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The Best of Beyond The Crucible 1 – Tracy J. Edmonds: Embrace Your Wild Hair #131

Warwick Fairfax

September 13, 2022

In this first episode of our best-of series, we talk to Tracy J. Edmonds. From the outside looking in, her life couldn’t have been sweeter: A high-profile executive job with a Fortune 30 company at which she excelled. But on the inside, where she discovered it really counts, her career had come at a high cost because of a self-imposed crucible: not being her authentic self. So she decided to embrace both her figurative and literal wild hair — trading her corner office for a cubicle and tackling a vision that not only meshed with her gifts and passions but also allowed her to live who she truly was rather conform to some corporate mold. She’s found her life of significance in coaching leaders — focusing on other women of color — that to be the best versions of themselves, they have to be the real versions of themselves.

Highlights

  • Her childhood crucibles (4:32)
  • The drive and passion she got from her parents (7:20)
  • How she paid forward “the gift” of being the child of an alcoholic family (10:07)
  • What she learned from her mom about forgiveness and finding the value in crucibles (12:16)
  • Realizing how to be her own woman after her mom died (14:19)
  • Growing up in corporate America — and realizing what she did and didn’t want for her life (19:28)
  • Her “wild hair” moment (23:57)
  • The power of being true to herself (28:21)
  • How authenticity creates a path for others (32:14)
  • The power of human connection to bridge the gaps that divide us (39:56)
  • The importance of authentic values alignment (44:53)
  • The response she gets to her message from young people (46:18)
  • Tracy’s biographical poem (51:42)

Transcript

Warwick Fairfax:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

When you’ve done more than 130 episodes of a podcast, you have favorites. More importantly, listeners have favorites, guests who shared inspiring and equipping stories and insights. That’s why we’re taking the next several weeks for a Greatest Hits Tour, and our first stop is this look at the importance of living an authentic life of significance.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

When we talk about being authentic and living your best life, having the career that you want, it always comes down to four components. Self honesty, you’ve got to look yourself in the face and face the demon, whatever that may be. Or just clearly articulate what you want out of your life and your career. You have to have the courage to own that. So once you say it out loud, you’ve got to own sometimes what’s very ugly, but also the big dream of what you could be.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Then you have to have the confidence to work it out and the resilience to stick with it, because it’s never just a straight shot. There’s going to be hills, valleys, turns, things you’re going to have to navigate, times like I had in my career when I restarted my career where people say, “You’re not so good at this.” Whoa, ego blow. Never heard that before. But I didn’t give up, and I cried about it, and then I said, “Okay, here’s the plan.”

 

Gary Schneeberger:

So what is the plan? Your plan to learn and leverage the lessons of your crucible, to put yourself on the road to authenticity and the life of significance that flows from it. The woman dispensing the wisdom you just heard is leadership coach and author Tracy J. Edmonds, whose new book Wild Hair: A Courageous Woman’s Guide to a Bold and Authentic Career offers plenty more insight and inspiration where that snippet we just played came from.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show and the communications director for Crucible Leadership. In today’s episode, Tracy tells Warwick about the breakthroughs in her personal and professional life that she set into motion by embracing both her figurative and literal Wild Hair truths. She chose to move from a corner office to a cubicle in her career because the success she achieved in the former didn’t give her the purpose she found in the latter. She explains it all in truly poetic terms. Keep listening all the way to the end and you’ll learn why that word poetic is very, very intentional, and quite beautiful.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

We’re going to get into your book here in a bit, but I have to say that I loved reading your book, Wild Hair, and we’ll get into it more. Why? Because not everybody’s viewing this on YouTube, people might think, “Well why wild hair?” And it’s not just a physical description, it’s a meme of your philosophy of life that can help so many women and so many people in general. So I love that whole concept of Wild Hair and the subtitle of the book is A Courageous Woman’s Guide to a Bold and Authentic Career. So you’ve been through a bunch of experiences, some successful corporate career and a lot of successes and challenges, as there is with anybody’s career. But I’d love to start just with who is Tracy Edmonds, how’d you grow up, parents, background, what’s the story behind the story, if you will, of who is Tracy?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Well, first of all, thanks for having me. This is exciting to be able to have this kind of conversation and talk about crucible moments, because in fact I have a chapter about that in my book. So I’m super, super excited. One of the things though I am not is a poet, so I appreciate the distinction, but to be honest, when I thought about what we could talk about with your listeners, it was important for me not to describe myself in the more traditional ways, but to describe myself in terms of my life experiences, and who those life experiences have changed me into and how I’m ever-evolving. So that’s just what came to mind. I did not have it prepared. I wrote it and said, “Hopefully they won’t send me a note back and say, ‘Okay, this is not what we’re looking for.'”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Oh, I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was terrific.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Well thank you.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

It was so good that we didn’t know that we could look for it, if that makes sense. I mean truly it was informational and beautiful, so thank you.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Well thank you. Thank you. Who am I? The African American child of two alcoholic parents, who came from very different backgrounds. A mother who came from the south, in Tennessee, who struggled and had a difficult life and who was very, very dark skinned, and a father who came from a sleepy river town and was as fair as you, Warwick. And I share that because I am the mix of that. I am the mix of two people who come from the same race who had very different experiences being Black in their own skin, because that shaped me into who I became and I think quite honestly drove me to address issues of diversity. They both had their challenges, which meant I grew up in a household full of love. I have two younger brothers, we are extremely close. But I also grew up in a household that was emotionally unstable very often, and I found myself stepping into, as the oldest, more of a leadership role to help sometimes my brothers to eat that night, because my parents were struggling with their own addictions and their own issues.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And so those things kind of shaped me into this young woman who believed education was everything and went off to college to be an engineer, two years at Cornell University, and realized that I hated the science classes I had to take, and found her way back home and back into college, but also working while I was going to college. And that began a 31 year journey with an organization, with one organization, honestly, that evolved over time, and a career where I could learn to bring all of that that I just shared with you into who I was as a leader and to help other women, and men, but women especially to lead in their lives.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I mean, one of the things I observed from reading your book is that you’re a driven, passionate person, has a heart for the world and to help folks. Where did that drive and passion come from? Did you have a role model? I mean, where were the seeds of that, of who you became?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

In my family, quite honestly, my mother and father. And it sounds like such a contradiction because we were not a perfect family by any stretch of the imagination. As I mentioned, my parents had their own addictions and their own struggles, but we were loved and we were taught to be fierce and strong. I can remember my father setting me down on the edge of his bed when I was 12 years old and saying, “Tracy, you are a Black woman in this world. You will have to fight for what you get. You will have to be better than everyone else. And we never give up. We never quit. That’s what it’s going to take for you to be successful in your life, but you’ve got it in you. You can do it.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And my mother was an extremely compassionate woman who had struggled a lot in her life growing up as a child in the south. Horrific things that had happened to her and finding her place in the world without losing that compassion. I mean, she was a victim of incest. She was a victim of racism in some of the strongest ways. And for her to still have compassion and love and to see the good in people, I think she passed that on to me. So I have this fierce desire to succeed in this life, whatever that looks like, but a desire to take my challenge and pay that forward. So whatever the journey is, it’s there to make me a better person, and hopefully I can share that with others and help them along the way.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

One of the chapters in your book talks about the value of mentors, and in particular those who are truth tellers.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Yes.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

You had a dad who was a truth teller. In a sense, he was your first mentor perhaps. And he was giving you encouragement, but he wasn’t sugar coating. He said, “This is going to be tough.” For a Black woman, certainly, as you were talking. As a young woman, it’s probably not easy today. It was probably worse back then, and not that it’s great, but there’s sadly often always worse. And he wasn’t sugar coating it, yet he was encouraging you. And yet you often think biblically they talk about balance of truth and love. Your dad gave you truth, your mom gave you love. I’m sure your dad gave you love too. But boy, truth and love, that will make a lot of folks grow, done in the right way and the right balance. So even though they weren’t perfect, did you look back and say, “Look, they weren’t perfect but they were gifts in many ways, they were blessings as parents.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Gosh, absolutely. They were absolutely blessings. I would not trade my life growing up as a child for anyone else’s. And it was not perfect. I mean, I can think of times when my parents were arguing and I was sitting outside just crying, “Why is my life like this?” You know, you think of everyone else’s life as perfect. Of course, we know as we grow older that that’s not always the case. But I can remember crying and thinking, “Why can’t I have a better life?”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And a moment came in my life when I had the opportunity to pay forward the gift of being a child of an alcoholic family. I had the opportunity to say to a woman sitting across from me at work who was struggling, that I am a child of an alcoholic and I know how that feels, because she had a son. And to be able to have that conversation with her and get her on the right track to get the help that she needed and to turn her life around and become a productive employee. So I don’t trade that, because we don’t know when those moments of what we perceive to be negative experiences will come back and be the gift that we give to someone else.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And that’s such a profound thought. And again, I’m being authentic when I say this, there were so many profound moments when I read your book, and that was, I forget exactly how you coined it, but sometimes crucibles can be a blessing. I mean the crucible of growing up with alcoholic parents, you were able to, as you just said, pay it forward and help that woman that I think you describe in the book. Just it’s sort of vulnerability for a purpose. You can be vulnerable about things that won’t help anybody. It’s oversharing. It’s like, “And you’re telling me this why?” You did something stupid in high school or took drugs or, “Okay fine. So what? What’s that got to do with my situation?” And if it has nothing to do with, it’s like, “Thank you boss, this is not helping me at all.” But in this case it was sharing for a purpose.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So that’s such a key lesson. Just one last thing on your mother, and obviously she was, as you recount, one of your best friends, cheerleader, you speak very movingly about her, her ability to go through unbelievably difficult if not horrific circumstances and, I’m guessing, not countenance what was done, but yet not be bitter, not let anger and bitterness destroy you. I mean, that’s powerful. Forgiveness doesn’t mean acceptance, it doesn’t mean condoning. It’s a very, very big difference. But that must have been remarkable, because she probably didn’t, I don’t know if she told you everything that happened, certainly as a kid she probably would have maybe given you the PG version or the G, but that sense of not being bitter, that’s also a remarkable example as I’m sure you look back.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

It was a powerful example and I think what it gave to me, what her example gave to me is that we have the capacity to forgive, for one, but also what we can take from the experiences that we have. I think a lot of times negative experiences happen and we’re quick to say, “We just want to push that out, we want to forget about that, we want to move on.” But what I have found is that every crucible moment, every one of those times when I thought it was horrific, there was something in there that I could take from it to forge a better version of myself. So that was one of the big aha moments. I spent my twenties just being angry. I mean I grew up in this environment where there was constant emotional upheaval. My parents couldn’t hold it together. They were struggling and fighting some real demons.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And once I got through my twenties and got into my thirties and went through that moment where I had a child, I lost my mom… I had lost my father, I lost my mom, I bought a house, I had a child, got the big job, when all those things happened and I didn’t know how to juggle that and I essentially started falling apart, I would sit in the rocking chair with my new baby, she was three months old when my mom passed, and I would cry. I could barely keep her my arms because my mom was my best friend and she died suddenly. Didn’t know she was sick, found her on the floor, took her to the hospital, dead in five days. And I was distraught. And I can remember saying to God that, “I hate you for doing this.” How do you let a woman who struggled so difficultly in her life, who finally was getting over alcoholism, loses her husband, starts drinking again, and then dies.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

It’s not right. It’s just not right. But what that ended up being, first of all, I had to vocalize that, to be brave enough to vocalize that, and then also to realize that this experience of losing her taught me how to be my own woman. I was a mother now and I needed to step up and be that mother. I had immersed myself in work because that’s what I knew how to do well. I didn’t know how to be a mom. My own mom left me. How was I going to be a mom? I didn’t know how to manage my marriage. I was only a few years into it. And what I had been doing since I was in my early twenties was working. So I dug in on that, and I had to realize that that was not what I wanted from my life. We have to think about what do we really, really want?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Self honesty. So I had to be honest with myself and say, “What’s most important to me is not work. What is most important to me is this child and my husband and family.” So how do I create that? How do I forgive myself for being so angry at my mother and at God, and what do I learn from this? Because my mom had that heart of forgiveness. It was like, “Oh, you have to understand. You don’t know someone’s journey and what brings them to the point where they show up like they do and not always in the most positive way.” And what can I learn about me out of this? And I learned that I was a lot stronger than I ever knew.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

That’s a remarkable thing that your mother said. I mean, to be able to say, “Oh you don’t know their journey.” And I don’t need to know the details, but you do, or least many of them I bet, for her to say that, it’s like how can you possibly say, “Oh, you don’t know their journey”? I mean I understand intellectually, but how in the world can you say it and mean it? It just blows my mind. I think for most people it’s like, “I don’t get it.” You talk about kind of superwoman, if you will, that’s sort of a level of superior character quality that’s mind blowing to me.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

I think she was phenomenal. I’m a little biased, but what I learned, like you just articulated so well, was her capacity to love, to forgive, and to understand that our journeys do create our testimony. They do create how we show up. And that a lot of things that she forgave people for because of the challenges they had in their lives that created the worldview that they had, the actions that they took, even the ones that hurt her. And so she was amazing in that capacity. And as I sought to emulate that, or actually do the best I could with my environment, I drew upon those things that were taught to me. And I talk a little bit about this in the book, when we talk about being authentic, and living your best life, having the career that you want, it always comes down to four components.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Self honesty. You’ve got to look yourself in the face and face the demon, whatever that may be, or just clearly articulate what you want out of your life and your career. You have to have the courage to own that. So once you say it out loud, you got to own sometimes what’s very ugly, but also the big dream of what you could be. Then you have to have the confidence to work it out and the resilience to stick with it because it’s never just a straight shot. There’s going to be hills, valleys, turns, things you’re going to have to navigate, times like I had in my career when I restarted my career where people say, “You’re not so good at this.” Whoa, ego blow. Never heard that before. But I didn’t give up, and I cried about it, and I said, “Okay, here’s the plan.” So I think I learned those things from her.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Remarkable. So I want to talk a bit about just some of the professional path you’ve gone through and really led to the book, and now you have your own kind of consulting company to try to help and uplift women, and particularly women of color. And it’s probably your mission in life, and maybe that’s your God-given calling or universe calling, however you frame it, which is awesome. But you had a very successful career and became Chief Diversity Officer of a very large company. So talk about some of that journey, because there seemed like a sort of a challenge in which, and I think as you articulate very well in the book, for many women, and I think as you’ve mentioned, women of color, there’s a sense of, “Oh I need to do certain things to be corporate to fit in,” because otherwise you don’t rise up the ladder, you’ll hit a glass ceiling.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Talk about just that journey that you and others have been through, and why that whole Wild Hair metaphor is so important, because I thought that was just a brilliant way of articulating that message and your journey. So talk a bit about that whole Wild Hair meme and the whole wanting to fit into the perceived corporate mold.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Absolutely. I kind of grew up in corporate America. So I started my career in my early twenties in a frontline role. Worked for a major insurer in the state of Ohio really just processing health insurance claims. And I spent, as I mentioned before, 31 years at that company. And that company went from being just a statewide small insurance company to a national Fortune 30 public company, one of the most prominent in the field. And during that time, I went and achieved degrees, got married, had children, and navigated my way through that. But for a good portion of that part of my life, for almost 20 years, I would say that I wasn’t really authentic. I wasn’t really owning my career. I figured out what it took, or what I thought it took, to succeed in that environment. And that meant keeping my hair straight, looking as close to white as I could, and playing the corporate game, being the corporate soldier.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And that worked very successfully for me until I reached a level where I was right below the executive ranks, just about to make it into all the big bonuses and packages. And I was pregnant with our third child, and I kept hearing this voice in my head that was going, “What are you doing? How did you get here?” I’m like, “What? How did I get here? Well, I worked really hard and I did all these things and how did I get here?” And it wouldn’t go away. It stayed in the back of my mind saying, “How did you get here?”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And the reality was, I was miserable. I had achieved success. I was making good money. I had the corner office, literally I had the corner office that overlooked a little brook in the back. It was beautiful. I had an assistant that sat right outside my door. And I was miserable. I was on the phone from morning to evening; I was exhausted when I got home. I wasn’t as fully engaged with my children. And I’m going, “I’ve worked for this company 20 years, but how do I reach this point?” I was doing something I didn’t even care about. I came to a company for tuition reimbursement and 20 years later I’m a regional vice president of operations with 300 employees and I’m going, “Okay, how the hell did I get here?”

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And that’s an interesting crucible to discuss because, in essence, it’s a crucible experience of success, right? There was a feeling of, I think you wrote somewhere, sort of a feeling of being trapped in the success. And most people don’t think of crucibles as “good things that happened to us.” But as the old saw goes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. And as you bore more deeply into that good thing and explored that corner office and explored that assistant outside your door, you realized what it took to get there was to subjugate your personality a bit, to subjugate who Tracy was. And that was the crucible.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

That’s absolutely right. I realized that the “success” that I had in my career was primarily due to what others saw in me. And now don’t get me wrong, I benefited by a great paycheck, a lot of perks, nice house, nice car, wonderful things that came from that. And I didn’t take a job I ever didn’t want, but it was because others saw something in me, and they wanted that. It was never about what I’d want. And so I had succeeded myself right into the crucible and I was burning up; I was literally burning up because I was miserable, it was inauthentic. I came there for tuition reimbursement, my God, and I’m still there 20 years later doing something that I found myself not caring about. And so my moment was when I realized when the dissonance and the voice in my head got so loud, I had no choice but to answer it.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

How did I get here? And that’s where those four steps we talked about, and I talk about in the book, of being self honest, having the courage to face what you learn about you, the confidence to execute a plan to make that happen, and the resilience to see it through, come into play. The Wild Hair was the moment when, even after I made the transition and I left what I knew and moved into human resources, so I did the soul searching, the self honesty, I navigated a path into a new role and I built myself up. But even as I was in that space, I still was kind of playing other people’s game, until finally I said, “You know what? I need to be me. I have got to do me.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And my hair was an expression of that. And not because I was trying to do some big thing that stood out and shocked people, but simply because I had been tired for years of the process of making my hair look like white hair. That process took a lot of time. That process damaged my hair. That process was not what I really wanted. So it was a big decision to say, “I’m going to let this wild hair out, simply because this is who I am and what I want at this moment in time.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And when I did that, oh my goodness, let me tell you. There were people who could not close their mouth. They literally jaw dropped, “Oh my God.” And you could see the look on their face because it was something so unexpected for them to see me look in this way. There were others who absolutely loved it. It was like, this is you. This feels like you. And it was my kind of Wild Hair moment. But what it really stood for is finding that Wild Hair, that thing that you are at a crossroads over, and handling it and addressing it and doing yourself in the process, being authentic.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And it inspired other people, right? They said, “Wow, maybe if Tracy can do it, maybe I can do it,” right? They admired your courage, and was like, “I can’t believe she did that. I’d be too scared to.” But you sort of laid a trail, if you will, for other women, other women of color. Because you write in the book, you’d spend hours on a Saturday or something, we’re not talking five minutes. And there’s a beautiful moment where the person did your hair, said something like, “Finally,” or cheering you on. And yeah, people don’t like to say anything, but when you do something it’s like, “Oh, hooray.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Well you know what? I took a stand, and in this case I took a stand on my own beliefs and what I wanted for myself. But it has become symbolic for me in terms of what I’m really trying to do. So when you talk about purpose, I stand unapologetically for women. I stand here, all women, no matter what shade we come in, I want to be that inspiration. I want to be a source of affirmation more than anything. I want to affirm them, that when we don’t look like the majority, it’s still okay. You are affirmed. And I want to be that strength for them, for them to lean into their own leadership and show up in the way that is most comfortable for them.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And you mentioned some statistics in the book, which I think most people are probably pretty familiar with, about women getting paid less than men, less women in the boardroom, the corporate C-suite, and the stats, according to your book, which I’m sure is true, it’s even worse for African American women or women who are minorities relative to women in total. So it’s not easy, but you are really preaching a different message, a different sermon, if you will, than some. Some women would say, “Well the key to success is: fit in. Be like the corporate folks. Be more like the male executives.” And you are saying there’s a different road, and it might actually be more successful, but at least you’ll feel better about yourself whether it works or not. I think, not to put words in your mouth, I think you believe not only will you be more true to yourself, it actually might be more successful than trying to be somebody you’re not. Is that kind of a fair summary?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

I think that is a fair summary, because I have found, at least for me, and it’s not just for me quite honestly, the women that I’ve coached, when I was true to myself, whatever that meant, if that meant the hair, if that meant putting my voice in the room, whenever I didn’t allow that dissonance between what others expected of me and what I wanted to be, when I closed the gap between those two, I was more successful. I had more impact. My career evolved, and it happened for other women as well.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Now Warwick, said he doesn’t want to put words in your mouth, but I will put words back in your mouth, Tracy, because you and I have worked together a little bit on a press release for your book, which is coming out soon, which in fact by the time this airs may indeed be out. But you said this, I wrote this note down on something you said on this very subject, you said this, it was so good, I wrote it down and put quotes around. So I’m putting these words back in your mouth here on the show. “No matter where you work, it always comes down to your values,” you said. “If you can’t express your realness, you don’t need to work there.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Absolutely. I wholeheartedly believe that and I advise others on that every single day. I had a really powerful moment with a young woman who met with me after I participated in a panel for the United Negro College Fund. So working with UNCF, they have a leadership program for their college students and they bring professionals and executives together to speak all the time. And I had my natural hair at that point. And afterwards this young woman comes up to me, beautiful, long natural hair, African American young woman, and she says, “I have to talk to you. I am beginning my interviews for internships, and I’ve spoken with my mom and my aunt and they both are telling me to relax my hair and to straighten it. And I really don’t want to do that. That’s just not who I am. But I’m afraid I won’t get jobs.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And I told her, I said, “You know what, I’m going to stand up, I’m going to counter your mom, but are you comfortable with your hair?” “Yes.” “Are you able to style your hair in ways that you believe will be professional? Because let’s be real too, we have to know our environment. So can we style our hair or shape it in a way… I mean even people who have straight hair come to work with styles that are appropriate, colors that are appropriate, for the career that they want. If you’re able to do that, my advice is for you to wear your natural hair. Because if they cannot accept you for who you are, when you show up in a professional manner, and you are capable of doing the job, then you don’t want to be there.” You don’t want to be someplace where you have to subjugate who you are.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

The challenge is when we get into environments, there’s so many cues that we get, even when no one says directly, “Be less, be different, be straight-haired.” What you see around you sends you those messages. So when I looked up, as I was growing in my career, and I would look up, no one looked like me, no one. When I would sit in the talent conversations and they would talk about the successful leaders and the folks who should move up in the succession ranks, typically there was something wrong with the folks who came in a little bit browner skin. There was something they just had to work on. “We love her, she’s great. If we could just hone off this edge.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And so that, as you listen to that, you start to say, “Oh I better hone that edge down. I better straighten the hair,” because when I see what is successful, it doesn’t look like me. So part of what we have to do when we embrace our authenticity, part of it is we are creating the path for others. We are breaking new ground, we’re breaking glass, to say this is what it takes and this is how it can look. Look at our vice president. This is how it can look.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Absolutely.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And be successful.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It takes courage to be authentic. It won’t work always. I mean I’m sure part of what you counsel is be careful where you want to work for, some environments are more friendly than others. None will be easy, but there’s impossible, difficult, challenging, maybe perhaps you’ll get there. But okay, if you can go for the maybe rather than you are sure to fail, because no matter what you do, they won’t give you a chance, well maybe you avoid those ones. But there is, I think, the power…

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And we live in a culture where increasingly a lot of young people of all backgrounds, they want authenticity, they want vulnerability. We had a guy on our show, Chris Tuff wrote a book, The Millennial Whisper, and a lot of HR research shows that young people, they want real, “Give me the straight scoop, Don’t tell me the pandemic’s going to be over tomorrow. Be real with me. Tell me what’s happening. Be authentic, be vulnerable.” So there is part of a societal trend in that manner. It doesn’t mean it’s going to solve everything, but it helps a little bit. Even a couple little ripples or waves can be helpful.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But it takes courage because you think it may not work, and it probably hasn’t worked for decades or hundreds of years, but just being who you are and being willing to share some of your experiences, which may be very different than your boss’, your coworkers’, your life experiences. But that provides a basis of connection, of sharing stories. And sometimes we can be our own worst enemy, again, not saying it’s people’s fault, but by not sharing and trying to fit in I actually think it makes it harder in some ways. I don’t think it makes it easier. You may think it might, but it’s like people might say, “I don’t really know who that person is, they’re just so tight lipped.” If you want to have an excuse, you’re just actually giving them excuses in some sense. You’re not helping yourself. I don’t know, in some ways it’s a bit like jumping off a cliff, but by being authentic and being vulnerable, it actually can create more connection and give you a greater chance of getting promoted. And not always, but that sounds like radical stuff. Does that make any kind of sense?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

No, it makes total sense to me. When we’re vulnerable and we are ourselves, we create a human connection, and that’s very natural. Humans desire connectivity and connection. That’s part of why mother has a baby, they lay the baby skin to skin. They want connection. It’s a part of who we are as human beings. And it’s interesting, because I’ll tell you another story that when I was Chief Diversity Officer and I was doing a tour, if you will, where I was speaking about our plan for diversity, but I would talk about my hair, because what I wanted leaders to know is that there are subtle cues, like we talked about, that say, “You don’t fit in.” And I talked about my journey to my hair, what I shared with you all. And after that, lots of people come up to me, primarily women come up to me, because women can relate from, not just African American women, but keeping their hair from being gray.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

I have a woman who told me directly that she had a leader tell her, “And get rid of that gray because you look old.” Because she grayed early and she was in her twenties when she started to gray. But here’s what really got me, is a white male came up to me afterwards and said, “Thank you for sharing your story.” So I was a bit shocked. I said, “Okay, sure.” Because he’s in the majority, look around the room, there’s a bunch of him. So I’m like, “Sure, you’re struggling. You’re really struggling to make it to the top.”

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

But he said, “I have often not felt that I could fit in because I like to wear a beard, but none of the men here wear a beard. And I’m going to start wearing a beard because that is what I like to do in the wintertime. But none of the men here, none of the executives here, none of the folks who report to the CEO, they don’t wear beards. And I didn’t want to be unsuccessful, but that’s who I am.” And I was just so surprised that that resonated for him in terms of how he wants to show himself to the world.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And there’s a sort little secret here that people I don’t think fully realize; every human on the planet is insecure. Some show it by their shyness and reticence, others by their bravado and arrogance. But arrogance is just a sign of insecurity, deep insecurity frankly. And so we’re all like that. I mean, it’s funny, I mean grew up in about as different a background from you as is possible.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I grew up in Australia from a very wealthy, affluent, 150-year-old media dynasty, very respected family in the community, because we owned the equivalent of The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal. So it’s one thing to have money, it’s another thing to be respected for generations as positive contributors to society. So you sort of hit all the benchmarks. You can have money but be vilified. But yet, Australia being a very egalitarian place, which is good in a lot of ways, even though I went to a very good boy’s private school, everybody would say, “So you think you’re better than us, do you?” Because their dads or mothers, they were bankers and lawyers, which you make a fair amount of money, but that’s not media mogul level.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So in my own small little way, it’s like I wanted to be normal, I wanted to fit in, but I felt like I was in a class of one, because nobody was sort of like our family. So very different background, not trying to compare, not saying, “Oh it was also terrible.” It wasn’t. Nothing compared to what your mom went through. But my point is, as I was starting to talk about my story, it’s like, “Who would want to hear my story about losing a 150-year-old, $2 billion business? Who would care?” And the time that changed for me is… We go to a non-denominational church in Maryland and I shared my story with just some regular folks and it’s like they said, “Thank you, Warwick, your story helped me.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

How in the world can my story help any other human on the planet? Because nobody’s gone through what I’ve gone through in that sense. Not that it’s so bad. But it’s, in a small way, a bit like your story. How in the world can a Wild Hair example of an African American woman help some white guy? How in the world? But it could. So I’ve learned in my own small way how your truth, your story, if it’s shared with authenticity and vulnerability, can actually help other people. We think, “Oh nobody can relate to me, because I’m so different.” In a very different way. I’ve sort of, not felt what you felt, but you get what I’m trying to say, is people tend to be insecure and tend to be, “Nobody really would understand me. If I tell them about who I am, nobody will. They’ll laugh or they’ll reject me,” and every human’s like that.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So when you share your truth, it allows other people to do that. And it won’t solve everything but it’ll help more than you know. Anyway, a long winded way of saying I agree with you, but does that kind of make sense at all?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

It totally makes sense and I think that that’s a very powerful point in these times in particular. So when we think about how divided our country has been, and continues to be quite honestly, that power of human connection is where we can start to build communication. So my story and your story may seem like they don’t relate to the people that we tell them to, to our audiences, but invariably we have someone who says, “You know what? I get that, because here’s my story.” And what that created was communication and dialogue and understanding between two people at a human level. And once we can start to really humanize one another, we can build from there, in terms of the issues that we address. And we may not always agree on things, but we’ve reached a place of commonality, of human kind.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And I think that’s what’s so critical in resolving some of these issues today. Because, like I said in my bio, I am an intelligent mother of a Black son, and I worry daily for his life simply because of the skin he’s in. And so for me to be able to make connections with others who don’t look like me and have a different point of view, that’s powerful. That’s how some of these issues can be resolved. And maybe one day I won’t worry every night.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I think what you’re saying is so profound, because when you know somebody and their story and you humanize them, it’s hard to hate somebody that you view as a human being. I’m not an expert in racism; I’m not a psychologist; I’m not a sociologist, but just looking at history, people who are hated, often it’s because of gross ignorance, and you don’t know them as people. You think of them as objects, whether it’s Nazi Germany, or wherever. There’s a lot of terrible examples of racism and inhumanity.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But you start to know somebody’s a real person, you might have all sorts of baggage and all sorts of screws loose, but it will tend to maybe melt the iceberg a little bit if you treat them as a human, if you try to seek to understand them. I love that phrase of St. Francis of Assisi’s: “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” Which sounds really radical, what do you mean? But your mother was actually living that in a lot of ways. Again, I’m not excusing anything, but the more we can try to understand people who are different than us, it’s hard to hate people that you like and care for and understand, and it makes it harder. And why wouldn’t we want to make hatred harder and coalitions more possible?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

And we move from labels putting me in a category of Democrat or Republican, Trump supporter. I mean we get away from the labels and we go down a layer and we start to see each other as like you said, humans, individuals, feelings. There’s a lot of similarities amongst the diversity.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And a key way of doing that is what this conversation has been sort of orbiting around, and that is Wild Hair, right? It’s the metaphor of Wild Hair, meaning the true essence of who you are. You are far, far more, Tracy, than your hair, but your hair is emblematic of who you are, and to suppress that denies the world the opportunity to know you, denies you the opportunity to be known by the world. And that’s why it’s so important, why you’ve discovered such freedom to pursue new things in your career, when you’ve made that decision to let that essence of yourself, that emblem of yourself, show through.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

No, absolutely. It’s about kind of giving yourself that gift of acknowledging and being everything that you can be. And that means you can’t deny part of your essence. We can only rise to the level of our authenticity. So we only go as high as we keep it real. And so we have to be, again, that self honesty comes in, and sometimes that’s depicted externally, like in my hair, but other times, sometimes, most times, it’s that inner work, of what I really want and having the courage to pursue it in your career. So that’s really important.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

What I try to do with everyone that I coach is tap into the sense of what really defines them, their values, what is important to them. It starts being from a place of values and what you value in your life and the change you want to make in this world. And then we can define our careers in lots of different ways. We can’t let other things dictate who we are and what we value.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And I just want listeners to understand what you just said, because it’s so profound. I love in your book you talk about authentic values alignment, more than just work life, which is related but slightly different. But just helping listeners, whether it’s African American women, women in general, or people in general, is just be true to who you are and what you believe and follow a purpose that’s in line with those values. We actually talk about this, in a sense, in crucible leadership is understanding your values, belief systems, faith, wherever it comes from, and having a purpose that aligns with that. And then as you start to make career and job choices, it’s like, “Okay, does this organization, is this going to embrace who I am and my value? Can I be my authentic self?” If I’m not, then see ya. Moving on to the next place. And if you have some drive, there will hopefully be some options.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But that is so true, especially with young people starting out. And you can obviously help folks in their forties, fifties, beyond. But helping young people learn this at the beginning, rather than later on, that’s so huge. I mean when you talk to people, especially let’s say young women of color, do they hear what you’re saying, or do they say, “That’s good for you, Tracy, but this isn’t the real world.” You said, “Well, I’ve lived in the real world for decades.” But do you have some challenging conversations in which they say, “I’m not buying it, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid. This is Disneyland. I mean, what are you talking about?” I mean, how do people that you’re trying to persuade of your message, how do they respond? Do they hear you or do they just think you just full of it and just don’t know what you’re talking about?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Sometimes it is challenging for the younger generation in those conversations, and I test this out on my children, who are 35, 32, 23, 20, the ones that are out there in the workforce. And I find that those that are a little bit older millennials, the thirties, tend to pick up on this because now they’ve lived a little bit and they’ve seen this. But the conversation with the 20 year old, 23 year old, they come from an environment, and I don’t like to label groups, but I think what we can say about that generation is they are a generation that had access to technology from birth. Unlike me, I didn’t. I grew and then technology came in and I learned it. And what that has done is it’s created this sense of hyper connectivity, this sense of immediate gratification, this sense of access. And so those things are happening constantly. And there isn’t always the time made to reflect on values.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Values honestly get shaped by what they are connecting to and seeing thrown at them in so many ways. So I literally had a conversation with my son a couple of days ago where we were talking about the amount of crime that we’re seeing in our city, in the city of Indianapolis, and especially the Black men who are being killed or killing one another. And the conversation centered around what kids or young adults their age want. And it’s money, it’s success. And when you come from an underrepresented and a socioeconomically challenged area, you don’t always see the ways to get that that are safe and honest and values-based. What you see is, “How can I get this in a way that may not always be legal, it’s the quickest way to get there.” So sometimes I think that the much younger end of the millennial generation does struggle with defining their values.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Now I was pleased to say, and I have to give my son a plug, that he talked about what he had learned at home. And while he shares their perspective of, “I want it now,” there are just absolutely some things he won’t do to get it, in terms of illegal things that he just won’t do to get it. And so we as parents, we play a strong role when we show up authentically and drive a values-based family system. But also we have to remember that our children are impacted by so many things outside of our control.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s really a values war that they’re going to learn these lessons at some point, but hopefully it’s not like on their deathbed. And one of the things we talked about is legacy. When you’re having your last breath, or it’s your kids and grandkids at your funeral, what is it you want them to say about you? At that point you don’t want to say, “Yep, I was married three times, my kids don’t know me. Oops.” You don’t want to be having that as your last thought.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And we talk a lot about success versus significance. I mean there’s a reason we talk about lead a life of significance. And again, this is an area where I know something about, because I grew up in about as wealthy a background as you can. And I can tell you there’s a lot of wealthy people that are unhappy, kids on drugs, on their third or fourth marriage or beyond. I mean, okay, you have all this money and you’re miserable. So what? It is possible to be successful, have money, and to be a blessing. Let’s say you are focused on others, perhaps, maybe philanthropic, but there’s a way that money can be a blessing. It doesn’t have to be a curse, but the idea that money makes you happy, that’s a lie that some of the world preach. But everybody realizes that at some point. But you don’t want it to be on your deathbed when it’s like, “Oops.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I get why a lot of young people are thinking that way, but it’s a false god, it’s an idol, at the risk of getting spiritual. You can be successful, you can achieve, you can go for it, and be happy. You want to be happy? Think of others on the way up, think of the bigger picture. Don’t just think of yourself. A self-motivated vision won’t lead to joy, if that makes sense.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And that is a perfect time, I think I heard the captain turn on the fasten seat belt sign, it’s getting close to the point that we’re going to land the plane. But before we do that, I want to do a couple of things, and, Warwick, I’ll give you another chance of course to ask Tracy a question. But first, Tracy, first thing is how can listeners find out about your book, Wild Hair? Where can they find out more about you and about your book?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Absolutely. They can go out to my website. It’s tracyjedmonds.com and it’s Tracy with a Y.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And Edmonds with an O.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Edmonds with a O. That’s exactly what I was going to say. And on there you’ll find out everything about me and you can scroll down to the bottom of any page and subscribe to get information about the book release and to stay in touch with me.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Fabulous. That last bit of conversation that you and Warwick had, Warwick was talking about legacy. And, listeners, if you’ve been with us from the outset here, you heard early on in the conversation, Tracy said to me, “Well I’m not a poet.” And that comment came from something that happened, unless you’re watching us on YouTube, if you’re listening to us just in a podcast app you didn’t hear the whole thing, and that is we ask guests to give us their bio. And most guests copy and paste from their corporate page. Here’s their bio.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Tracy did something different and I think better and beautiful. Tracy wrote what I described, what Warwick described, as a poem. And I’d like you, Tracy, as we do begin to land the plane to just read for listeners, because I think this is a perfect legacy. If one’s going to leave a legacy, what you wrote here is a great legacy of your life from stem to stern. So would you read what you wrote to us as your biography?

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

I’d be happy to. I am a daughter, sister, mother. A wife, a friend, a survivor of loss, a rebuilder. I am an entrepreneur with depression, a speaker with anxiety, a successful Chief Diversity Officer, and a recovering corporate soldier. An author, a listener, a fearful, intelligent Black woman with a son. An open mind, an open heart. A leader, a Lakers fan. I am a failure fighter success, complicated, multidimensional, unexpected. A coach, a consultant, a fierce believer in possibility, always growing, real.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Warwick, you’re braver than me to say something after that. I would wrap, but I’ll let you have the last question and then I’ll wrap the show after you and Tracy have a chat.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, I just want to say thank you, Tracy, for being here, and I just found your message really inspirational, just that metaphor of the Wild Hair. It’s funny, in spiritual circles, actually baptism, they talk about an outward manifestation of an inner transformation. You go to baptism class and a baptist church. I mean my church isn’t Baptist, but I guess philosophically I guess it probably would be. And that’s, in a sense, what you’re talking about. It’s an outward manifestation of the inner transformation, being authentically yourself. I love that. Just championing women of color, in particular women. But I would say your message is focused on that.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But I think it is helpful to all human beings on this planet, being yourself, not compromising, being true to your values, living a life of purpose that’s based on your values. That’s a message everybody needs to hear. And I’m an optimist by major, so all things being equal, that will help you be more than less successful, though I’m not naive. But that’s a message that I’d say all people need to hear. So I just found it very inspiring and thank you so much for being here.

 

Tracy J Edmonds:

Thank you.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Well that’s interesting. I say to Warwick, do you really want to follow what Tracy just said? And then Warwick steals what I was going to say. That’s pretty much the summary I was going to give. The idea about crucibles being an opportunity to ask, “What can I learn?” The idea of embracing authenticity and following your values, as Tracy calls it, authentic values alignment. So Warwick, it’s funny you didn’t really follow Tracy, but you stole from me, which is great because you’re the host of the show and that’s the way it should be.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

So with that, listener, we want to thank you for spending this time with us today. And we have a little bit of a favor to ask you, Warwick and I do. If you like what you’ve heard here, please click subscribe on the podcast app on which you’re listening right now, trundle over to the spot where you can leave a rating for us as well. What those things do is allow us to get the show out to more people and more conversations like this one with Tracy Edmonds, that offer hope and healing through times of crucible.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And speaking of crucibles, remember this as we part for today. Your crucibles are painful. There is no doubt about that. What Tracy described here today was some painful times, what Warwick has described from the outset of this podcast that we’ve had here, has been some painful times. Your crucibles are real and they are painful, but they are not the end of your story. In fact, they can be the beginning of your story, and that new beginning for you can be the start of a chapter in your story that’s the most rewarding chapter yet. And the reason why is because, what Warwick said and what Tracy explained, both of them in their own ways have made this to be true, why it can be the most fulfilling time of your life is because in the end, that road you’re on, when you learn the lessons of your crucible and apply them, is a road that leads to a life of significance.