactly what you’re talking about. I haven’t read it either.

Rae Barnes:        I need to read that.  It should be my next Audible. Sometimes I just have to listen,  but um, I love that thing.  Feel the fear and do it anyway because just about every step that I take in my business that makes my business better is scary. It’s scary,  but there’s always that fear that nobody’s going to come back to mewhen I make this change. Nobody’s gunna like this. You just have to kind of push through that and do it anyway. But like I was saying before, you can’t live in a vacuum, so I firmly believe in seeking out mentors, a mentor or an accountability group, or any  kind of source you can find that’s really going to help feed you the courage to do this, but do it thoughtfully and intentionally doing research and then just take that first step, you know, you will find that community that you need to help encourage you to do it. But then just do it. Feel that fear and let it fuel you and just take that first step and you know, it’s not, it’s not a cakewalk doing something that is challenging obviously, but it’s absolutely worth it to do that, to pursue these challenging things because when you do succeed, it’s just, there’s, the payoff is so great, you know, and I wouldn’t trade where I, am right now for the world, I am just so thankful for all challenges I’ve been through. The hards times that I’be been through. There have definitely been some really hard times. Running a business. Being a mom. You know, there’s always challenges, life isn’t easy, but anything worth pursuing isn’t going to be easy. Right?

Susan Long:        No, not at all right. Well Rae, do you have anything else you want to share with us before we close today? Is there anything that I missed?

Rae Barnes:        I was thinking about one thing. If I’m speaking to anyone who is in those beginning stages of building a business or you know, becoming something new sometimes we all struggle with that confidence to take that step. And I was thinking about this and I know we mentioned, we’ve talked about this before Susan, this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I  think culture right now. We really struggle with comparison that it is just like this virus this disease and it’s just come over all of us because we have social media that is constantly showing us how great everybody else’s life is.

Susan Long:        Yes.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah.  It’s easy to get sucked into that. And uh, I would challenge anyone to just step away from it.  Social media is, is it necessary evil. But you are looking at everybody’s highlight reel and nobody has it put together. Nobody has it perfect. Nobody’s living the dream 100% of the time. Life is messy. I just wanted to throw that out there to just, to not be in a comparison game of comparing yourself to where other people are, you know, there’s no such thing as an overnight success. There’s no such thing as someone going from zero to 100 overnight. That’s my closing thought.

Susan Long:        That is a fantastic closing thought and I really appreciate you being here today.

Rae Barnes:        Thank you.

Susan Long:        That was fantastic. Yes, absolutely. We will have to have you back at some point, but thank you again and we will talk soon.

Susan Long:        Wasn’t that fun? I have so many takeaways from this conversation. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” What a great quote from Theodore Roosevelt. I’m tucking that one away. Friends, thanks again for joining us. If you liked this episode, I know you will be excited about our future guests, so go on over to itunes or our website and hit subscribe. I would love it if you would also leave a review as I’m excited to hear what you think. Also on our website, you’ll be able to find the links to the things we mentioned in the show as well as Rae’s website, raebarnes.com and social media info on Instagram at Rae Barnes photo and on Facebook at Rae Barnes Photography. Thanks again friends, I’ll see ya soon.

 

Confidently leaving something safe and finding something even better, with Caytie Langford

In her first interview, Susan talks with executive coach, Caytie Langford.  Caytie shares her story of walking away from the executive role she always thought she wanted after realizing it wasn’t what she wanted at all.  They talk about defining yourself through your work and what that looks like when you do a complete 180.  They discuss everything from starting your own business and how scary that can be to the importance of self motivation, self care, and techniques to bolster self confidence.

https://www.shawnachor.com

https://www.ted.com/talks/luvvie_ajayi_get_comfortable_with_being_uncomfortable

https://luvvie.org/im-judging-you-book/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1tTZSuHJKM (Sara Blakely)

Transcript:

Susan Long:                        Hey everybody. Welcome to our second episode of how she got here. I am so excited about today’s show.  Today, I’m speaking with Caytie Langford. Caytie is an executive coach, although that is not where her career started and we will talk a little bit about that. We will touch on topics such as the importance of setting boundaries and self care. We will also talk about self confidence as well as inspiring and empowering other women and how in turn that inspires and empowers us. Welcome to the show.  I’m excited you’re here.

Susan Long:                        Good Morning Caytie. How are you?

Caytie Langford:               Good Morning Susan. I’m great. How are you?

Susan Long:                        I am doing well and I am so excited to have you here today and I cannot believe this is finally happening.

Caytie Langford:               I know. I’m so excited.

Susan Long:                        OK, so let’s just jump right in. Um, and tell us exactly what you do.

Caytie Langford:               Yes. I am an executive coach and I specialize in helping ambitious, savvy women who just aren’t satisfied in their career.

Susan Long:                        And full disclosure, I know you’re an executive coach because you’re, my executive coach.

Caytie Langford:               That is right.  Yeah. What I do is I help women figure out exactly what they want to get clarity on that and we’ve worked to move them from where they are to exactly where they want to go and so it has been such fun working with you on this big project that you are launching.

Susan Long:                        Yes, and I really, I could not do it without you, but I want to go back. I want to go back to maybe the beginning to where. How did you get here? What, what did that look like? Because this is not where you started. This isn’t even how we met.

Caytie Langford:               It’s not, it’s not. We met actually when I was in fundraising. I spent the first 13 years of my career out of college in major gifts fundraising in north Texas and I like so many women had a plan of where I wanted to go. I was on the ladder climbing it constantly and I knew that I wanted to be in an executive role and so I worked really hard to get there. Was chief development officer at an organization sitting in my corner office one day looking out the window and realized that what I had was absolutely not what I wanted, and so I took a huge leap of faith after coaching on my own, tears, thoughts, speaking with my husband, and so I actually walked away from that career entirely, and that was about three years ago will be three years in May, so I had a total journey change to be able to get where I am today.

Susan Long:                        And that was an easy change to make. Right?

Caytie Langford:               Oh Gosh. I would love for people to think that was an easy change to make, but it was absolutely the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I was completely wrapped up in my job, my career, my title. It was how I defined myself. It was how others define me in our community and it was everything to me. I, you know, I have I’m married but don’t have any kids, and my career was it.  It was the thing, but I realized that I couldn’t be miserable at what I was doing. I really wanted to love my work. I wanted to love my job and in the beginning I did love fundraising. It was phenomenal. It put me in places and I had the opportunity to meet with people and work with people that I never would have come across, but in the end I was just totally burnt out and I just knew it wasn’t the right thing for me anymore.

Susan Long:                        How did you find what that next right thing was? Did you just wake up one morning and go, I think I’m going to be an executive coach?

Caytie Langford:               No, I actually, my husband owns his own business.  I thought that we were going to work together. I actually convinced him to give me a title and I started working on some projects with him, but in the meantime I really wanted to figure out what I wanted to do and I will say when I left fundraising, I was very intentional about not going back to fundraising and the weird thing is is that my phone rang from recruiters and people that I knew for a year. People wanted to know if I was going to get back in fundraising and I knew that that was something I didn’t want to do. I knew that whatever it was I was going to work on my own and so I thought working with my husband on our own would be a good fit. It ended up not being a great fit just. yeah, we just, we. We work really well in life together, but perhaps not so great at every day working partners. So I spent six months. I was very fortunate enough to be able to take six months off and do a lot of soul searching and a lot of digging and I did this a lot through conversations with people, prayer, meditation. I napped a lot. I spent a lot of time with my girlfriends and actually it was one of my girlfriends who took me to dinner one evening and she said to me, she said, ever since I met you, we met a couple of years earlier on a girls trip. She said, ever since I met you, I felt that I was supposed to tell you this, but I never realized when was the good time, and she whips out these papers out of her purse and she says, I think you need to become a coach.  She herself was a weight loss coach and she said, I think that you’d be fantastic at this and I want you to look into this. And it’s funny because I had worked with multiple executive coaches up until that point and in fact my executive coach that I was working with at the time really ushered me through leaving my job and figuring out what to do next and so I’m sitting there with my friend Cynthia and I just went and bought the book that she suggested (Self Help Coaching 101 – Brooke Castillo). I started looking into things. I started being really intentional, thinking about it, meditating on it, praying about it, and it took a couple of months before I really figured out this is exactly what I wanted to do, but it didn’t happen overnight. It definitely wasn’t that quick, but it did happen and it happened with a lot of intentionality.

Susan Long:                        Tell me, and this is not something I asked you before, but tell me a little bit about getting that first client, the work that it took to get to that point.

Caytie Langford:               Sure. So when I first started, I actually did group coaching and it was pure faith on my part. It really was the opportunity for me to step out, be super scared try something and what I did is I put together a list of about eighty women that I knew and told them that I was going to be putting together this group coaching program.

Susan Long:                        And they all called you and wanted your business.

Caytie Langford:               Yes. Every single one of them called me.  No, I had about fourteen women who said yes and signed up and went through an eight week program with me and I learned a whole lot about myself, a whole lot about other people and I did it scared to death every single week. I kept showing up and thinking, these women are going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing. But what was awesome about it was there are people that went through that program with me two years ago who still talk about the impact that was made back then and how they look at life differently. So it gives me such excitement and I’m just, I’m just awe inspired by those folks. But I will tell you so that while also super scary getting a big group of people, really what I do as individual coaching. So getting my first individual client was even scarier. Um, luckily I have a really large network and I had proven myself in the past.  And so I say, Luckily Susan, you and I have talked about this so much. So many of us women, we don’t own our successes. We, we chalk it up to luck or someone else or some something outside of ourselves. And so I’ve really actually shouldn’t have used that word luck. What I had done was I had proven myself in the past, with this woman, she was going through a change. She was really wanting to ramp up her business. She, she owns her own book of business and so worked with her. But the only reason that she said yes, the only reason that she wanted to talk to me about it was because I had proven myself in the past and um, and she took a leap of faith with me and we had an amazing, um, eight month run together and helped her accomplish her goals. So that first one was super scary, but it’s always the first one that we do. The next one and the next one and the next one.

Susan Long:                        I’m sure you had total confidence in yourself that entire time. So tell me, tell me how did you, how did you, how are you your best cheerleader? Because I’m sure you even have these moments now, right? How do you motivate yourself?

Caytie Langford:               Yeah, absolutely. So the one thing that I have learned about owning my own business and stepping out, doing something for myself, I’m not working for someone else, is that it’s a roller coaster. And the best way to get ahold of it is to not ride the highs and lows of the roller coaster. But obviously we do. We, we totally do. We get sucked into. I can’t, it’s not possible for me. I’m not enough, I couldn’t possibly be the right person and so I have some techniques that I use with myself and I actually teach my clients the same thing because really no matter what kind of change you’re going through, it’s that competence piece that holds us back. And so I always liken it to driving a car. You know, think about this when you were 16, 15, 16. The first time you got in a car to drive it.  I know for me it was with my grandmother in the parking lot at a mall before the mall opened one morning and I was terrified. Ya know, here I am in charge of moving this 2000 pound vehicle. And when I think about that, I had to think, I really had to think about every single thing I did when I first started driving. Put Your seatbelt on, put it into gear drive. Actually, you know, and now you think about it, you get in your car every single day, you don’t think about it, right? There’s times when you get out of the car and you’re like, I don’t even remember where. What was I thinking about? Cause I sure wasn’t thinking about driving and so I think the same thing comes to self confidence is that we have to act even when we are scared, even when we are nervous. So one of the things that I do, I use my journal every single day.  I’m big on gratitude journaling. I think there’s a reason why Oprah suggested it to all of us because it works. I think there’s a reason why, you know, Shawn Achor is selling books about how to increase your happiness and why gratitude works because it works. And so I do that daily. I encourage my clients to do that, but then I take it a step further and I have in my office, you know, the giant sticky pad, sticky notes and I have a list of what I call badass stuff that I’ve done and I’ve written out thing that I’ve done that at one point in my life. I thought it was scary and it’s everything from, you know, buying my first house, getting married. The first time I fired someone, I remember that was terrifying for me.

Susan Long:                        wow.

Caytie Langford:               Yeah. I even have going snow skiing the first time I went snow skiing, I was almost 30 years old,  I’m not really a daredevil, but for me that list is something that I can look at every single day so that when I am having that self-doubt, when I am having that loss of confidence, I can look at that and it’s almost a litmus test to be able to say, OK, what is this in front of you that you’re scared of and how does it compare to all these other things that you’ve done? And nine times out of ten it’s not even as scary as any of the things that I’ve done in the past. And so I think a big part of confidence, a big part of self confidence is you have to take the first step. You actually have to move into action and when you move into action that’s, when you get more confidence, more competence, and it grows from there.

Susan Long:                        I’m beginning to understand this action part. You have been a huge, huge help with that even with myself and that is the number one jumping off, taking the leap. That is so the hardest part.

Caytie Langford:               It is. It is. My favorite quote is Martin Luther King Jr. When he says, “faith is taking the first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” And I think about it in terms of What you just said right this leap we think of, you know, the pictures that we see on Instagram or Facebook with, you know, the girl jumping off the cliff and it seems so big and so daunting. And yet I think when we look at what Martin Luther King Jr said it, when you say it’s just the first step, when you can’t see the whole staircase, it’s not as scary sometimes when you think, oh, ok, it’s just the baby step.  Action. Absolutely.

Susan Long:                        I’ve listened to a Ted Talk recently by an author who wrote a book and I, for the life of me, I can see the cover and I cannot see the title of the book right now, (I’m Judging You The Do Better Manual) but her name is Luvvie and her Ted Talk. She talks about the same thing. She calls it like she talks about the domino effect and I think Mother Teresa even relates it to a ripple effect, you know, and it’s like you throw the first stone or somebody has to be the first domino to fall and then everybody else starts coming with you. And I think we’re seeing that now. I think we’re seeing that now with women.

Caytie Langford:               Absolutely. I think it’s an interesting time to be a woman for sure. I think that, what our grandmothers and great grandmothers lived through, you know, a hundred years ago or even less, you know, 50, 60 years ago. We definitely are in different time and yet we still have challenges. We absolutely do. And what I love about women is that we can create these communities, these tribes, if you will, of women who support each other, who can lift each other up. And I know that that’s one of the things that you want to accomplish and you want to make sure happens through this podcast, is that I think that when we are our best is when we are all helping each other get to where we want to go. I find it also super fascinating that by me taking a step in faith by me taking this leap to leave my career, how the ripple effect has. I’ve seen it, I see it every single day. There are people who work with me because I took that step and they think, ok, maybe it’ll rub off on them. Maybe I can teach them something and the reality is maybe I can teach them something and maybe it will rub off on them, but I think we also get confidence by seeing other people succeed, by seeing other people be brave. It teaches us that we can dig deep and be brave amongst ourselves as well and within ourself.

Susan Long:                        And I just love that this is your thing.  That this is your career, this is what you are helping women do every day is you are helping them take whatever that next step is and I love that.

Caytie Langford:               Yeah, I do too, Susan. I mean I. I got off the phone about 45 minutes ago with a client and almost every single time I get off the phone with a client I say, oh my gosh, I love what I do and I love helping them figure out what’s next and how to uncover what the next action item is.  I also really like helping them face their fears head because we all have them.  You were talking about self confidence. I am in the middle of a huge project that I don’t feel qualified for that I don’t  think I’m the right person for, but it’s something that I feel called to do and so I’m doing it, but earlier this week, I mean I was just wallowing in self doubt and self confidence. I just, I just thought, oh goodness, why me? I can’t do this. And being with my clients and helping them actually helps me because I see how brave they are and I can sometimes I steal some of their braveness. Absolutely.

Susan Long:                        Yeah, for sure. I think the more we can feed off each other the better, but I know you’re not the only person on your solo person team. Tell me a little bit about who’s behind the scenes. Are you doing this all on your own?

Caytie Langford:               Yeah, I definitely don’t do it on my own. Well, I think first and foremost, I’m really blessed to have a partner who completely just is my biggest cheerleader. My husband has owned his own business for 16 years, so he’s seen some of the things that I’m going through. Um, and so he definitely helps me out and is always there. He’s always encouraging me and I actually have my own executive coach that I speak to two to three times a month and there’s no way I could do it without her because just like my clients, I face some of those challenges and so she helps me. And then I definitely have a small group of girlfriends who are sounding boards who give me ideas and I talk through. And then I have a ton of just strategy partners and these are people I mean everything from my marketing people who did my website and my copywriting. If somebody said, oh, I love your website, did you do it on your own? And I almost burst out laughing.  I said, no way, right. Because I know what I’m good at. I know where I know where I have strengths and talents. And so I partnered with a lot of people who have other strengths and talents that really do make me look good and helped me get where it is that I want to go so I can focus on what it is I do well. But yeah, it definitely takes a village to do this work. And I think for any of us there’s some kind of village that we need to be able to get where it is that we’re going.

Susan Long:                        I want to switch gears just a little bit and I want to talk about you as an individual outside all of this and how you kind of let this go at the end of the day or recharge your batteries and how you take care of yourself. How do you, how do you put it away? how do you put it down for the day? Because that’s hard to do.

Caytie Langford:               Yeah, it absolutely is. And what’s what I want to start with is just sharing a little bit about success. So one of the things that I have learned is that I had to define success for myself. So what I realized in my former career was that success was always about somebody else’s external definition and not about my internal definition. And so when I got what it is I thought I wanted I realized I didn’t want it because it wasn’t actually what I wanted. So for me success is really simple and clear. it is my desire is to inspire, motivate, and impact the lives of women, period. End of sentence. And that’s something that I look to do every single day in my life. But I also think that you’re absolutely right is that even though I know that’s my life’s purpose and it bleeds over into lots of different things, including my volunteering, me just spending time with my friends, that kind of thing. I have to turn it off of work, right? Because at the end of the day, my coaching and my speaking is still work. And so I set boundaries. I’m very clear on when I take calls, when I don’t take calls, when I answer email, when I don’t answer email and it’s something that my clients know and I think they appreciate as well. But I do believe that we have to take time for self care and you and I have had these conversations. Everyone is talking about it and yet it almost seems counter intuitive to so many of us, right? Because early on we’re taught, put your head down, work hard and you’ll get exactly what you want. So the idea that we would pause, take a step back, do something for ourself. Like that seems selfish, right? it just seems off. And so what I have realized and what, what mentors have taught me is this balance between being and doing. We’re such a doing society, right? It’s the checklist, it’s the, I’m busy, it’s the, you know, I’ve got 97 meetings on my calendar today and a hundred and four things on my to do lists versus the being part, which is slowing down. Who are you, who do you know yourself or are you taking time to really be your best friend? Um, that kind of thing. And so for me, I have some specific things that I do for self care. One is I love to walk around my neighborhood. It’s just nice to get outside to breathe fresh air. I always feel connected to that. And the other thing that I really love doing is cooking. For me, cooking is a creative outlet. It’s a way that I can relax and I just love it. So there are days where I’ll bake bread in the middle of the day. I work from home so I can do that in between calls. But you know, some people that seem so stressful and for me it’s relaxing. The other thing about cooking for me personally is that it actually builds my confidence because I take a lot of risks and challenges and so, you know, one of the things I did in 2016 was I wanted to learn how to make pasta. Well now I can make pasta, homemade pasta, you know, not even think about it. So I’d move on to bigger and bigger things, trying new things and I realized if it doesn’t work then that’s ok. Right? There’s, that’s where the learning comes in, but cooking, being outside. for me also spending time with my girlfriends really is about self care. It’s about recharging my batteries and so I do those things. Um, and a good journal is always fun.

Susan Long:                        That definitely helps me clear my head as well for sure. So I know that there’s somebody out there who heard our conversation today. I’d like to say they overheard our conversation at the coffee shop and said in their head they’re going, it’s time, it’s time for me to take the next step to take that leap. I overheard this conversation for a reason. So what advice would you give that woman? What would be an action step that she could take to help her move forward?

Caytie Langford:               Yeah, absolutely. I think that the key there is action. You actually have to do something. I Also think that if you can have some kind of accountability, whether It be a small group of people, a coach, a pastor. somebody outside of yourself. I will also say, and this is something I talk with clients a lot about, is that there’s a difference in making this broad announcement to everyone in your world and keeping things a little bit closer to the vest and I think you have to figure out what that looks like for you. Every case is a little different, but you know, one of my sheroes, one of my, you know, women that I look up to so much is Sara Blakely who founded Spanx love her, love her story and if you read her story, if you’ve heard her speak about it. She didn’t have a Lot of people that knew what she was doing and she kept it there, kept it small to small group of people because she didn’t want too much noise. She knew that if she had a lot of noise, she might not be able to take those actions. I think that when you’re thinKing about what it is that you’re going to do, taking the action, it might be that you need to tell everybody in the world so that you have/feel accountable, but it might be that you keep it to a close set of advisors and when you’re ready to let more people in, you let them in. You know a couple of people at a time, but it is key for you to do something.  The other thing that I tell my clients all the time and I tell myself this is we have to suspend the belief that we’re gonna know how it’s all going to work because we don’t. We don’t know how it’s all going to work. I had no idea two years ago that my business would look like what it is. I had no idea three years ago when I was sitting in my office miserable that my life would look like today had no idea. And so what I do know is that when the resources are needed, when we need to meet the people we need to meet, when we need to learn the next step, it’s almost as if those things appear by magic and I don’t think it’s coincidence. I don’t think it’s magic, but when the time is right, if you take that step and action, the next step will reveal itself the thing that you need most, the resources that you need most will come to you. But it’s not gonna come to you if you don’t first take the step. So many people Just wait, they wait for the sign, they wait for, you know, the gift that’s going to pay for something or, or that kind of thing. And that’s just, that’s not how it works. You have to move first and then what you’ll need next will come to you.

Susan Long:                        Oh my gosh, it is so true. That is uncanny the way you just said that. Cause I’ve heard, I’ve heard other people say that, but just saying that today to me and just some of the stuff that has happened over the last couple of weeks. I just cannot. Yes, it’s absolutely true. I just, I can’t, I’m, I’m over here. You can’t see me, but I’m over here like my head is just nodding. Yes, yes. So in closing, I just want to say thank you so much for doing this. I am one. I’ve been a big fan of you for a long time. You were always one of those people who seem to have it all together. I love to know in this conversation that you don’t, but you do at the same time. Um, and I just want, I think everybody in the world should just call you and, or listen to you speak or hire you as a coach. I mean, you’re just a phenomenal, phenomenal person and you’ve done it and you’re doing it every day and I just, I absolutely love that.

Caytie Langford:               Well, thank you.

Susan Long:                        Can you tell everybody where they can find you, where you’re speaking next maybe?

Caytie Langford:               Well my next speaking engagement is next month, and I’m going to be speaking at the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, that’s a long name.  Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. I’m speaking at their Next Gen Conference for women under 40 who are entrepreneurs and own their own businesses. And I’m their keynote speaker for that and so I’m super excited about that.  That’s in Dallas at the Hilton Anatole and I know tickets are still available so I would love to have people join us there for anybody who owns their own business and is a woman. You can find me on, on Facebook at Coach Caytie. I’m also on Instagram at Caytie Langford and my website is caytielangford.com.  And so the only thing you’d need to know is that Caytie is not spelled the normal way thanks to my awesome mom who was super creative. Um, my name is spelled Caytie, so Caytie Langford.

Susan Long:                        Awesome. And we will have links to all of this up on our website. And so all you have to do is go and click and follow or friend or whatever. And then the name of her, the spelling of her name will be ingrained in your head because it just doesn’t go away after that. It’s the best spelling ever. It’s so unique and it’s so fun. And I absolutely love it. Well, Caytie, thank you so much for joining us today. I absolutely love that you were here and friends. Just have a great week and Caytie we’ll have to have you back soon.

Caytie Langford:               Sounds great. Susan, thanks so much and ladies that are listening, I just want you to know that whatever dream is in your heart, whatever it is you’ve been noodling on, that you’ve been thinking about that wakes you up in the middle of the night, whatever that looks like, you can absolutely have it. You can absolutely make it your reality, so thank you Susan for having me.

Susan Long:                        Thank you.

Susan Long:                        Wasn’t that the most fun? I just love Caytie and find her so inspiring. She’s taken such a leap with her career change and not only has it paid off for her, but it has paid off for her clients as well because of her change, she is truly empowering others. thanks so much for listening today. If you liked this episode, I know you’ll be excited about our future guests, so go on over to itunes or our website and hit subscribe. I Would love it if you would also leave a review as I’m excited to hear what you think. Also on our website, you will be able to find the links to the things we mentioned in this show as well as Caytie’s website and her social media accounts.

Susan Long:                        thanks again, friends. I’ll see ya soon.

 

Premier Episode

In the premier episode of How She Got Here, Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women, Susan, the creator and host of the podcast, shares the tipping point in her life that drove her to action.  She was tired of being made to feel inadequate by messages she had heard and internalized since she was a young girl.  She also discusses how sharing her story with other women lead to her hearing similar stories from others.  The result of all of this has lead to the creation of this podcast. The goal of which is to share the stories of Everyday Extraordinary Women! 

Transcript:

Susan:                  Hey friends, welcome to the first episode of How She Got Here, Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women. I’m Susan. Your host and creator of this podcast and I’m grateful to have you join me. Ladies, we are on the cusp. We are living in a time of great opportunity and possibility. Women are rising together all over our country, all over the world. This space highlights everyday women doing extraordinary things. Why? Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” These everyday women’s stories we hear are the stones, stones, to inspire us, to create the ripples, calling us to be ourselves, to push our dreams, to reach a little higher than we thought we could. My goal each week is to bring you a guest with her own awesome and inspiring story. So consider this my invitation to you to accompany me on this journey. Come with me and let’s explore the fascinating and inspiring stories of the women around us. I hope we will laugh together. I hope we will cry together. I hope together we will learn more about ourselves. I confess, I don’t know where this journey will take us, but as Tina fey once said, “You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide over thinking it. You have to go down the shoot.”

So to me, one of the greatest part of going on a long trip with someone is that you get to learn so much about them and your relationship with them is never the same. So today I’m going to share a little about me.

A few years ago there were some huge changes in my life. My husband and I overcame a struggle with infertility and we finally had the baby of our dreams. That will be a whole separate episode that I’ll save for later date because that’s a hard subject. One evening after a particularly hard day, I put the baby to bed and finally had a moment to myself. I was watching television and what I saw on the screen sent the message loud and clear that as a woman I wasn’t enough.

And whether it was the straw that broke the camel’s back that night or the huge lack of sleep, I burst into tears and yet no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake that feeling in the pit of my stomach and it’s that feeling we all have sometimes. It’s that voice in the back of the head, my head and your head, and the anxiety that no matter what I did, I was never gonna be enough. This feeling consumed me and the fear of failure paralyzed me. These are messages I had heard either directly or indirectly all my life. Most recently it was a message I heard when I was talking with someone who was very close to me, and this is not a political podcast. This is just my truth and this is just a part of the story. It was the night that the Access Hollywood tape was released and I was on the phone with this person and I said, what if this man had been talking about me? And all this person could say to me at that moment was “he represents my values” and I was shocked.

But you know, like I said, I’ve heard this directly or indirectly all my life. I heard them in the church I grew up in where to this day in 2018, women are still not allowed to preach. I heard them in school when I was told I couldn’t wear shorts to school because they weren’t fingertip length. And like many of you, I’m sure I heard them from strange men, adults who cat called me when I was around, you know, 14, 15, 16. And the adults that I trusted said, oh, just ignore them and take it as a compliment that you look cute.

That’s the message we want to send to our young girls. That’s the message that I was supposed to get from that. That not only that I’m cute, but I’m supposed to take a cat call as a compliment. No!  No more. But I realized that these are messages that have been internalized and ingrained in myself, and I’m guessing some of them are probably in you too. And what’s worse is I kind of believed them. We’ve all gotten these messages on some level, haven’t we? And it seemed this night, this night that this breakdown happened with me, it seemed like it was a night that was years in the making, but I wasn’t just devastated anymore. I was angry and I was mad and I was tired of the BS. I cried myself to sleep that night.

I woke up the following morning and I was exhausted. I knew I hadn’t slept well, but I also woke up determined with a new sense of purpose. I reached out to a few friends who I consider to be sisters and I was reminded that I was at my best when I was surrounded by these women. They’re friends from college and I was fortunate to have graduated from a small single gender liberal arts college. It was an amazing bubble. It was safe and it was empowering for me and it was like no other place on earth. And I have not had that same experience since. I also reached out to my former professor for women’s history, Dr Melissa Walker for a list of books on our foremothers. I felt like a refresher would help on our history, so I read about Ida B. Wells, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B, Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, the early days, how it was started, why it started. I read about the Seneca Falls Convention, who was and wasn’t included and the privilege associated with that. I re-read the story of how long it took us to get the vote and in case you didn’t know, it took us 70 years to get the vote. Susan B, Anthony did not live to see the nineteenth amendment ratified. She died in 1906 and the nineteenth didn’t happen until 1920.

Y’all change takes a long time and sometimes it won’t come in our lifetime. I read about Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, and they had a really cool movie come out about those women, but the book was 100 times better. I read about Grace Hopper, Coretta Scott King, Sally Ride, Sandra Day O’Connor, and these are just a few, a few of my favorites.  Y’all, there are so many incredible women. Women we didn’t learn about in standard history classes and these are women that changed history that for sure will be a future podcast episode

During this time I also found it helpful to talk things through with a therapist and I know therapy is still sometimes a taboo subject, but just being able to talk this stuff out is really helpful and if you’re going through something, I would seriously encouraged you to do that. I also journal during this time and I started some serious spiritual meditation. I tried being still and I tried centering myself and eventually started to pay off. I started to notice things that I had not noticed before and hear things that I would have otherwise missed. I began to truly value these authentic moments, not just with myself but with those around me. I found that it was these moments that renewed my spirit. As I worked through all of this and started sharing my story. Other women confirmed similar situations and similar feelings. Apparently a ton of us are walking around looking pretty darn amazing on the outside, but on the inside we constantly feel like we aren’t enough, and I have had enough of that.

Have you? Y’all I want this space to be a place of peace. I want to create a place where we can celebrate. I want this to be a place of inspiration. I want us to be able to share our hopes and our dreams, but more importantly, maybe most importantly, I want us to be able to speak our truths and I want us to grow together. So that’s just in a nutshell my story and we’ll learn more about each other as this goes along. The next time we meet, I want to begin our journey together in earnest. In the meantime, I would love for you to reach out and say hello. Tell me about yourself. What are your hopes and your dreams? What do you think of our first couple of episodes? I would appreciate your feedback after all. This journey and this space is not just mine, but I want it to be ours. And I’m ready and I’m so excited for it to begin.

I’ll see you soon.