This episode was originally recorded on the Resiliency Theory Podcast, and features a conversation between Jennifer and host Ashley Carson as they discuss what it takes for us to be brave, speak our truths, and be our authentic selves. Discover how authenticity supports building your resiliency muscle.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
Jennifer Brown: The DEI Foundations program is coming up everybody, launching on May 4th. We do cohorts throughout the year. And this is the next date for you to take advantage of joining a cohort for this amazing program. And I want to share a little bit more about what it’s all about.
Jennifer Brown: It’s fundamentally an opportunity to explore DEI concepts and consider how they’ve helped you become the person that you are today. In the online cohort, we’ll learn what each of three components mean and why they’re important to organizations. We’ll consider barriers to inclusion in particular, such as covering and unconscious bias.
Jennifer Brown: And you’ll have the opportunity to reflect on your own diversity, equity and inclusion story, and practice storytelling techniques that help you express these concepts to others in a way that will help influence positive change in the workplace.
Jennifer Brown: Best of all, you’ll have the flexibility to view pre-recorded video presentations from JBC instructors, read thought provoking white papers from industry experts and discuss these issues and your own experiences with your classmates in online written discussion boards. All at the days and times that meet your unique scheduling needs.
Jennifer Brown: As an added bonus, participants are invited to an exclusive members only discussion group each week law via Zoom, where we deep dive into our learning topics together with the help of an expert facilitator. Students will come away with an introspective understanding of how DEI has impacted them and how they can position themselves to make an impact in their communities as a DEI practitioner.
Jennifer Brown: So please check us out and if you’re ready to take that next and join us, contact us at infojenniferbrownconsulting.com, and we’ll provide a discount code to you as a will to change listener. Thanks for investigating this amazing and unique opportunity. And if you can’t join the May 4th cohort, I promise that we will be launching further cohorts during the course of 2021.
Jennifer Brown: Resilience for me might look different. So the toughness that I want to access and develop in myself so that I feel I don’t lose my center. I don’t lose my center of gravity, but I can flex. It’s like the bamboo. It’s the strength in the flexibility that comes to mind, bend not breaking also comes to mind.
Jennifer Brown: The weeble wobble always comes to mind too. Get knocked over, pop back up and pop back up in a different way, right? So if I fell off the bike yesterday and I’m going to get back on the bike, I may fall again but maybe I fall less. Maybe I don’t need the training wheels anymore.
Jennifer Brown: Eventually the resilience to me is the practice and the result of the practice of the bounce back, the flag. Somehow when things happen to us, it’s also sort of a martial arts metaphor, taking the force of something coming at you and turning it.
Doug Forester: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to The Will to Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown. Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change.
Doug Forester: This is Doug Foresta. This episode was originally recorded for the resiliency theory podcast and features the conversation between Jennifer and host Ashley Carson, as they discuss values, resiliency and leadership. And as Ashley says, her conversation with Jennifer reminded her how much resilience it takes for all of us to be brave, speak our truths and be our authentic selves. And now onto the episode.
Ashley Carson: I have the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Brown today. She is the founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting. She’s also the author of two books. The first one is Inclusion and the second one is How To Be An Inclusive Leader. And she’s also a podcast host. Her podcast is called The Will to Change. Jennifer, why don’t you take a couple minutes to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jennifer Brown: Thanks for having me Ashley. So let’s see, I’m originally from Southern California. Raised in a musical family, but I had parents that were like, don’t be a musician, but we’re going like make sure you know how to do all the things. And I was like, well, now maybe I want to be that. So I spent my 20s working in nonprofits actually as a activist because that’s another part of me, really always wanting to make a difference.
Jennifer Brown: But I always was singing, always playing, singing, performing, studio, vocals, teaching. So I moved to New York to pursue my big dream and got my masters in voice and operatic vocal performance, which was the opportunity of a lifetime. But in the core of training, I injured my voice. So I had to get vocal surgery.
Jennifer Brown: And I literally several times had to go through this and you completely have to go silent while you heal. And it’s scary and frustrating, and there are a lot of shame associated with it. Not wanting anybody to know, so it’s a big secret. So I just knew I would ever really be able to count on my instrument after a bunch of this.
Jennifer Brown: So I found another path thankfully, and I followed some ex-performers who told me you’d be a great trainer. If you like the stage, you’d be really good with training and development. And I didn’t know what that was. And so I got a second master’s degree at Fordham University in organizational change and leadership development. And I just was elated.
Jennifer Brown: I felt like I had found my people, my field, my purpose. I loved, and I’m such a geek about human potential and leadership. And it’s such a way into my own story too, because I’m also LGBTQ and I’ve been out since I was 22 personally. And I’ve had a partner, Michelle, of 22 years, but I was closeted in my sort of corporate roles that I would then subsequently hold certainly as a performer back in the 90s and early odds.
Jennifer Brown: And then as an entrepreneur, the last 13 years after a while I’ve become kind of proud and own all of it. And we’re actually woman owned and we’re LGBT owned as well. So we’re a diverse supplier, what’s called a diverse supplier, but it definitely still occurs to me whether I’m safe in a room, what am I imagining about who’s sitting across from me?
Jennifer Brown: How would they react to the identities that they see or don’t see about me? And even somebody who’s considered an expert in this topic that’s being paid to be there, I’m still kind of wrestling with, do I belong here? Where do I access my power? How do I get people to listen to me? How do I have credibility and authority?
Jennifer Brown: And of course I deserve to feel all those things, but it’s subtle, but it really, I think impacts a lot of us in every room we’re in, particularly when we look around and assume that we are the only, or we’re the one of few of a certain identity, and that identity happens to be under represented and marginalized.
Jennifer Brown: We kind of go down this road of, which is a true road often that I’m going to be micro aggressed, stereotypes are going to occur. Bias is going to prevent me from being successful. And that is based… Our gut is not wrong about those things. I mean, there’s a very real of psychological safety. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s perceived or real. Perception is reality.
Jennifer Brown: So in my work now, as a company, Jennifer Brown Consulting, we help companies build their DEI strategies and any sort of learning implementations and employee resource group strategy and work that needs to fall under that. And so I get to spend a lot of my time working with executive teams, helping them think about who doesn’t feel seen and heard in the workplace. How can I lead differently?
Jennifer Brown: How can I take the lessons of 2020 and really challenge myself to grow and be uncomfortable so that I can grow and kind of rise to the occasion? Because this is our next normal. I think the water line and the water mark hopefully will remain high in terms of the expectations of leaders and companies to really remember the lessons of 2020.
Jennifer Brown: I mean, this was a really important year for the workplace to do the changing that it has been overdue in doing much to the frustration and damage to a lot of us who strived in workplaces that weren’t built by and for us for so many years, and really paid the price to hang in there with companies that didn’t really value us. So that’s how I talk to the executives.
Jennifer Brown: I’m like, here’s what you need to know. Here’s what you’ve missed. Here’s the damage that’s been caused. And you have a couple choices here. I know which one I… Door number one, I do think you should go through, which is embrace the way the world is changing, evolve with it. And hopefully ahead of it, by the way.
Jennifer Brown: You can’t just kind of be reactive. You have to get ahead of it. You’ve got to be investing in the stuff before you need to call on it, or you can choose irrelevance. And so those are some pretty stark choices, I think that are being faced by the business world right now.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, thank you for that. I recently went through a workshop with my job and it was really interesting. One of the statements in the workshop was about undoing institutionalized racism. And one of the comments that our a facilitator had made is that we didn’t create the house that we’re living in, but we all are responsible for fixing it.
Ashley Carson: And I thought that was really interesting. And to kind of obviously honor the space that we’re all in, and that we’re all also somewhere unique within that sort of I guess continuum, for lack of better words. But I thought that was a really striking comment and it really stood out to me. There were a lot of other things that also stood out to me and I’m not sure we’ll have enough time to get to all of that, but-
Jennifer Brown: Wow, I would love to hear. It sounds really juicy. I use the house metaphor a lot too. It’s a very useful one because there’s multiple rooms in the house. There’s the plumbing, right? The paying of the utility bills so that other people can live in the house.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, interesting.
Jennifer Brown: It’s the collaborative living, but somebody said to me, it’s the same storm, but different boats that we’re all in. So how is our boat equipped, right, to ride out the storm? And then what might you say if your outcomes are tied up with others’ outcomes, right? That you have a co-responsibility to live happily in that house and we’re sort of mixing a bunch of metaphors, but it’s… Yeah, I also use the house metaphor.
Jennifer Brown: I think of myself as a firefighter sometimes, and I in envision a lot of asleep people in the house and I’m going in to try to save them from the burning building. And those asleep people are sort of those folks who don’t even know that change is happening or necessary and may be in denial, may be in resistance, may be in apathy, may be in silence and awkwardness.
Jennifer Brown: There’s a lot of places we get stuck and therefore we don’t do anything, but the asleep, while the house is on fire. And then me and others who do this work, kind of having to put ourselves at risk to go in and kind of wake people up and say, this is happening.
Jennifer Brown: You either want to get out of here and live or… And I sort of, not to get too deep on this, but I kind of wonder, why am I going into the burning house over and over again? I’m risking… When I think about the emotional labor that we do to fight for each other to stay in the conversation and on the journey, and I have these moments sometimes where I’m like, who am I fighting for? Why?
Jennifer Brown: If they don’t want to be helped, why am I marshaling everything I am and being as creative as I can, and putting myself in others at risk to teach, to guide, to hold a space for? It’s the fatigue and the real danger, honestly because we can get fired for using our voice. Bad things can happen to us and they have.
Jennifer Brown: And so anyway, I think that needs to be acknowledged that there needs to be a mutuality that I don’t see, and I don’t feel yet. I think that 2020 woke up some folks, but I think they’re still sitting there dazed in the burning house. They might be awake, but they’re not exactly problem solving.
Jennifer Brown: They’re not getting out of the house. And I would like to see a lot more productivity to really acknowledge the world that we’re in and the fact that we’re not going back. We aren’t.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, I loved that burning house metaphor. It makes me think in my recent engagement survey that I did, we measured belonging, emotional safety. And then we asked, what is one area where our rise committee can make an impact?
Ashley Carson: And it was really interesting the data, because the top one I somewhat expected it was around more training. And then there were certain trainings that people had suggested. The second one was nothing, that nothing needed to be done.
Jennifer Brown: Wow.
Ashley Carson: Yes, we’ll get back to that. The third one was creating a safe space for these conversations. And so I was so struck by that second one, right? And how to your metaphor of the burning house, it is a different environment and what are those? Whether it’s denial, whether it’s not accepting, maybe not understanding.
Ashley Carson: I’ve been sort of sitting with that for a while trying to unpack, not only how frustrating it is to me, how frustrating it feels to people who have been oppressed, but also who’s answering it that way and why, right? So just trying to balance and lead from this place of empathy, but that burning house really, it sort of struck me as it’s probably those people that are sleeping in the burning house, right?
Ashley Carson: And they aren’t ready or open to the conversation. And to speak to your piece of, why do you keep firefighting and doing that? For me, it’s like this thirst for humanity. And so how can we strive for that? So I appreciate that because it made me kind of think about that a little bit differently.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Oh, thank you. Gosh, so that’s really shocking. Not shocking that people said that. I mean, you don’t know there’s a problem if that problem hasn’t impacted you. You just don’t know. This is why this year we need to study, we need to become students of everything we weren’t taught, everything that nobody’s ever talked about, everything that we were told we weren’t supposed to talk about too, right?
Jennifer Brown: Sort of the generational norms as a gen Xer, let alone a baby boomer. Like, wow, what is it? Like politics, death taxes. We were the generation that was told to say, I don’t seek color. I’m not supposed to see that. I’m not supposed to take it into account. And then you have HR being like, don’t ask about this. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.
Jennifer Brown: And so it’s just that combined with living in our bubble and having relatively easy lives where our color doesn’t make a difference in our lives, that’s obviously the height of approval, right? But yeah, I have to sit and think about the 15 different ways I can awaken the awareness and then the empathy in people or awaken the business case so that people see maybe even what’s in it for them because cynically, it’s not always going to… The moral case often does not win the day.
Jennifer Brown: So we have to express the value of this in so many different ways so that we can reach as many people and create as many aha moments. Because I believe we need those with power to be on board and participating in creating what’s next, because we’re going to be working a lot harder to create the same outcome if we don’t have those with power alongside us.
Jennifer Brown: It’s just logic, right? So, I’m cynical about it too. I’m trying to drag this 250 pound person out of the house. Yes, it’s altruistic because I care about humanity, but I’m also like, I need what you have.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, it’s true. That is true. Well, I’m excited for the rest of our conversation. For those of you who this is your first time listening to my podcast, I’m really passionate about the topic of resiliency and I’ve always been really curious where resiliency comes from and is it an innate? Do we all have it? Can it be taught?
Ashley Carson: And so I’ve just sort of grappled with this since I was probably a teen. And so there are a couple things that I have been really curious about and some theories that I’ve been trying to prove. And one is, is there a resiliency quotient? And maybe said differently a values equation. So in so much a set of values maybe make people more resilient than others.
Ashley Carson: Through these conversations it’s been really fascinating for me to hear what others have to say and then actually starting to question my own initial theory around it. So I’m just looking forward to diving in. So let’s start with my first question. I would love to hear what are your top three to five values?
Jennifer Brown: Me personally?
Ashley Carson: Yeah.
Jennifer Brown: Compassion. Values, values, fairness, justice. I’d say, yeah, sort of the love, all the things that stem from love, not fear. And then also the sort of the equity that I am so committed to building and being a part of building and encouraging in others. And so I think that’s how I would answer that. It’s hard to choose.
Ashley Carson: It’s sort of when I was asked this question earlier this year and it was really interesting to sit down and think about what are my values? And the other question, which I’m actually curious to hear from you is, have my values always remained the same?
Ashley Carson: And in sort of thinking about my values and considering what you might call a values audit, do you think that values remain the same throughout the course of your life? Or do you think they shift?
Jennifer Brown: That’s really interesting because I was just thinking about me as a younger person. I certainly wasn’t tapped into justice at all. I was clueless until I came out when I was 22, when I realized, oh my goodness, I’m part of this now community because of who I love. I was thrust into this community that was extremely marginalized, and yet I had grown up in so much privilege too, right?
Jennifer Brown: So it didn’t really… The understanding of that wasn’t embodied in me in my experience, right? I still kind of coasted through coming out and didn’t really pay the price in the way that I had then came to learn so many others do. So that was a huge lesson and it awakened me the activism that I have now sort of cherished and gone towards, right?
Jennifer Brown: That’s a light that I follow. The come passion is always probably deeply in me and the caring and curiosity in others and wanting happiness and seeking harmony. Of course I want that. But yeah, I think happenings in our life, I think can really awaken a new value. I do.
Jennifer Brown: I mean, I think if I hadn’t come out, coming out was such a gift to me because it awakened my heart and it provided me a direction to pour into. And I don’t know if I ever would’ve become that obsessed with this if it hadn’t sort of all awakened in me in the way that it did.
Jennifer Brown: And I’m so grateful to it because it’s given my life direction and purpose in a way that which felt very general to me before that happened. And we look at our lives and think about tragedy and challenge, and what was the teaching in it? What was the lesson in it? I do believe these lessons happen for a reason. I was deprived of my voice as a singer for a reason.
Jennifer Brown: I think it was not where I was meant to be of service. And I didn’t see that at the time and I didn’t cognitively understand that. And so I think of it quite spiritually to say, it was a redirection for where I needed to apply my energy in my life.
Jennifer Brown: So I also think that awakened a different set of values, which is around the learning of others, the nurturing of people’s process and all the things that I’m allowed to do now of human potential that really animates me. Again, I think that was awakened because out of necessity.
Jennifer Brown: And so the out of the necessities piece is the interesting part because I think for others who say, well, I didn’t have this and I didn’t have that, and I’ve had a really easy life. And it’s curious, it’s fascinating to think about where does the urgency then come from? Where does the want to make the world a better place when it doesn’t touch you directly?
Jennifer Brown: How can you come kind of, not manufacture, but how can you access your changedness, your voice? And I’m asked this a lot, particularly by our white straight male leader friends who are like, I don’t know anything about diversity. In my own life, I’m so privileged in every single way you’ve talked about. I’m like a box checker.
Jennifer Brown: I have every single one. And now what do I do? So it’s a really fascinating thing to unravel and and work on. And I have lots of answers for that if you’re curious, but we’ve got to think about how we involve everybody in this conversation, and not just those of us who have kind of struggled to define who we are against the odds and overcome. Because that’s almost not easy, but it it’s kind of obvious, right?
Jennifer Brown: And our work is really storytelling around what’s occurred to us, the hero’s journey, right? The dark night of the soul that’s occurred for so many of us in our lives that we came out transformed from. So that’s incredibly rich fodder to work with as a human, as a leader, as an inclusive champion. And it looks different for every single one of us.
Jennifer Brown: But my dark night of the soul of losing my voice. I remember I told a TEDx Talk about it and I thought nobody would care. I thought it didn’t really matter. And I realized later on that actually everything that happens to us isn’t wasted, it’s meant to be used. It’s meant to bring light to something that others have experienced that they don’t have the words for.
Jennifer Brown: And if you can put words to your story and you can think about the truth of what happened, the lesson that we take from it and then what others… If we can really translate it into a universal lesson for me, the universal lesson of losing my voice was actually, are we giving up our voice? Are we taking our voice for granted? Who are we using our voice for?
Jennifer Brown: Whose voices aren’t being heard? And then the segue from me being an opera singer getting surgery and being silenced, all of a sudden turns into this way of understanding the voiceless. And those of us who have more voice than the voiceless have a responsibility to use that voice. So anyway, it’s just a long answer, but it’s amazing to look through your life and connect all the dots.
Jennifer Brown: It takes a lot of work to do that. It took me many hours locked in a room trying to think about that TED Talk for 10 minutes. What was I really going to say? And how was I going to string the lights on string together in a way that made sense and had an arc and a shape to it, but left people feeling like they’d been given something that illuminated something and that they understood what they could do with it?
Jennifer Brown: I mean, that’s the best talk in the world, right? Is if you can kind of take people on that journey and leave them somewhere feeling informed, inspired, and equipped.
Ashley Carson: So there are a couple things that really stood out to me. So I mean, first of all, just thank you for being vulnerable and sharing more about your personal story. I think that coming out really woke something up in you and even with losing your voice, right? Just what you took from that.
Ashley Carson: What was interesting when you said it woken your heart, I was thinking to myself, gosh my coming out story, twice by the way, neither of those I actually haven’t taken the time maybe to practice my own thoughts around resiliency of maybe processing part of that. Because I certainly wouldn’t tell you that. I felt like my heart was supported by no means, especially the first time I came out.
Jennifer Brown: Oh God.
Ashley Carson: I really appreciate it. I thought it was such a beautiful way to think of it and I love it when people can challenge my own perspective of my life or my own experiences.
Jennifer Brown: Yes. Oh, it’s so good, right?
Ashley Carson: Yeah, to sit with them and reflect on them later.
Jennifer Brown: Oh, you’re welcome. And we all do this for each other, because we’re all kind of trying to figure it out.
Ashley Carson: Still trying.
Jennifer Brown: And still trying, oh yes.
Ashley Carson: Well, thinking about your values, and you started to touch on this a little bit in that in your answer, but can you think of any of your specific values? Where did they come from? And maybe like you said, the compassion one. Was there something that, was there an experience? What’s the origin of that?
Jennifer Brown: I have wondered that. My parents are kind people. So I think I watched them in action, whether it was my dad’s bedside manner as a physician, which was always really lovely. A great listener and he took me on rounds at the hospital. I was able to watch that. He wanted me to be that, but I didn’t have the science wherewithal, was not going to happen.
Jennifer Brown: And then it was my mom’s tremendous organizational skills, my gosh, which helps me every day in my business, but the compassion. She was always a give back person. Always very involved with taking care of the elderly church communities, sheltering families, adopting families in need, being sort of an activist around, this is really going to date us, but she was an anti-smoking activist in the 70s and also a breastfeeding activist too.
Jennifer Brown: So I mean, subsequently as people get older, their activism, I guess, changes or softens. I mean, some of us get more awakened the older we get, but it’s hard to kind of look at them now and try to remember, where did I learn these things and how to be?
Jennifer Brown: But I think it’s just, I don’t know, I believe I was born with a lot of the curiosity about people, the kindness, the thinking about others, perhaps putting myself second. And so that was something, and yet I really wanted to perform. I remember kind of wanting to be the teacher’s pet, wanting to be at the front, wanting to be on the stage, wanting to have the spotlight at a very early age.
Jennifer Brown: And yet wanting to do that with kindness and the other attributes. So often we think of the performer ego as the I’m going to suck up all the air in the room person. And I knew a lot of those and I might argue that gets you very far in our society. If you’re the pushy one, if you’re the one that doesn’t care, you can step on people.
Jennifer Brown: But what everybody else was experiencing was also always really important to me, but I had that battle in me of how can I be the star? Because part of me really… That was how I wanted to be seen in the world. And I remember very early on, I needed that. My mom was a choral singer and always in the group and never wanted to be the soloist.
Jennifer Brown: And I, as a young girl, wanted to be the soloist, right? So it was very interesting to come into that. And then as a girl and a woman wanting to be the soloist, it’s also fraught with bias and also our own imposter syndrome. And so as we’re socialized, we are scared to stick out. It’s more unusual, I guess, to be I want the stage, I want to be that and I’m going to go for that, that ambition.
Jennifer Brown: And so balancing and tempering the ambition with the wanting to bring everybody along and the wanting to have others be as gratified as I am, that balance I’ve achieved that now, I think. Because the role I play is a very public one, and it’s always on stage and I love it. I could do it all day. It was what I was literally wired to do, and it is my responsibility.
Jennifer Brown: It’s what I was given so that I could do what I do to give voice to the things I give voice to. It somehow is easy for me to do it and enjoyable, and I’m not only good at it, but I enjoy it. That’s important because those things can be different. But then to be in support of, I love to listen. I love to not have to say anything.
Jennifer Brown: I love to interview other people like you’re doing today. That’s why I have a podcast too. I love to not always be the leader. And I also in this DNI work, it needs all of our voices too in such a really special way, meaning I am only going to be able to teach from my lived experience and it’s limited.
Jennifer Brown: And so it requires us really to surround ourselves with complimentary voices that can articulate something in a different way where I get to be the learner and I get to be the listener. And I equally always loved being the soloist and the chorus person.
Jennifer Brown: Always amazing to be a part of a group process and to feel that community and also then to find my voice within that community and find what I needed to say in a way that only I can say it. Yeah, I think that was… And being LGBTQ and coming out and then finding that community to be an activist within enabled me to strike this balance because I was at the same time, I might have been a spokesperson if such a thing exists.
Jennifer Brown: We know we can’t speak for an entire community, but if people were looking to me for my opinion, I loved being asked that and I loved trying to give just the right answer. That was the most helpful. But I also love moderating and yeah. Interviewing and getting other people’s stories out there. And now I have a platform that I can share.
Jennifer Brown: I never would’ve built this platform just for me, ever. It just never would’ve felt fulfilling. So anyway, I’ve matured into all of that. And I think I’m really glad I hung in there and tried to achieve both of those things, even though they might seem like they’re contradictory. When they are blended together, it’s like this sort of ultimate 360 degree. I think it’s kind of the healthiest thing that I can be in the world.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, I wrote down a couple things that really stood out to me. I loved the complimentary voices. I liked the way you put that. And then also just the whole concept of being ambitious while bringing people along.
Jennifer Brown: Oh, that is the thing. I mean, could we all be that and could we have more women and people of color doing that well? I mean, we see people, Stacy Abrams. We see people doing that, right? And it’s gorgeous to watch because the imposter syndrome is real. You wouldn’t believe how many… I’ll be backstage about go on this stage in front of 7,000 people.
Jennifer Brown: And I’ll be the moderator of a panel with these extremely successful women. And they’re worried about what they’re going to say. And they have notes and scribbles, and I’m like, you know this, you got this. And I just say, if you were a man, would you be showing up with all this preparation?
Ashley Carson: Interesting, yeah.
Jennifer Brown: No. And so even at the top of the mountain, right? That place where you are literally there with your Sheros and this is work I had to do on myself to say, you are prepared enough. Enough with the note taking, enough with the always learning and studying whatever. When you read Malcolm Gladwell.
Jennifer Brown: I think in The Tipping Point we talk about mastery 10,000 hours. When you’re at the 20,000 hours point, you know your subject. You know what I mean? And so I think that it’s incredibly empowering to reach a point. And I think a lot of us still continue to kind of work really hard, like the duck paddling furiously under the water, but you can’t see how hard they’re working.
Jennifer Brown: I just wish, my wishes and my vision for some of us that have worked really hard to get a seat at the table is that we can like breathe and just find this quiet power that I have done, I have mastery. And by the way, I have mastery because of my lived experience. Yes, we need to study our lived experience.
Jennifer Brown: We need to understand why our journeys twists and turns happened. And that’s what I found in that homework I had to do for that 10 minutes of a TED Talk, because that will… I tell people, I’m like, try to boil everything down into 10 minutes. That is a very… It’s horrible exercise, but you will grow enormously through that exercise and putting the pressure on yourself to really figure out.
Jennifer Brown: And once you have that, that’s your kind of origin story. It’s your reason for being, and it’s a source. It’s a foundation you can stand on and nobody can take it away from you, which is beautiful. So I just wish more of us had a world that appreciated that in us and that when we did that kind of work, it would be validated.
Jennifer Brown: We have to take the power that is in us, but we also want a world that sees that power values, that power seeks it, wants it, knows how to use it, knows how to support us in having more of it. I just wish that were the case, but we’re getting there, but it’s slow.
Ashley Carson: Yeah. Well, I’m kind of curious. So going back to your values, can you think of a time that your values were challenged and that maybe one of them or a couple of them? And how did you respond? And then maybe what would you have done differently?
Jennifer Brown: I think my values are challenged all the time in the work we do, particularly before 2020, when I feel like all I was met with constantly was resistance and apathy. What that felt like to me was a devaluing of my lived experience and the lived experience of so many others. And that’s really difficult to sit with.
Jennifer Brown: It triggers you on a gazillion levels and you have to have such self control and emotional intelligence to continue to be present when you feel that there is not compassion being given to those who are most deserving of compassion. So I’d say that standing in rooms like that, it challenges the value, but I still never lose that value.
Jennifer Brown: It’s more to me. I kind of have to manage the triggered part of me, which is the, I think it’s like the primal brain, right? Speaking up. It’s the amygdala hijack, which is always fun. Your body starts to react, and you’re like, oh-
Ashley Carson: You’re getting sweaty.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Even if cognitively you can overcome those in the moment and the performer is extremely good at this, by the way, which is why I’m so grateful for my stage time. That you can be the calm in the storm all the time, all day long. It’s grace under fire, it’s under pressure. It’s a calm head. It’s cool.
Jennifer Brown: It’s what do I do next? How do I innovate my way out of this? So yeah, I’d say that fundamentally it’s such a strange feeling to have people kind of not care about other humans particularly when they’re right in front of them and they’re witnessing their story and they’re so raw and so vulnerable and so beautiful.
Jennifer Brown: So I just think that… What do I wish I’d do differently? I guess, I don’t know if there’s anything I would do differently. What I would maybe say to others that are trying to bring this into the room is to deepen your self awareness, watch yourself go through the emotional process of whatever you’re faced with that’s challenging that value and look at it as information.
Jennifer Brown: I think the training… But you have to train yourself to do that. This is a practice to hold the grace and the space for others, even as you feel they are not doing that for you, is a wild experience. It’s sort of the growth opportunity of a lifetime, because that’s where we’re tested.
Jennifer Brown: That’s where we’re maybe threatened that’s where we need to maybe go deeper and where we also need to see where people are versus where they could be. So that this information is just information. It’s a product of how people grew up, but what they don’t know what has worked for them in the past, their own privilege, their blinders, the lens that they have.
Jennifer Brown: Extending compassion into that is, when we really talk about this work, the beauty in that moment is loving that person and not being so bound up in, oh my goodness, my ego is being threatened or I’m in… Often we’re not really in danger. Sometimes we are, but our body will tell us we think you’re in danger, right?
Jennifer Brown: And so we have to understand that primal response. It’s deep, but it’s not always grounded in reality. So those moments are let’s practice our way through that and see what’s on the other side. Because on the other side is where the really cool stuff starts to happen, which is that you can engage more deeply, that you can change hearts and minds, that you can hold space for somebody to grow, that you don’t need to judge somebody for getting it wrong when they didn’t know that they were getting it wrong.
Jennifer Brown: This is the difficulty. I teach about microaggressions and I tell leaders, study these, learn these so that you don’t say them. But inevitably we’re all going to say things that are the product of our experience and the bubble. And calling that in is a really amazing opportunity to help somebody along their journey.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, I love that. Well, let’s switch gears a little bit. I’d love to hear what’s your definition of resiliency.
Jennifer Brown: What I just described is talk about resilience. It’s standing in the fire and whatever that fire means to you. It’s different person to person, right? It’s defined by our personality. I’m a people pleaser. I’m a conflict avoider. I am an appeaser. I’m a harmony person. So resilience for me might look different.
Jennifer Brown: So the toughness that I want to access and develop in myself so that I feel I don’t lose my center, I don’t lose my center of gravity, that I can flex. It’s like the bamboo. It’s the strength in the flexibility, that comes to mind. Bend not breaking also comes to mind. The weeble wobble always comes to mind too. Get knocked over, pop back up.
Ashley Carson: The weeble wobble.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, the weeble wobble is great. And pop back up in a different way, right? So if I fell off the bike yesterday and I’m going to get back on the bike, I may fall again, but maybe I fall less. Maybe I don’t need the training wheels anymore.
Jennifer Brown: And eventually the resilience to me is the practice, and then the result of the practice of the bounce back, the flack. Somehow when things happen to us, it’s also sort of a martial arts metaphor, taking the force of something coming at you and turning it. So taking in, I think it’s about discerning what we should take in from something and what is not ours to take.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, that’s great.
Jennifer Brown: And so that has everything to do with sort of… And doing this in the moment is an amazing skill to be able to do, right? And I would not profess to be good at this because I need a moment. If I’m an amygdala hijack, because I’ve been threatened because I’ve heard something very difficult about me or my people or my identity or whatever it will be, I need time to let those emotions cycle through.
Jennifer Brown: But I guess resiliency to me, the measure of resiliency is let me just watch those emotions cycle through. Let me not react. Let me sit with, let me move through, breathe through whatever, right? And then let me be curious. Let me not be so wounded or ingested or let my ego get triggered or let me learn what I’m meant to learn from this moment.
Jennifer Brown: And also let me take the lessons and the lumps that I should take. Taking those onboard without… White Fragility is a powerful book. I just think about fragility in general. I think about resilience is the opposite of fragility. Fragility is my emotions take over and I’m not in control of them.
Jennifer Brown: And I’m just going to let my emotions now either hurt me or hurt somebody else or maybe both of us actually, right? And so resilience is the emotional intelligence to understand if I need to take some medicine, then let me take the piece I need, but let me put things in their proper place. And always, especially as an empathetic person, deep empathy, we can be in major danger of taking everything in.
Jennifer Brown: And that can lead to our health problems, fatigue, stress, real disease. So some of us, I think are more at risk of not being exquisitely resilient can actually really hurt you when you are so open to the world. So trusting certain personalities, we just don’t have the boundaries and we don’t have the protection and the protective mechanisms and the armor.
Jennifer Brown: So for the soft bellied among us, it’s particular work. And I feel like I would counsel somebody differently if their issue is that I have this very strong armor. What does resilience look for that person, look like for that person? It might be extremely different.
Jennifer Brown: I mean, it might be then to let the right things in and to be changed by those things and in letting our guard down, which I don’t have a lot of guard. But those of us who do sort of letting it wash over you, letting possibilities continue to flow through in a dynamic way versus setting our opinions, setting our approach in a moment in time and then not revisiting it. So that is a long definition. There’s a lot in there, wow. Not the crispest, but it’s such a wonderful question.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, I really liked so minus how we react to adversity or challenges. And it’s not just how we react. It’s also I recently added this part and it’s sort of something you said is resonating, but it’s what we let go of. So I appreciated your discerning what we take in. And then also I really believe resiliency is around what you learn from each experience.
Ashley Carson: So learn what you’re meant to learn. And it’s going to be different depending on the experience, where you’re at, what you’re open to learning. And what was interesting is someone had sort of challenged my definition and talked a lot around the letting go.
Ashley Carson: And I realized for me to move on from some pretty adverse things that I have experienced either as a child or in my past relationship, there are aspects of letting go of the pain or the feeling or the construct that I had believed it to be. And I ended up in then having to sort of be okay with it maybe not looking exactly like what I wanted. So I really liked that.
Jennifer Brown: Oh, that’s hard.
Ashley Carson: Yeah. So I’m kind of curious. Do you think that all of us have some level of resiliency? Is it innate in all of us? If not or if so, do you think it can be taught or learned?
Jennifer Brown: This gets back to what we were talking about earlier, when I came out, it built resilience that I didn’t even know I had because it forced me to choose and it forced me to shape against something that I didn’t want, which was bigger than coming out. It was really kind of the script that had been written for me, the life I was supposed to have.
Jennifer Brown: And so it was that rejection of it and then sort of jumping off without a recipe, right? Without a path to follow. And only then I think, I wonder would I have been able to access that depth in me of resilience and find that if I hadn’t been forced to?
Ashley Carson: Interesting.
Jennifer Brown: So is comfort the enemy of resilience? I don’t know. I mean, this gets back to the all privileged “leaders” that I work with. The question of, how do you put yourself in discomfort as a choice? If you want to learn something, if you want to challenge yourself, how do you sort of intentionally deprive yourself of the comforts so that you can get to that raw, that vulnerable, that I don’t know that I am super uncomfortable right now, that piece?
Jennifer Brown: And that’s what I advise them to do is I say, seek the places that you’re uncomfortable, go towards them. What we do is avoid them, particularly when it comes to talking about race and ethnicity and gender identity and all this fun stuff that we teach about. Is it manufacturing it?
Jennifer Brown: Yes, but it’s anything, like taking a hard class where you’re like, I’m never going to get this. I can’t even get through the first couple of pages of the textbook. I’m failing. Why am I even doing this? It’s the reward at the other end is so amazing. And so I try to encourage people to say, please don’t give up, but you do need to, in some ways the construct, if you haven’t had this kinds of difficulty.
Jennifer Brown: And I also say by the way, just yet in your life, right? Life is not done with us. Your kid may come to you tomorrow and say, I’m trans, and all of a sudden, just like me, you’re thrust into the deep end. You’re flailing around, you’re in a panic, you’re in a crisis. You don’t have the tools. You are completely vulnerable.
Jennifer Brown: Those are our most beautiful moments of learning, really. So if that means if you want to be more of an advocate for diversity equity inclusion, so I guess the question is, how do you put yourself in places where what you’re listening to, what you’re watching, what you’re hearing, what you’re reading you don’t understand it, or it’s making you uncomfortable?
Jennifer Brown: It makes you feel threatened. It makes you feel like a bad person. This stuff is the stuff we shape around. And there’s plenty of that this year to kind of sit with. And I do think we can build resilience in ourselves if we do that.
Jennifer Brown: So I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten that answer before, and I’m curious how other people have answered how resilience is built when you can’t kind of point to a dark night of the soul of extremely difficult, almost sort of show-stopping moment in our lives.
Jennifer Brown: Because we’re not all going to have those, but we may have a series of smaller ones. And I think that too is fodder to think about how we pivoted through those and what sort of resilience did we build in those moments.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, it’s been sort of all over the board, people’s thoughts around whether or not it’s innate or if it can be taught. Most people say that they do believe you can teach or learn resiliency. I like to call it building your resiliency muscle. I really loved how you said, is comfort the enemy of resilience?
Ashley Carson: And then sort of taking it a little bit deeper, so part of what the themes are that I’m hearing is like, how do we create those uncomfortable environments? Or maybe not create them. How do we encourage people to lean into them? And I think you can build resiliency, whether it’s… I don’t think it all has to be bad. I don’t think you have to experience only bad things to build resiliency.
Jennifer Brown: Agreed.
Ashley Carson: But I do think you have to be pushed outside of your comfort zone and you kind of have to challenge yourself. And so that’s been generally the themes. And then there’s of course certain attributes and different practices that have been shared as themes to help build resiliency. And one is around a growth mindset. One is more around mindfulness, gratitude.
Jennifer Brown: Yes, gratitude. For sure.
Ashley Carson: Reflection, and so I do. I sort of started this gratefulness journey where I try and identify five things I’m grateful for. Sometimes I put the video out on LinkedIn to share it with others. I’m also doing this, I’m calling it my resiliency reflection.
Ashley Carson: And so it’s like, okay, pausing in the moment to learn what I can learn from maybe a particular scenario that made me uncomfortable, right? And so what is it that I can lean in on? What do I need to take from that? And then what can I learn from that? So I would say those are more of the themes that I’ve been hearing.
Jennifer Brown: I would add one thing, and you and I were talking about this before we started, and it’s a tricky one. But I do want to raise it, which is, it’s also kind of privileged to think about I have to go and seek something that makes me question myself and who I am.
Jennifer Brown: And some of us having these lives where it hasn’t occurred in our lives when so many of us have had difficulties from the start of being in America and identifying a certain way, right? Of growing up a certain way or without certain resources. And we do this thing called the privilege walk, which I tell people do not try this at home, but it’s a super powerful exercise and we read out lots of questions.
Jennifer Brown: In fact, you can Google it if you want to see all the different ways you can facilitate it, but it’s take a step forward if you had more than 50 books in your house growing up. Take a step back if you ever feared for your safety, because of who you loved in public, expressing your love in public for who you love. Take a step forward if you went to summer camp.
Jennifer Brown: Take a step back if you were the first to go to college in your family. So it just goes on and on. And people, of course, this line, they start a line and then the line gets big and messy, and there’s people across the room from you and there’s people way behind you. And it’s really so eye-opening and really hard.
Jennifer Brown: And a lot of people in the back that end up in the back in the privilege walk, share I’m so proud of my heritage. I’m so proud of… I love my family. I love my culture. I think it’s so invaluable and I’m so proud of myself for developing the person I am today and the way I lead and the way I show up is informed by the way I grew up in the values that I… And so the exercise isn’t perfect.
Jennifer Brown: And so I think it’s not to diminish those of us who have obviously less privilege because actually those in the front of the line are in tears invariably too, because it’s just an overwhelming realization for so many people of what’s been easier, what’s been more seamless. How have you been supported? Who told you that you could be anything?
Jennifer Brown: And how many role models did you see that looked like you so that you knew you could be anything? Because there’s somebody that looks like me and look at what they’ve done. I can do that, right? So anyway, I’m also hyper-aware thinking about resilience as it’s defined through our lenses of identity. Even the very fact that some of us do not know what it’s like not to have enough to eat.
Jennifer Brown: We don’t know what it’s like to be an immigrant. We do not know what it feels like to experience racism on a daily basis. I’m just kind of pointing out that it’s just something I want to acknowledge. So I think we all develop it in different ways. And I guess the bottom line is that we start from what we’re given in this package that we’re born in.
Jennifer Brown: And then we operate from there because it’s not like I can snap my fingers and be somebody else. I mean, virtual reality headsets actually let us literally feel what it’s like to be in somebody else’s body and identity. And it’s fascinating to be a part of… We’ve experimented with some of that in terms of creating behavior change.
Jennifer Brown: We can literally drop into somebody else’s experience. And you talk about resilience. I mean, if we could all walk around and spend a day in a life or a year in a life, that would do it for sure. But we can’t realistically do that. So I think we just have to well appreciate the resilience that we’ve developed through adversity and through the identities that we hold.And then those of us who, like you said, sort of seeking places to sit with the discomfort, put ourselves in the discomfort that so many other people feel on a daily basis around us.
Jennifer Brown: If we can somehow create that circumstance for ourselves, I think it deepens our understanding of that human experience and actually what binds people together across that privilege walk, which I think is so… That’s what then happens, is that people share their personal stories of their lives from these opposite ends of the room and discover that there’s so much that doesn’t meet the eye.
Jennifer Brown: And that just because our circumstances have been so dramatically different, that we may also sort of establish some way of connecting with each other that’s actually shared. And so then you come back into a circle from being sort of separated and then it’s a very healing moment and it’s very emotional. So anyway, it’s really neat, but yeah.
Jennifer Brown: So I just wanted to raise that because I’m always so aware of my privilege in every moment. And I know that it informs how I tackle things and the advice that I give which is literally limited by my own understanding of my journey. But we need to be open to what resilience means and how it was shaped and how… Maybe we just are curious about it.
Jennifer Brown: How do we define resilience? What is the exact questions you’re asking? What I’d love is to just hear how so many different identities define it. Did it have to do with, I came out as trans when I was in my 20s and I’m a woman of color? And so here’s all the places where I developed courage and I was tested. We just have to be inclusive of all these examples in people’s own words.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, I loved the including lenses that identity and really approaching it from our own understanding of our journey. So yeah, those are really powerful. I have one more question for you, Jennifer, and I have to say this has been a really great conversation and so grateful for your time.
Jennifer Brown: Thank you.
Ashley Carson: Do you think that there’s a resiliency quotient? So maybe a set of values that make individuals more resilient than others.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah. Gosh, those of us who are super change resilient, we’re flexible by nature, this is going to be easier for some of us than others who welcome challenges, who seek the dissonance of life and say like, so what am I, dispassionately without ego, considering what am I meant to learn? And so that humility, right?
Jennifer Brown: The unattachment to outcomes. If you are that kind of person, or if that’s something that you’ve worked on developing, I think that is the resiliency quotient. It’s humility, flexibility, agility, compassion, tremendous listening, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, all the things we’d like to see in leaders that I think is in a little bit of short supply, but I’m hoping that change is coming out of 2020 because of the lessons of the year.
Jennifer Brown: So that’s the quotient and whether those are inborn or learned, I feel like it’s kind of irrelevant. Because either way we know we have to get there. It’s just that for some of us, we get there this way. And for some of us we’re going to get there that way. But we need to get there.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, absolutely.
Jennifer Brown: So I just think it’s a strategy that we employ and that comes from, where am I starting from? What attributes do I have? What comes easily for me? What’s more difficult for me? And then kind of putting our playbook together.
Ashley Carson: Yeah, that’s great. This has been such a thought provoking conversation. And I love learning from others and creating a space to have a conversation around this. And for me, it really just challenges my own thoughts, which just gets me all fired up-
Jennifer Brown: Me too.
Ashley Carson: … And keeps my brain spinning, and so, so grateful for your time today. And I just really loved our conversation.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, me too Ashley. Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live.
Jennifer Brown: Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
Doug Forester: You’ve been listening to The Will to Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown. Visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.