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Dr. Stephanie Akoumany: Gamifying our Growth & The Deeper Layers of Self-Care—OFF THE CUFF

Larry Sharpe

10/06/2020
By Larry Sharpe

How do you prioritize self-care in a world where we are encouraged to put others before self? You know that you’ve got to nourish yourself before you can nourish others, but how do you do it? That’s the topic that we delve into this week with Dr. Stephanie Akoumany, the founder of leadership curation company Bloom.

Watch the Full Interview on YouTube

Dr. Stephanie Akoumany Interview Key Points

In this interview, Dr. Stephanie discusses the following topics:

  • Self-care is not an option
  • How to turn exercise into play
  • The importance of taking time for yourself
  • How to take time for yourself when the world is telling you that you are selfish
  • How to incrementally build your self-time
  • Challenges she had to struggle through in high school
  • The importance of listening to our intuition
  • Self-care embodies self-esteem
  • The importance of knowing who you are and who you want to be
  • The balance of caring and not caring about what others think of us
  • The need to identify ideas, beliefs, and practices
  • How self-care can help you come back from failure or rejection

About Dr. Stephanie Akoumany

Dr. Stephanie Akoumany is the founder and CEO of Bloom. Her personal development and leadership company emphasizes social-emotional learning, fitness, healthy eating, diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is also the host of The Blooming is a Habit Podcast. Over the last 8 years, she has helped hundreds of students, educators, and parents in the Baltimore and Washington, DC areas.

Dr. Stephanie Akoumany, close up shot wearing a black top.
Dr. Stephanie Akoumany is the Founder of Bloom

Stephanie graduated from the University of Maryland College Park in May 2018 with a Ph.D. in American Studies. In addition to her business and podcast, she is a speaker, researcher, and educator. She is invested in helping schools and businesses to cultivate cultures that embrace diversity, equity, culture, inclusion, resilience, and holistic wellness.

Dr. Stephanie Akoumany taking a group photo with her class.
Dr. Stephanie Akoumany is a Speaker and Educator

In 2019, Stephanie created the 2019 Bloom Wellness Summit to help middle school girls and their teachers brainstorm how to prioritize wellness at their schools. The summit was sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center of Adolescent Health. She was also a keynote speaker at the National Coalition for Girls School Educating Girls Symposium in 2019.

Find Dr. Stephanie Akoumany online:

Watch the Full Interview on YouTube

  • Hey, everybody. So happy that I have you here on Off the Cuff, sponsored yet again by 1AND1. I am very lucky today that I have with me someone who’s gonna talk to us in a different way about things like emotional intelligence and self-care and stuff, all about it in a way you probably haven’t heard before. The good doctor, Stephanie Akoumany, how are you?
  • I’m doing great, thanks so much, Larry, I appreciate being here.
  • Absolutely. Now I gotta go right to the piece that you bring up that is kinda warm and fuzzy, but kinda not and that is you always say, “Self-care is not an option.”
  • Hmm.
  • Now–
  • Yeah, I do say that a lot.
  • Yes, so that’s kinda like warm and fuzzy self-care, but not an option. And its kinda like order, so help me out with that one.
  • You’re a great interviewer, Larry. I’ll say you get straight to it.
  • I do.
  • I love that. That’s how it should be, it’s off the cuff. So I say that self-care isn’t a option because no matter what you choose to do, there will be consequences. You might like the consequences, you may not like them. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll see those negative consequences, just overflowing in your life in every space. I always say it like this, if you don’t brush your teeth, you go into the meal, well, pre-COVID maybe out with your family, if they’re living with you at the time, you have a conversation with someone, you’ll get a response back from them. If you do brush your teeth, it probably would be a more pleasant interaction. So when I say self-care, I don’t just mean going to get a manicure or pedicure, getting your hair done. Those things are great if that’s what floats your boat, but what I mean is taking time for yourself. And that means like, even if you’re a parent, even if you’re a spouse or a partner in some way, whoever else you have commitments to, it means making time for yourself, going out in nature, watching a show that you really love by yourself, knowing how to sit with yourself, to think about how you’re feeling.
  • But how am I gonna do that, when my world is telling me,
  • Okay?
  • that that makes me selfish? My world is telling me,
  • Oh, yes.
  • that I’m selfish if I do that, right? I gotta, hey, this isn’t about you, Larry, this is about your kids. So this isn’t about you,
  • Exactly.
  • this is about this thing, right? The world is telling me if I do that, I’m selfish.
  • You have to fill your cup first. Jada Pinkett Smith says this all the time. Before the whole entanglement stuff that doesn’t even matter. It’s not our business.
  • She got into an entanglement, that’s all.
  • A lot of people do, I’m sure, unfortunately, so–
  • I’m not sure if that’s self-care though, I’m not sure.
  • Well, but that’s what I was gonna say though, because, and it’s not about Jada, it’s about the idea. But if we all take care of ourselves, we’ll figure out, hey, I’m not happy in my relationship right now and I need to be a little bit selfish to figure out what it is I need. I think there’s a balance. So I think that when you fill your cup, you can pour better into others. What I mean is, if you take time for yourself, you feel energized, you feel fulfilled you feel calm. But when we keep giving our time and our energy to other people, we end up resenting it to some extent, because we keep giving more and more to everybody else, but ourself. So I think whoever it is that you’re working with, your family, your spouse, your coworkers, your boss, you need to make sure that you’re putting personal time so that you can collect yourself and really just figure out what do I like to do for fun, that doesn’t involve other people. I think a lot of people don’t take time to figure out, what do I like to do for fun? So that they can get re-energized. It’s like your cell phone.
  • But isn’t there going to be social pressure against that? That’s my question, right?
  • Oh, yeah.
  • You and I work together, in this fictitious world we just made up, right? We’re partners in a company, right? And all of a sudden I go, hey, Stephanie, I can’t spend time working with customers this weekend, ’cause I got to go do some self-care. Aren’t you gonna be like, Larry customers, what’s wrong with you? Aren’t customers gonna be like, Larry, I want access to you.
  • I’m asking you,
  • Totally.
  • how do I as an individual, how do I get around that, right? That’s not an easy thing,
  • Yes.
  • to handle that pressure that you’re gonna put on me, that our customers,
  • Hmm.
  • are gonna put on me.
  • That’s true. Definitely. So that’s a great question and that’s real. So I think the answer to that is figuring out how to… This is like training and it’s like a workout you can’t expect to go from like not working out to an out myself. And I’m gonna answer your question after this analogy. When I first started working out, I hated it. I absolutely hated working out. Don’t ask me to go any way to walk or run, not for me. I got on the treadmill, tried to run four speed, it felt like I was dying. All I wanted to do was sit on the couch, eat and watch a good show.
  • Right.
  • And that’s cool, if that’s what you wanna do, just don’t do it all the time. So here’s the answer. You have to do it in increments. You need to like take some time for self-care,
  • Okay.
  • throughout the week. We all have five minutes. Somebody is on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat for at least probably if you look at your screen time, probably an hour a day–
  • Probably too much.
  • Just being, yes, that’s probably more than that. So we all had the time, It’s like, am I going to make myself a priority? So if you feel like yes, you’re crunched for time like many of us are, set a timer on your phone like literally I set timers all the time. I set a timer for eight minutes, right? Eight minutes to like meditate. If you’re not there yet, just to watch a funny show,
  • Right.
  • like let’s start there. Watch something that will make you laugh, that’ll make you feel like, oh, it’s a good day, right? Look at some pictures of your cat, whatever it is that makes you happy–
  • Sure.
  • Call a friend and when you do that, then the next day build on it. Next day give yourself 15 minutes, the next day, give yourself 20, right? And it doesn’t have to be the same time every day, maybe you’re a nighttime person, when your kids go to sleep, you need to, before you talk to anybody else, 20 minutes for yourself.
  • Hmm.
  • So that by the time you made it to the weekend, you’ve trained yourself to say like, I am a priority because if you’re not meal prepping, maybe you can’t meal prep for the whole week just to make a meal for you, just make a snack,
  • Got it.
  • get into the car, get some grapes, that’s self-care. So you can swap out the grapes for the Cheetos, right?
  • Hmm.
  • Every little bit helps and you build up like a checklist. Like, hey, I got grapes today instead of like great juice,
  • Hmm.
  • That’s fake. I got like some fresh air today I walked even if I didn’t run. I did some yoga with this free yoga app or free YouTube app. It’s like swap, it’s like healthy food people think is nasty but maybe you love a certain type of like pizza. Maybe you can Google the healthy alternative to the pizza.
  • So if I hear you right what you are saying is, the first step to this is not trying to all of a sudden take the weekend off and go to Italy, you’re not saying that, right?
  • Mmmh, nope!
  • You’re saying,
  • No, am not. Shake what I’m doing now,
  • Yes.
  • and swap one thing out and then that’s the way to begin to move to self-care.
  • 100%. Because,
  • Got it.
  • you’re gonna feel like it’s too much of an investment.
  • Hmm.
  • It’s like money. This might sound weird, but I know some people–
  • The first one is nasty ow it’s weird, I’m liking this already keep going.
  • It’s not weird but, I think we don’t think about it a lot until we’re like, oh.
  • Okay. So it’s like going to Sam’s club or BJ’s or one of these hostile places, right? If you go into any BJ’s or a Sam’s club, you’re gonna spend at least a hundred dollars most likely.
  • Sure!
  • And if you don’t want to like budget that much, it’s gonna feel like a lot, so you might make a bypass or even though you really need to go to get all that stuff and wants to just avoid COVID all these things, right? But it’s an investment. And so if you know that in the long term, you taking 15 minutes out of your schedule to meal prep, at least for lunch, that investment is gonna go a long way.
  • Got it.
  • It takes more money, more currency, more time here instead of money. I always tell people like you can run a whole mile in 15 minutes and that’s one mile you did more today than you did yesterday. You can walk a mile
  • Sure. Well, maybe not walk with, you could walk them out with 30 minutes, but that’s better. And so it’s like just making the investment and recognizing that time… If you think time is money, when you’re gonna pay, you really need to realize that time is like currency in your life. It’s the wealth beyond the money, which can lead you to make more money.
  • Sure.
  • If you’re healthier, you can be wealthier.
  • So you said that when you first started talking about fitness, you weren’t a big fan of fitness. So let me go back If I could, when you’re a kid–
  • Sure.
  • You’re an elementary school girl, right?
  • Hmm, all right.
  • Eight, nine, 10 years old, that level, right?
  • Right.
  • Were your parents into fitness, were they like go out and run or were they like go to school, what were your parents like, where were they?
  • That’s a good question. So they were more about school.
  • School.
  • They definitely trained me to be like the best scholar ever. And I love learning so like for me, they may made learning like a game, like fun, so it was never like do your homework, they gamified it. Which I think we do used to a lot more, like if you do this, then you’re gonna learn this and you can probably get this prize, right? Or like, you’ll win this at school or even if it was nothing at school, they would like incentivize me usually also with allowance, with money. So if I did all I needed, I would get the same amount of my age, right?
  • Oh, okay.
  • So that was seven. And I did all my chores and homework at seven years old, I would get seven dollars a week and that seemed like a really good price to me. But now we’re adults and we have to gamify our own lives, but to go back to fitness, they let me run and play, but to be honest, the neighborhood I grew up in was not the safest, so if I can not go outside by myself, if I was out there, they had to be with me. And so they would let me run halfway down the block and halfway back, I can never go all the way to the end by myself. But they would take me to parks, they bought me a bike. We would go to like different lakes with like a track around it sometimes–
  • Did you have a sibling that joined you?
  • No, I was an only child but my cousins were always living with me at one point or another, so I always felt like I had siblings. And they would let us go out and play but it wasn’t under the guise of fitness, it was under the guise of play.
  • Got it.
  • And if I can make a quick sidetrack, I think that’s actually what we need to do that’s what I often tell people. At the beginning, you don’t wanna think about it like, oh, I need to make a fitness regimen. No, Nope, No. You need to say, I need to play. I always tell people, go on YouTube, iTunes, wherever you’d like to get your music, you need to make a music playlist as if you were about to let it go to a club that you like or a dance party or a family reunion where there’s tons of music or in your car, when you start dancing without even realizing it, those are the songs you need to collect in the playlist. And when you go out, you need to play those while you were exercising, dancing, doing Zumba, working out at home because you need to feel like a party at the beginning. If you aren’t the type that is like motivated by like, let’s do it.
  • So let me go back again to you’re a kid, that the cousins around you playing when you play, academics matter, getting you seven bucks, eight bucks a week, whatever also make some cash, I like that.
  • Yeah.
  • So when you’re doing that, who would you look up at looking up to now as a hero at this point, are you looking up to people on TV or are you looking to people that you saw in the movie or fictional characters in a book, your uncle, your cousin who you looking up to at that point?
  • That’s a really good question. I think my parents were definitely… I respected them a lot. They were my friends, I knew not to like cross any of like crazy boundaries. Like I couldn’t just curse in front of them or anything like that, I would say they were my heroes.
  • Which one motivated you more? Was when you looked at yourself, was there one of them that you probably… I’m assuming as most kids, I’m assuming that you want it to make your parents proud as most kids do–
  • Yes.
  • But was there one parent that you were like, I got to make this one proud, I mean, I’ve gotta do that. They’ll get over it, but this one, no, oh my God, was there one?
  • That’s a really interesting question. And a lot of the people I work with had that, but I would honestly say no, it was both of them. They operated as a team and I know that that was a privilege, but they operate as a team. So I looked at them as such, they communicated the same expectations. There was neither one that I could get over and the other one not. So I actually wouldn’t say that I know a lot of people experience it, but no, but if I had to like be very narrow, I couldn’t do it.
  • No worries,
  • I actually couldn’t do it.
  • you don’t have to its fine.
  • Yeah.
  • And you had both your parents all the way through high school?
  • I did, I was very lucky.
  • So now you’re in high school now, most high school kids, right?
  • All right.
  • If you imagine most high school kids, they’re liking the cool pop star of the day or the cool movie star of the day, whatever, that’s their cool thing, right?
  • Yeah.
  • How about you, was that you?
  • Well, yes. Well, not as a hero, but like I had a crush on Justin Timberlake, but I didn’t look up to him as like, somebody I needed to emulate. Tryna to think I’m–
  • Oh, he is a Puppy Director so he is not a bad person I mean it.
  • Yeah. Yeah no, it’s not bad It just was more of a crush than like he inspired me. But maybe like your Serena Williams of the world, I mean, I always thought of her, it’s like this kind of like, how in the world can you do that superhero type person, middle school maybe like Brandy the singer and actress Brandy in Hollywood. I definitely saw her as someone who seemed relatable and I felt like she was telling black stories, like African American that showed like… It wouldn’t be on class dynamics.
  • Hmm.
  • So I think between Serena Williams and Brandy and yeah, I love Destiny’s child, Beyonce, all that stuff.
  • Sure.
  • I guess that’s about relatable.
  • So when you are in high school, most kids, teenagers, they fall down at one point they make a mistake, they mess up, they have a challenge they don’t do well. Can you think of a challenge you had that you had to struggle through in high school?
  • Oh yeah, for sure. I always knew who I was, but I had to get over like showing that to other people. So I used to be very quiet now within I was super calm, confident, but I felt I’ve gotten better. I’m laughing because I often felt like I was, hmm, how do I express this? I never let lost for words. I felt like it was hard to communicate. I’ve always loved learning and exploring how people felt. Okay, I’ll give you a more concrete answer. One challenge that had to overcome was that, I had a lot of people always come to me with their challenges, I think cause I was a good listener, but sometimes I wouldn’t know when to say, hey I think like I need to help you find the best resource, like as a teenager, I had good advice, but maybe I took on too much at once. And also I didn’t really show myself, I took in other people’s feelings and emotions, but I didn’t really put myself on the line until like senior year then I just didn’t care anymore what people thought about me. And so I decided to put myself on the line and show and thank God I did ’cause you don’t wanna be kind of quiet about that, ’cause it’s you.
  • But you bring this up also as part of self-care, which is odd because most people don’t bring this aspect up at all. This fell right into what I was gonna ask you next, which is, part in your world of self-care is what you say is being able to show yourself, right?
  • Yes.
  • You bring that up, you talk about being able to show yourself, but traditional emotional intelligence, doesn’t talk about that. Traditional emotional intelligence talks about figuring out who the other is and relating with others,
  • Right.
  • which you just said you did in high school.
  • Hmm.
  • But now you’re saying it’s not just relating to the other, It’s relating to how the other sees you.
  • And not caring too. It’s a dance and so I think that–
  • But doesn’t not caring piece break the emotional intelligence piece or not?
  • No, nope. And I think that’s like the evolution of the core of the concept. So if you think about emotional intelligence, it is about understanding other and you need to like really listen, like for instance, when you were just asking me the question and leading up to it, a deep part of me wanted to just answer your question and not hear the rest of what you said, to be honest–
  • True.
  • Like the human part of me, because I had an idea of what you were gonna ask me. But if I chose to do that, I would have missed out on everything you asked me the nuances of it and I could have been wrong about, I could’ve made an assumption that was wrong about what you were gonna say. I think so often we do that or having a conversation with someone or making a bond, we assume who they are, based on a few key details they give us and we respond and react accordingly.
  • The blink like Malcolm Gladwell says, right?
  • Exactly. But we have to pause and really hear them and get to know their nuances, people are not the same every day everyday everyday we are changing. So I might have said one thing yesterday, but now I’ve said something that’s a little more different and I need to like pay attention to that and other people, but what about ourselves? We’re different too. So today I might not feel like walking or running or reading a book or learning anything or be taking an online course, but tomorrow I might be ready, right? And we need to allow ourselves to listen to our intuition because if we don’t, it’s self betrayal and I’m not the one that came up with that idea, I cannot think of that guy’s saying for anything. I think it’s Nathaniel, Brandon, I can give you a link later, but there’s a book called, ‘Self Esteem’ and it was written in the ’90s. And he says like, “If we don’t have self esteem, it’s self betrayal.” So meaning that if I don’t see, like here’s the thing, self-care for me means that you embody self-esteem. If you don’t think you’re worthy of your good things happening to you because you’ve had a long track record of crappy things happening to you. If you don’t feel like you’re a good person, if you don’t feel worthy of redemption that you can fix the problem when you made a big mistake, your self esteem is not what you want it to be. There’s a big concept called Self Actualization, but it’s not even about the term, it’s like, do you believe that you can make a mistake and fix it? And that you’re worthy of redemption, that self-care. Because when you believe that you’re worthy of good things happening to you and that you can create good things for yourself, then you start taking care of your health, your wellness, you start not dealing with people who are toxic to you, right? We have a lot of people in our lives they mean well, but maybe they’re not for us right now, right? Like maybe they’re always complaining or always venting to you, but when it’s your turn to like share something that’s bothering you, you can’t do that with them, hmm, alert, alert.
  • What if that person is a family member though? Like what if that person is your mom or your sister or your cousin
  • That’s the hardest.
  • or your brother or–
  • Social distancing.
  • But I mean, it’s your mom or its your cousin or you grew up with your cousin, right? Now your cousin is that toxic person that’s…
  • I’ve been there. I completely and all love to my cousins, like I won’t say who, when why and I’ve been there with family and close friends and I think we all have.
  • Hmm.
  • I think we all have and it’s so hard ’cause you love them But the thing is, you can have love for them and like respect yourself. Because at the end of the day, you have to go home to yourself even if they live with you, right? Whether they live with you, right?
  • Hmm.
  • When you’re in your own space, if you have the luxury of having your own room, or if you don’t, ’cause social distances has changed that for a lot of people.
  • Yes it has.
  • When you go into the bathroom, like if you, if it’s when you’re in the bathroom and the shower, wherever that place is that you are alone, you have to make time for yourself and say, you live in the same house, you need to put yourself in another room. If you don’t–
  • Would you talk about that too, right? This is the second thing you bring up which I think is also not normal. I’m not trying to insult you, I’m saying you’re special–
  • No, yeah.
  • Is that you talk about actual spaces, you bring this up not just with the individual, but also with the organization. You talk about having spaces that are for certain thing, right? In this case, I feel like you’re saying you want the individual that has some toxicity in their life, which is every individual, right? has toxicity in their life,
  • Yeah, that’d be better.
  • to have a space that says, “I here, I gotta just kind of cleanse that out of me.”
  • Yeah.
  • Am I reading you well?
  • Yeah. Look, we go to the bathroom and it’s a certain space, yes, you’re read to me perfectly. We have a room called the bathroom, everybody does, well if you have the privilege of having a bathroom at your home, ’cause some countries that is not the case, let’s be honest. But if you have the privilege, even then, there are spaces that are dedicated for, I have a four year old for pooping and peeing. There are places where we then wash our hands, we do not use the toilet bowl to wash our hands for a reason because there are toxins in that poop and pee that will infect the rest of your body. And hey, that’s why your body wants it out. Just like when we’re yelling, when we get upset and we’re yelling and screaming, your body cannot contain the frustration anymore, so it lets it out, right? When we’re happy, your body can’t contain the joy anymore, we laugh. Everything has a home in a space, but just like our house, when we start letting everything go everywhere, the spaces like my… Hmm, how do I say it? Just anything in general like if your room is like messy, it feels messy because things aren’t in it’s place, so everything needs a home. So for a meditation room, I’m sure you might’ve watched that video where I was talking about like schools and organizations should have a space for meditation or yoga. It’s because you can kind of just focus on that one thing. During the pandemic right now, a lot of people are having trouble, If they can work from home because now work life and family life have merged.
  • Yes.
  • So you literally like, yeah, you have to have a space that’s like a office, but that might be your bedroom too. And what if your kid or a parent or your parent or spouse or whoever lives with you needs to come into their room while you’re working, right? So I think now it’s showing us that we have to be flexible because we are not just professionals we are not just business women and businessmen we are whole people. And so I always look at things holistically because even though you need to have separate spaces to focus all the way, sometimes you need to bloom where you’re planted and make the best of the space–
  • But that’s why I go with the business thing you’re talking about, right? If I’m a business owner, right? And your career, you’ve been through all types of stuff you’ve been through government and academia now you’re an independent consultant entrepreneur.
  • And I was in nonprofit, so yeah.
  • Yeah, so you’ve been through all this stuff, right? And you know that generally speaking, when it comes to organization, they’re gonna push the mission and they wanna run as lean as they can possibly run, If you’re a nonprofit, they’re gonna be like, we’re running lean we ain’t got time for your spaces Dr. Stephanie, we gotta serve our constituents. If they have profitization, we got stockholders, otherwise I can’t give you this space. That’s gotta be space for whatever, equipment or whatever, inventory, inserting here, right? all they gonna tell you, I don’t have time for this stuff, you’re an adult, go find your own space or whatever. Isn’t it gonna be push back you gonna get from any CEO or executive director or president.
  • Well, thank you so much for that, that’s a great question. So no, if you want to be profitable in the long term, you better. And if you can’t find a physical space, you need to connect. There are so many fitness companies, wellness companies that have corporate partnerships. One thing the pandemic is showing us that many people’s businesses, even if they could afford it, what they’re announced Twitter, I believe it was Twitter the CEO said that from now on, everybody can work from home if they want. Now Twitter is a good example because they had a whole campus, right? And globally, they have campuses, right? So if you think about it, those campuses had cafeterias, they had busing systems to get their employees from point A to point B. They would bringing Yoga and Zumba instructors and diversity equity, inclusion, like all these things. But now they’re realizing that people can work from home. So for this new shift in our world, right now, it’s a perfect example because you can then outsource find organizations that are already doing the work that you want, create a partnership with them, where their employees get discounts or if you are very profitable, pay for it, right? I’m in DC, and I see so many companies that make partnerships with WMATA, which is a subway system that gets people around, so you get discounts or you pay for your employees Metro Card. So like if you know every company will be at different stages economically, of course, where they can afford certain things. But if you can’t afford everything, you need to do what you can do and make it clear to your employees that you were trying. Even if you can only identify great places that they can go to like, there’s a great organization in DC called BOOMBOX Boxing. So like, even though there’s the pandemic they’ve been doing, like outdoor things, like space people apart out the field–
  • Sure.
  • All these things, but you can create a partnership with them and say, hey, I don’t have… Well, you might not know how to say you don’t have a lot of money, but you can say, I would like to create some type of partnership where my my employees–
  • No, I’ma tell them I don’t have any money.
  • Yeah, you can’t tell them —
  • I’ma tell them I got no money .
  • Everybody has a different tactic, but you can email them and say, hey, I would love to make this partnership with you, can my employees get a 25% discount, right? And I’m sure they’d be like, yes, because that brings more people in there.
  • So let me go to a different piece that you bring up too, you bring up a piece that most people aren’t bringing up, but that now has taken on a more, I guess, center stage. You bring up the idea of dealing with being a woman and being a person of color.
  • Hmm, yeah.
  • And most people don’t talk about that when it comes to, emotional intelligence or self-care.
  • Yeah.
  • That’s not a common thing, but you bring that up and you bring up the idea of, you have to be able to kinda be you.
  • Hmm.
  • I forget the phrase you use traditionally white spaces, is that the phrase you use?
  • Oh yeah. traditionally white spaces, or like thinking about predominantly white institutions like it’s weird ’cause we never identify spaces as predominantly white or traditionally white, but if we think about it, that doesn’t mean they’re gonna constantly evolving. But if you think about universities, right? Like and we think historically right? Segregation ending Brown versus board of education, students being then allowed into schools, Of course you can look at some institutions and see a rare black person that enters like WEB Dubois, entering into a university, but that was a rarity. So if you think about traditionally white spaces or even some like Forbes, like lists company, if you look around they’re usually, I’ve been in so many positions where I’m the only black woman there or the two of us. And then there are no black males or one black male, all the other black people are the janitors, the security guards,
  • Mailroom.
  • Chef’s, mailroom pick a choice, right? And so you gotta think how that interacts with the psyche of the people working there. Like who do you expect? And it’s not about me but the black person where there not many black people end up being seen as like the unicorn or the token black person. And I’ve had to build a second skin where I just don’t, I had to not care that I was, I’ll explain but–
  • Yeah, but that’s where I’m going, the idea that you’re saying–
  • Yeah.
  • It seems counter intuitive, but intuitive, but counterintuitive. So I feel like we are by default judged by our exterior, right? I mean, people judge us,
  • Totally.
  • that’s what they do. Society’s judge us, it’s what they do. And to your first point, you brought up, if I choose to be me, whatever me is, there may be negative consequences for that, right? I’m gonna be, right?
  • Totally.
  • And maybe the people around, don’t like who me is–
  • Right.
  • And there maybe consequences. At the same time, it could be the reverse, right? What if I’m a black woman and I believe that I need to have a weave right? Let’s say, I believe that.
  • Yeah sure.
  • I think I believe ’cause all will be accepted, I believe that as a black woman. But maybe it’s not that I believe that I won’t be accepted, maybe I just like a weave.
  • Right–
  • Maybe I think I look fantastic in it. Maybe that’s what I believe,
  • Exactly.
  • and it makes me feel good. So aren’t I kind of in trouble regardless of what I do? If I wear the weave, isn’t someone going to say, why are you wearing that weave? Why don’t you be yourself?
  • Its non of their business.
  • I hate it, somebody’s gonna go, oh good, glad you wearing a weave you look amazing.
  • Right?
  • Aren’t I gonna get somehow a negative consequence kind of regardless of what I do?
  • You bring up excellent points Larry, thank you so much because this is the duality of what’s going on in so many people’s minds. Whether its the employer who is white or it is the black person that’s the employer or the employee that’s the person that’s wondering how they should present themselves in certain spaces. And that’s why you can’t care. My grandmother says what other people think of you is not your business so you can not, and it’s funny because that’s not the solid like absolute answer. But the reason I say that, what other people think of you Isn’t your business, it’s a dance again.
  • Yap!
  • So you have to figure out your center. And that’s why like, yoga and meditation are so amazing or just sitting with yourself, right? Even if you don’t want to call it meditation or yoga, it’s just the idea of making time to figure out who am I and who do I wanna be? Who do I wanna show up in and worriless when nobody’s watching and when everybody’s watching. And so for me, I went through the weave thing and at one point because I wanted to have hair that looked like it was white or whatever that even means because they’re black people with straight, long hair too. They’re like black people with the curl pattern, but it’s like figuring out that, what do I like and why do I like it.
  • Yeah.
  • Yes.
  • And then unapologetically showing like this week, I might wanna weave, this week I might want braids and each time my skills and my talents will show up at work and what I’m being hired for are my skills and my talents. And if you haven’t accepted that, that means that you need to do a bias check as an employer, as a fellow colleague or whoever it is that decision maker about whether I keep my job or not. I think that as long as we all are respectful to one another, we ask intelligent questions even when we don’t maybe understand culturally, like other person’s point of view, I think that it’s all about your intent and you might have the same question how you exit, right?
  • From what you just said, kind of goes against what you first said, right? The first part you said is,
  • I know and the dance.
  • sometimes its counterintuitive, but it’s also, it’s both, right? Part of you who said, I don’t care what people think, but you just said, I do care because I wanna have that combination talk to people I wanna have that conversation to kind of get it so that they can know who I am and I can know who they are. So isn’t it a kind of both?
  • Yes, because we all live, It is both. And that’s the dance I’m talking about. And that’s why this is hard, that’s why we’re talking about it in 2020, when people have been doing this work for centuries. So what I mean is this is the dance, A, you have to know who you are and who you wanna be. I say that wherever I go, meaning that, just like a company, a company creates a mission statement, right?
  • Sure.
  • And in that mission statement, they identify their values, their goals, their past and their present, right? And hopefully what their future is. You need to do that for yourself as a person, because I always say you are the CEO of your life, but we don’t act like it’d be because we’ve been taught to be an employee. When we’re a student in school, we’ve been taught to be a student, we are not taught to lead. And I’ve been watching a few of your videos Larry, I know you talk a lot about leadership and–
  • All the time.
  • I also saw a clip of one of your videos you talked about as a Marine, it was two of you, one of you has to leave and I was like, aha! But here’s the thing, as a person, you are your own competition.
  • Hmm.
  • That doesn’t mean you don’t have colleagues that might be trying to steal your position. But it means that when you create your own guidelines, your own value statement, your own mission statement, you will have to let a part of yourself lead to say, hey, this is my goal right now. Look, we live in a society where some people are very biased, right? That’s on the good day. We also live in a society where some people can hold racist ideas and not realize it.
  • Sure, absolutely. That’s on a better day.
  • Yeah.
  • And then there’s a society where we have overtly racist people who just don’t give and they do what they want. You probably don’t wanna work there anyway–
  • Sometimes I prefer them.
  • Because you know who they are, right?
  • Sometimes I prefer them
  • I completely understand. But nonetheless, you can’t, If you wanna work at Google and let’s pray, Google seems open, let’s say they’re very mindful about how they interact with people. Then you need to go and like work your butt off to work at Google. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t show up as yourself–
  • But Stephanie I gotta the hard question here.
  • Yeah bring it please.
  • What you are saying, is that I also have to accept failure for when I show up as myself, I get rejected.
  • Totally.
  • I’ve got to accept the rejection when that happens and some people it’s gonna happen. Whether that’s romantically, friendship, business,
  • 100%.
  • a sales call.
  • Yeah.
  • That’s gonna happen.
  • It’s life, what’s for you will come, but you have to do the work. If you want something, you need to learn all you can about that field or if it’s a relationship, like before I came into this interview, I spent sometime trying to learn about you, Larry so that I could know who I’m talking to, right?
  • And you still came?
  • Yeah and I still .
  • Nice .
  • And I still came because there are two parts of our life, when we’re by ourselves when we choose to make the time to do it, you have to, when you choose to make the time, when you’re by yourself, you’re a person and when you’re with a group, a person. Now, unless you have been nicely endowed with money from a trust fund your are parents that have the capability. You need to have some way of generating income or wealth in your life. Therefore, you need to enter into a group of work culture that allows you to interact with other people. If not you won’t be able to be solitary off in the woods or in your apartment your whole life.
  • Sure.
  • So you have to do the dance of showing up as who you are and being your best self and showing people how to treat you. But on the other hand, you have to also recognize the culture of the group. When I say culture, culture is nothing but ideas, beliefs and practices. Ideas, meaning like, what’s the goal here? Why are we here together? Beliefs, what do we believe about our capabilities? Who we can be together as a group and practices, what do we do? What are we getting done here? And if we don’t identify those things, then you, can’t… There’s a bit of a simulation, but here’s where I would like to evolve the concept of assimilation. You can enter a space and make respectful interactions. They may not always be friendly, you don’t have to be best friends with your colleagues, but you sure should try to respect them and hear where they’re coming from, right?
  • This is the issue that I’ma bring up though. My father taught me as a youngster, a young black man growing up in the cities where I grew up in the Bronx. He taught me, not by telling me, but by his actions–
  • Actually, yeah, yeah.
  • That sometimes you gotta be a chameleon.
  • Yes.
  • He taught me many things as a black male and he said to me, this he actually told me, but he said and saw it, whenever we were in the elevator, whenever anybody be in elevator, he would smile and he would always say either good morning, good afternoon, or good evening.
  • Hmm.
  • He always said one of those three or he say hello.
  • Yeah.
  • And I asked him, and he didn’t usually speak that way that wasn’t how he spoke.
  • Is a chess move.
  • But he said he would say that because smiling and saying that would make people feel comfortable.
  • It disarms them.
  • That’s what he told me. And I still do it, even today I still do it. This is four years ago and I still do what I do.
  • I do too.
  • So there is a bit of a simulation to your point, right? There was some of it, right? That we have to… But I guess the biggest piece I wanna bring up is, there’s going to be failure here, right? There’s going to be,
  • And that’s okay.
  • I’m gonna be wrong, I’m going to believe that when I come work for you and I go, I’m working without Dr. Stephanie it’s gonna be amazing. And everything is aligned and I might be wrong. We might not be aligned and then ama sitting here after three months going ah, this was a mistake, right? We gonna fail.
  • You’re completely right and then what you do is assess you pause and you assess okay, what did I learn from this experience? What good things came out of this? This is about people need to treat their careers as a game. And what I mean by that is assess like in the video game, right? People knock video games all the time, but they’re in fact so important to our life because, if we gamify our lives–
  • But people break video games, literally they lose the game and they smash it they throw it out the window, I mean they go crazy.
  • And that’s the wrong approach, Larry, because they should be like, yes, I lost this one, let me on the next one. So what I mean is, so failure is inevitable. Just like one day, it will be rainy, one day it will be sunny, one day will be snowy. In the summer you can’t predict it, right? In the DC Metro area, there have been so many storms pretty much every night, then one day it’s perfect, right? That’s life, so there’s no such thing as failure. Failure only happens when you have not taken a moment to think about what just happened to me and what did I learn? And then the next time, level up like, all right, I learned last time that when I do this, it really doesn’t work out for me, or hey, it might not be about me, these people are not really for me, they’re not supporting my professional development. You must realize when you enter into a workforce, you are giving your gifts, your talents and your skills to help their mission thrive, which then becomes part of your mission. But wait a minute, you have a higher mission that you wanna create a business. You need to be doing that on the side, right? You need to make the time.
  • I want to stay in the spot, you said failure is not failure unless you don’t learn, right?
  • Yeah.
  • But failure itself is inevitable, tell me, how did you fail and how did you get around that feeling of rejection or loss or whatever emotion you felt, whether it was regret or betrayal or loss, or how’d you get around that? I mean, this the hardest thing and you know this I’m preaching to the choir here right now, is that when you fall down getting backup is hard and a lot of people don’t get back up, right? They kind of say I was shocked and said it in his book years ago and he said, “If you come by and push me down “that’s that’s on you. “But if you come back a week later “and I’m still on the ground, that’s on me.”
  • Yeah. And I’m glad you gave it example. So it’s tricky because the mind is a very powerful thing and if you feed it to the wolves, you will be fed. If you feed it some love, some sunlight and some nourishment will be fed. But the tricky part is we are social animals, so often from a child, like from the moment you’re born, you are hearing messages about how worthy you are, how capable you are of handling challenges of falling and cutting yourself. I have a four year old.
  • I’m not four year old,
  • I tell her from the moment–
  • I want you. No . Not four year old, you
  • Oh, oh right, me. Okay, I forgot.
  • Its all right I got you.
  • Okay, all right. I have, I have a more recent one, so I won’t go back too long a memory lane. Dissertation working on the PhD. Now you don’t have to be working on any PhD, but you say you have a report and I will talk, okay so me. I had to do a dissertation and it was very hard because although I knew my stuff to write this 200 page book, basically about black girls and their resilience. I doubted myself because that person knows more than me and so writing, even though I love writing and I consider myself to be a great writer, it was very challenging because I kept worrying about what my advisor was gonna say. I kept thinking she was gonna say this is horrible and that my dissertation would not be accepted and I wasted a whole, like six years of my life.
  • Sure.
  • And so in the middle of this, I had my child and so brain hug it was a thing.
  • Sure.
  • Finding time to write was so hard and I had to say that I had not come this far to stop now. Like I better level up or you just waste. Well, for me I’m gonna say for anybody else, I said to myself, I better level up cause I’m capable or I just wasted my time. And when I’m 60, who do really wanna be like, dang, I could have done that, but I just like, I was too scared. Or can I say that Steph, you better like die trying, like if they say no, just fix it. And so what happened? I wrote a third of the dissertation, I made it more I know what at least 50 pages or at least I don’t even know just a lot. And I can’t remember, it’s like a memory blank, but I wrote so much and I knew it was kinda crappy, but I said, I gotta just turn it in ’cause this is weighing me down. I turned it in, she’s like, Steph, “I know you have it in you, but you need to rewrite this.” And this is how like these are the things that I see that… I see you’re worried about what I’m gonna say. Like she knew it. And instead of me saying like, oh no, my greatest fear happened, she thinks it sucks. I was like, she’s right, let me look at these notes. So I saw the notes.
  • Yeah but you had to have that doubt upfront, right? I mean, you had to feel it when she first said, look, let me have a conversation there had to be a part of you that went, oh no!
  • Oh yeah!
  • Had to be.
  • That’s the way to self awareness.
  • Hmm, okay.
  • And so it starts at your own work, so many people–
  • So what you’re saying if I get you right, you’re saying that, you’re gonna start building up this kind of energy of being aware early on–
  • You better.
  • So that when the failure comes, you know how to kind of get back into the right head.
  • This is why self-care is not a choice–
  • Got it.
  • Because we will get to the moment where something is rejected, whether it’s in a relationship, you thought, you like swollen the person and they’re like all into you. And they’re like, you know what? Sorry, like I need to see other people. So here’s the thing. It’s maybe partly a reflection of you, but it’s not fully because the other half is what the person had expectations for. You can’t control the expectations. You can’t control what they want. And if you are now you’re like putting yourself at such a low level that you think that they know everything about you when that’s not the whole story. So just like my advisor–
  • So we brought it back around to not being an option from the beginning we’ve got it to here.
  • I just want to finish, just cap it off.
  • Please.
  • Certain things my advisor said, I needed to push back again because I had not fully explained myself, so she didn’t understand where I was coming from. But the moment that I explained myself and said, this is why I said that she was like, oh, keep that part. But if I hadn’t like listened to that part in me that said no, that part, I think she’s coming from on that one but on this one, I need to keep that here. Then I’m betraying myself, so that’s the dance. Listen to what people have to say, think about all right, does that make sense based on this, this and this? If so proceed, if not go back and talk to them or do what you need to do on your own. And it’s like that dance and companies and families and relationships. You’re not the only one that knows everything, but that’s why you got to figure out what, what’s your center, right? What’s your North star.
  • So let me go back to you again.
  • Sure.
  • One day, you’re not gonna be living on this earth anymore, right?
  • No.
  • One day that’s gonna happen and when that happens someone’s gonna have to give you your eulogy, talk about you.
  • Yeah.
  • If I’m listening to that, I’m probably not. But to say if I happen to be alive and I’m listening to that and I’m actually listening to that eulogy, what do you want me to take away from that? Like when I hear the person talk about your life, your life’s over, you’ve done your dance, right? For any number of years, you’ve done it, you got these number of years you did your dance and now the dance is over and someone’s gonna get up there and talk about you. Maybe it’s your daughter, who knows? But its somebody, maybe your cousins you’re mad at maybe you make up. Whoever it is somebody is gonna do that eulogy. I’m listening. What do you want me to take from that, about your life?
  • Well, I would say that I lived a good life and I followed my dreams. But more importantly, I realized that like I was not perfect and that everything I did really was just human. Like I explored what does it mean to be human. And I want other people to just see their best selves. You wanna say hi .
  • Did somebody come in?
  • It was my daughter, she waves.
  • See, I knew that she’s gonna do the eulogy, show her.
  • You want her to pop in?
  • Come here, come here, girl he said you can come say hi.
  • Hey you.
  • Say hi.
  • Hi.
  • Hey, what an amazing way to wrap this interview up, you made it perfect, this is all about family and future. and what kind of impact we’re gonna make.
  • Definitely.
  • Dr. Stephanie, I wanna say thank you so much for coming to Off the Cuff.
  • Thank you.
  • I appreciate all the time you gave us. Everybody watching please make sure if you like what you hear, make sure you’re paying attention letting people know this is Off the Cuff.
  • Definitely. Thank you so much.
  • Bye, bye.
  • Have a good day.

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