Episode 19- Getting Out of the Cocoon: Becoming The Leader You’re Meant to Be with Jo Saxton

What does leadership mean? For today’s guest, leadership means to be intentional with influence and help others rise together. Author and leadership coach Jo Saxton has helped thousands of women put aside their fears and embrace becoming the leaders they were meant to be. On this episode, Jo reveals her own journey from cocoon to butterfly that she documented in her new book, The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Are Made For, how she grew up a Nigerian child raised by a white foster mother in London and discovered the power of her own voice. We also discuss why it’s vital that women seek community with others who are alike to—and different from—them, and how we can flex the muscle of facing our fears and change the periods in our lives into commas.


INTRO: Hey there, Going Scared Tribe. Thanks for joining me today.

If you are listening sometime around when this podcast launches, around June 13th, then I have some exciting news for you: we officially have opened up the book launch tribe team! That’s right. My first book is published in August. It’s called Imperfect Courage, and I am looking for women who want to rally around the message that so much of this podcast talks about. It’s the idea that we can live lives of purpose by leaving comfort behind and going scared.

If this message excites you, if you’re wanting to be more globally minded, if you’re wanting to be around a tribe of women who is getting up off their couches and holding one another by the hands to go scared, I would love for you to be in this tribe. So go to my website jessicahonegger.com. You’ll get to read an advanced reader copy of the book. We’re going to have you doing some social posts, getting on Amazon and leaving reviews, and we will form a Facebook group that I’ll be popping into frequently. So go check it out. I seriously would love to have you.

Okay. Today’s guest: Jo Saxton.

Jo has become a friend over the last few months. She’s actually Nigerian and she was raised in London. She brings a multicultural and international perspective to leadership. She shares a lot about her background today on today’s episode.

And what I love that we talked about is this whole idea that what you thought was a period in your life can actually be erased and you can put a comma there instead.

Jo does an incredible job raising up women to own their voices and to be the leaders that they are meant to be. Her latest book, The Dream of You: Let Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Are Made For, released in January, and I would love for you guys to check it out. It has such a powerful message and gives women such practical tools on how to find their voice and walk in their identity. Can’t wait for you to give it a listen.


Jo Saxton: A Consciously Competent Woman

Jessica;  Hey, Jo. Welcome to the podcast.

Jo: Hey! It’s good to be with you.

Jessica: So excited to be here with you today. Now, I just want you to know how I experience you in the world.

Jo: Oh, okay.

Jessica: I experience you as this consciously competent woman.

Jo: Aw, thank you.

Jessica: And I find that when a woman has found her voice and has an assurance of who she is, she can’t help but create a space, wherever you might go, that enables others to be safe and long to be their truest self.

And I think that’s such an interesting dynamic and such a gift to the world, because you are, on one hand, strong, confident—and at the same time hold this space for safety and for others to kind of rise up into that. So I just wanted to thank you for being who you are in the world.

Jo: Well, thank you. Thank you, I appreciate that.

Jessica: So this is going to make you laugh, but as I was reading your most recent book, The Dream of You . . . You know, we’ve run into each other over the years, but hadn’t gotten to know each other really well until very recently. I kind of made some assumptions, Jo, that you must have had some really “butterfly/unicorn” upbringing to have arrived at this confident, safe place. And I was kind of shocked. I was like, Oh my gosh, she has gone through a lot of hard time.

So I wanted to ask you to just share this journey—and you’ve talked about even a journey of cocoon to butterfly—for our listeners.

Jo: Yeah. Well, it’s funny because I think when it’s your normal, you don’t realize quite how challenging it is all the time.

So for me, for my personal background: I am Nigerian by heritage, Londoner in England by birth. And when my parents split up before I was born, the result of their relational breakdown meant that their children were divided, and my father took the eldest two and went to Nigeria. My mom kept the youngest two. And in the end, none of us lived with our parents, and I was in foster care until I was about six years old.

And it was a wonderful experience in many ways. My foster mother was a wonderful, wonderful woman. But obviously it’s the ‘70s in England, it’s a black kid with a white foster mother in a part of town where we were “the black children” in the school. It was just outside London. And it was challenging, to say the least.

And then after that, I returned home to live with my mom, at the age of six. And we lived in the inner city of London at a time when there were just a lot of rumbling tensions, lot of poverty, lot of discontent, lot of frustration in that context. And I think each part of my . . . every chapter in my story, there was a part of me always wondering if there was more, and dare I go for it. Whether I would believe what society thought of me being a foster kid, or being from a “broken home,” as it was described then, or being black, or being poor. And I think all of those things were fuel to my fire in many ways—fuel to find out what really would define me, and fuel to grow and succeed in some kind of way.

And I think I love that image of the cocoon to the butterfly, because I learned when I was older that if you help a butterfly out of the cocoon, its wings are weakened and it can’t fly. You actually kill it. But that process of breaking free, that process of breaking through, gives it the strength it needs to become and to fly.

And I think that’s been true for my story and many stories of people I’ve met—that, actually, it’s not that I’m happy for the things that have happened, those and others that have happened, which are really life defining, or really breaking. But I have encountered something of a redemptive journey, where those things which would have broken me have actually been tools for strengthening and have helped me fly.

“I have encountered something of a redemptive journey, where those things which would have broken me have actually been tools for strengthening and have helped me fly.” – Jo Saxton

Jessica: I love that, and I love that imagery.


Developing the Wings To Fly

Jessica:  So can we get into that a little bit with a concrete example of something that could’ve been this defining moment, where your wings were broken, but instead they helped you develop the wings that have enabled you to fly?

Jo: Yeah. I think one of the defining moments would have been when I was about seven years old and there were race-related riots in a neighborhood not far from my own, maybe about three miles away, in an area called Brixton, in London. It was a place where you’d go to the market on Sundays or Saturdays with my family, and you buy fruit, and you buy our food, like Nigerian food and other things. So it was a place which was close to my heart, you always saw someone from school, things like that.

And then I was watching the news and this time there are police officers, and there’s violence, and all the elders in our family are quiet, and they’re mumbling, and you can feel the tension in the air, and the tension in the room. I was scared, and I was scared because I knew I couldn’t even ask anybody in the family what was going on. And I heard the way the news described the people of that community and how they would describe them thieves and thugs. My thought: I was just there. Does that mean we’re thugs? Does that mean we’re terrible people?

And seeing the racism and just some of the brutality, and being really frightened by what I saw, really, and wondering whether there was a way through. So we were encountering these riots, and seeing them all around us, not directly impacting us personally, but seeing in our community, and when I heard the way the media described us, and described our community, I found it really scary.

And I remember my aunt sitting me down—and it was Sunday night, when you have your cornrows done—my Auntie Bassie said to me, she said, “Jo, it’s not easy in this country.” And my aunt, and my mom, and many other had moved to England in the 1960s, at a time when it was a particularly tense time.

And she said, “It’s not easy in this country. First of all, you need to understand that you’re a woman, so people won’t always take you seriously.” And she said, “On top of that, you’re a black woman, and as a result of that, they may not respect you. So it’s going to be, for you, that you have to work at least twice as hard—at least—so that even if they don’t like you for being a woman and they don’t like you because you’re black, [make sure] that your abilities and your skills are so high that they’ll choose you anyway.” And then she said, “It’s really hard to make it in this country,” and carried on. And then the conversation moved on to what was being cooked, and whether I had my socks ready for tomorrow, and things like that.

“If they don’t like you for being a woman and they don’t like you because you’re black, [make sure] that your abilities and your skills are so high that they’ll choose you anyway.” – Jo Saxton quoting her ‘Auntie Bessie’

And it was one of those definitive moments in all kinds of ways. I think, one, it was this kind of wake-up call to the realities of the world, but also the possible ways to deal with it at times. Not always the best ways, but possible ways to deal with it.

I think what it did for me is that it made me prepared to wrestle. It made me prepared for disappointment. It made me prepared for difficulty. And it set my expectations not as a victim.

I didn’t feel victimized by the talk, or that I was now a victim. It was more like my aunt said, “Okay. You have all kinds of talents and abilities, but there will be challenges to accomplish your goals and accomplish your dreams. You need to be prepared for those.” And that was my biggest takeaway from that: that I would need to work really hard, that I would need to face the fact that there were things in the world I couldn’t change, but those things wouldn’t have to limit me or define me forever.

“There were things in the world I couldn’t change, but those things wouldn’t have to limit me or define me forever.” – Jo Saxton

And in many ways, honestly, they did define me for a while. But I think it did develop a level of resilience. Even to this day, I’m very grateful for the conversation she had. I’m very grateful for someone to take the time to say, “The world isn’t fair, and in the world is not easy, and not everybody’s going to love you.” And on some level, they’re not the easiest things to hear, but I’m very grateful because it set my expectations to not internalize all of those things as though they were always my problem, even if someone had a problem with me.


Tools To Getting Out of the Cocoon

Jessica: And now, you really take all of these lessons you’ve learned, and you helped create a space for other women to grow into how all they are meant to be, and you coach leaders. You’ve even coached someone on my Noonday team. You’re coming to our leadership summit to provide leadership training to our ambassadors in July, and I’m so excited.

And I’m curious: you’ve walked with so many women through this transformation, out of the cocoon into the butterfly. What are some of these key tools that you find to be essential in order for that transformation to occur?

Jo: First of all, it’s a real privilege to be able to come alongside people and help them recover who they are. And I think there are a number of tools, actually. I think our lives are so layered, that so often we are a reaction to what has been, a reaction to our stories, a reaction to relationships.

“I think our lives are so layered, that so often we are a reaction to what has been, a reaction to our stories, a reaction to relationships.” – Jo Saxton

Getting Out of the Cocoon #1: Admit You’re In There

I think there are three key things I like to do. Thing number one for getting out of the cocoon is to admit you’re in there, to admit that there are certain things that have defined your life, that have defined your relationships, defined your working patterns, your waking, your sleeping, your fears. You might not even call it fear anymore. It’s such an intuitive reaction.

And the reason why we need to attend to those things is that it really does pay to be self-aware, to be aware of who we’ve become. And I think our world sometimes enjoys the fact that we reinvent, which is a wonderful thing. I don’t say it as a criticism, but in the reinventing we leave some of the story behind. And there are actually parts of the story that can serve a purpose in the future. So it’s important that we acknowledge where we are, and acknowledge who we’ve become, not be afraid of the vulnerability of that, not be afraid of the authenticity of that. And I think sometimes we reinvent because we don’t want to feel the way we used to feel.

So the first tool often gets you up in your feelings a bit, and probably makes you want to have a snack, or a drink, or something else. It’s that moment, that moment when you’re like, “You know what? I just need some carbohydrates.” That’s the moment when I say, “Stop right there, stay right there for a moment.”

Getting Out of the Cocoon #2: ‘Who Were You Before Anything Got in the Way?’

I think the other thing I’d say after that is that I’d ask that person, “Who were you before anything got in the way? Before relationships, or loved ones, or hated ones, or whoever complicated things—who were you before it got in the way?” And sometimes that takes some digging.

You know, we’ve forgotten about our creativity, we’ve forgotten about our innocence, we’ve forgotten about our possibilities because, particularly if they involved hurt, we’ve often equated them with the hurt. So I often help with trying to build a picture of their identity.

And sometimes for people, that’s asking questions like, “What things did you use to love? What things do you love now?” I get people to listen to a soundtrack, like, if they were to make a soundtrack of their life what would it be? And get them to listen all the way through, because it awakens things within you. Just a small, and in some ways, an almost silly thing. But some things which are a visceral level can reconnect us to who we actually are, because at that place of who you actually are, you find the strength to who you get to become as well.

“At that place of who you actually are, you find the strength to who you get to become as well.” – Jo Saxton

Getting Out of the Cocoon #3: Think About Your Voice

And then I think the third piece—after, a kind of moment of reckoning of the fact that you’re in the cocoon and that it’s not easy—after the discomfort and the vulnerability of looking at your identity, I get you to think about your voice. And your “voice” is a funny word because on one level, we intuitively know it means something to have a voice. But at the same time, it’s like, Well, I know how I sound. What exactly do you mean? And I love the fact that in the Latin, the word for voice, vox, is also in the same family as the word for “vocation.” I see your voice as your identity at work, your identity in action, at work, rest and play.

I think questions are a good thing, actually. I like to ask people questions because it helps to dig at the things that we’ve often buried. So I ask people things that they get passionate about, things they know they’re good at or people have told them they’re good at. If they could change anything if they could fix something, if they could create something, what would it look like? If they could create the ideal day, what would be the things in their ideal day? If they could change something globally, in the world, if they could change something in their family, what would it be? Because those are signposts to your actual voice.

It could be a painful process to reconnect, because partly you grieve what you’ve lost, but I find that those three tools—and within each of the sections are actually other tools as well—but those three tools I found have helped people reclaim their full identity, reclaim their sense of purpose, and then give them a bit of courage to go there again.

Jessica: And I love how you started off saying that we are often just reacting to our lives, to our past.

And I love this analogy that you’ve so beautifully caused us to stop and think about, of the cocoon, because in order to kind of stop reacting, you have to get quiet, and still, and dark, and alone.

“In order to kind of stop reacting, you have to get quiet, and still, and dark, and alone.” – Jessica Honegger

Jo: Yeah. And no one wants to be there. Our world, our culture hasn’t set us up for that moment of vulnerability. We have things instantly, we have things easy access, we have lots of noise, and lots of distractions. And all of those things are beautiful in their own way. I like noise, I like scrolling on social media for three days. I like all those things.

But if you’re serious about reclaiming something of who you are, you do have to go to the dark for a little bit. You do. You do have to shut out whatever your distractions might be, and they won’t be the same for all of us. But we need to be honest about them and be in that kind of covered, sweaty place for a little bit, because there’s beauty there. I actually believe there is beauty there, and there’s something worthwhile in that place.


The “Should” Voice

Jessica: There is. Let’s talk a little bit about the “should” voice.

Jo: Oh my gosh. Yes. I feel like, especially as women, we almost have this biology of sacrifice and nurturing built into us, and I think it is extra hard for us to discern what’s my heart saying, and then what’s the “should.”

Jo: Absolutely.

Jessica: Do you have to walk through that discernment process?

Jo: Absolutely. And I see it with so many women, different generations, different cultures, different family systems. And what I often do is I just ask the question, “Why?” You know, like that child that never stops asking the question “Why?” I think sometimes we have to do that with our “shoulds,” and say, “So, why is that important? So why should I be that, and why should I . . .” and dig, and dig, and dig.

And what I found with many people is, “My mom said I should be,” or, “Isn’t that what everybody expects of me?” Or, “That’s what I’m supposed to do,” or, “That makes me a better person,” or, “That’s what makes me lovable,” or, “They won’t break my heart again if I act this way,” or, “If I limit myself like this, then maybe he won’t leave.”

But, again, the “should” is so compacted in our hearts and so affirmed by the culture around us, we actually have to take a kind of part way around it and keep on prodding, and prodding, and prodding as to why it’s there, because when we hear the “should” for what it really is, it exposes itself, but it’s kind of sneaky to begin with. It’s kind of sneaky to begin with.

Jessica: Well, it’s sneaky and I think it’s so uncomfortable because I think often our “shoulds” come from not wanting to let other people down.

Jo: Absolutely.

Jessica: And when you put up a boundary and instead live it out of your heart, then you have to sit in the uncomfortable, that you’re letting someone else down, and that’s just not really how we’re wired.

Jo: Absolutely. And I think the other piece I’ve seen is, no one wants to go first on their own. If we were all going forward together, if it felt like we were all going forward together and taking an adventurous jump, it would feel like fun.

If I feel like I’m going forward on my own, and making this new step and leaving everybody behind, it’s lonely. Supposing people don’t approve of me. Supposing, like you said, they feel let down. Supposing they feel rejected, or angry. Supposing my “should,” or my ignoring my “should,” makes it difficult for somebody else.

And I think a lot of us have burnt out that way. We have said yes to things we have no business saying yes to. We’ve put up with obligations that we should’ve called, “Time!” on a long time ago because we’re afraid of the implications for other people, and apparently it seems more loving this way. And it feels kinder of this way, when actually it doesn’t last. That kind of reality, it doesn’t last.


Swimming Upstream & Changing The Current Together

Jessica: Well, and I think you bring up the most profound point, which is that we don’t have to go alone. I mean, the cocoon thing image, there is this internal journey where only we know our past, and all the ways it might impact the way that we are now, impacting others.

But we don’t have to do this work alone, and I feel like that is where . . . we’ve talked a lot about your leadership conferences, and your coaching. Tell us more about that, because I feel like it’s birthed out of this idea: Well, if we all kind of swim upstream together, we can actually change the current. And this can become just how we swim. And, man, I think about the power of women that are living awake, living alive, living in their voice, and that is when the world changes.

Jo: Absolutely. For me, even the coaching and the latest events were birthed out of experience, and in some ways my own journey with women. I’d often find after speaking at conferences that I’d meet women in restrooms crying, and they would tell something of their story and it was all, again, different women, different generations, different ethnic backgrounds, similar story.

And the story was this: they felt like they had some sense of purpose, some sense of vocation, and they had hidden it for a while, and they were hopeful and excited by the chance of doing something about it. And during the talk, or being at an event, they saw women who were perhaps living into it, and it both electrified them in the kind of . . . This is amazing, and it devastated them because they felt more alone than ever, because they thought, How am I ever going to get to do those things? And the sense of hope, and the sense of vulnerability.

So I realized, I’m meeting too many women saying the same thing, and I wonder if there’s a way to get those voices in the same space, in the same room, virtually or physically, to realize that they’re not as alone as they think, but there’s a group of women who all feel alone together? And if we could change the narrative together as a community, what would that unleash? What would that bring about for us?

And I remember gathering in the fall, most recently, a group of about 60 women, some who worked in faith settings, many nonprofits, some corporate women, some creatives, others entrepreneurs. And I just got them to introduce themselves and say, “This is who I am, and this is what I lead. This is a company I’m leading, this is a nonprofit I’m working in, I’m a CFO,” et cetera, et cetera.

And I remember the feedback at the end, one of the women saying just to be in the room with other women who stood up and said . . . who gave voice to who they were, and gave voice to what they did, undid them. It broke them, because they finally realized that there was the potential for community, and they finally realized that they weren’t the unusual—how does Shonda Rhimes put it?—“First Only Different,” when she was referring to herself breaking into new spaces in the media. They weren’t the only one, they weren’t the isolated ones. Or at least they have to be isolated anymore.

I think so much of our culture can make things—relationships with women that don’t actually exist, that they have kind of exaggerated, when actually what I’ve seen, when women can get together and feel free and safe to share who they are and their ideas, they actually come alongside one another.

And what I’ve seen, even from those leadership events—people doing joint trainings, encouraging one another with their skill, sharing their skill sets, sharing their talent, encouraging one another, almost trading their courage one with another for different scenarios and different situations. And it’s been incredible to see. But there does need to be opportunities for regular connection with other people who are not like you, but who are like you as well.

Jessica: Yeah. And women have this reputation around cattiness, and yet, that’s not what I see. We allow men to be ambitious, but we call women “competitive” and “catty.” Well, it looks like ambition for men.

And what I’ve seen is that when women really come together, and we show up, and we’re willing to show our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, [when] we rally around each other–there’s so much power in that. And that’s what you see.

“When women really come together, and we show up, and we’re willing to show our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, [when] we rally around each other–there’s so much power in that.” – Jessica Honegger

Jo: I agree, and I think we have to reclaim our own narrative, that just because somebody said it, doesn’t make it true. And rather than be influenced by these distant external realities, and these other narratives, which may be true for someone else that they’ve seen once and one time, we actually can control our narrative. What story are we going to tell about the women we work with? What story are we going to create? And what story are we going to write? And what are our values? What community, what culture would you like to create amongst your people?

And I understand how the vulnerability towards cattiness can emerge because if there’s an element of scarcity, if you feel there’s only room for one person, it sets you up against one another. If there’s room for one woman at that table, one woman in that space, or if that’s all we’ve seen . . . I do believe there is room for us to begin to write new stories. And I think it’s essential for our wellbeing and our relationships that we begin to write new stories, and declare that we’ll create spaces which affirm one another, which celebrate one another’s talents, and push one another forward, and in many ways cause the watermark to rise together.

“I think it’s essential for our wellbeing and our relationships that we begin to write new stories, and declare that we’ll create spaces which affirm one another, which celebrate one another’s talents, and push one another forward, and in many ways cause the watermark to rise together.” – Jo Saxton

I don’t just mean that in a fluffy, kind of huggy sense. Just practically with our skills, with our talents, with our advice, with our encouragement, with our respective brain trusts, with our time, we can actually do that for one another and say, “You know what? You may experience cattiness over there, or that may be what you’ve heard. But here, we’re a collaborative culture. Here, we give courage to one another. Here, we amplify one another’s voices. And that’s what our leadership looks like.”


Taking the Chance to Lead

Jessica: So let’s talk about leadership. How you define leadership?

Jo: I define leadership as being intentional with the influence that you have.

Jessica: That’s good.

Jo: I think we’re all very influential in our various spheres in life, but I think when you choose to be intentional, when you turn to the influence you have and say, “Okay, I’m going to do something about this,” and move people forward, then I think you’re leading, because then people are following you at that point.

Jessica: Right. I love that. And I feel like oftentimes when we feel like our voice is small, we don’t understand that we actually have an impact, and that we have influence.

What do you think has been sort of that waking up journey for you? I mean, you said it, even as a young woman, I think I heard on one of your podcasts, just talking about you wanted to break the mold, you realized that actually all of these things, the harder things in your life actually caused you to rise.

Jo: Yeah.

Jessica: So what would you say to the woman who is wondering about her voice and her influence, and rising up instead of crouching down?

Jo: I would ask them what the healthy voices around them are already saying about them in terms of asking their girlfriends, or the people who they trust. Not all feedback is created equal. But the people who you trust, and who trusts you, what do they saying you’re good at?

Because I realized I was, like, the last to know I was a leader. My teachers will always give me positions of responsibility in class, in sports teams. I was always that person who was expected and anticipated to take charge. And I just thought I was helping out. I didn’t call it leadership partly because of my own insecurities, and because I was still wrestling in my cocoon, as it were.

But when I began to listen to the voices around me—and I do think there is sometimes a community role in . . . we talk about taking a village to raise a child. Sometimes it takes a village to raise a leader because they can see things people can’t see.

I would encourage that woman who’s like, “Oh, could I?” to share it with some trusted people who know you well, and to, again, trace the story of the things you’ve done well in the past and the things you’ve tried to do in the past, or the ideas you’ve had, just as a starting point.

And then I would take some time . . . we’re different personalities. Those of us who are introverts might need to pull away, because we recharge and we get energy from time on our own. Those of us who are more extroverted may need to process externally with people around us what our ideas are.

And I would just give yourself a safe, almost like a nurturing environment for your ideas and your opportunities around you, and then I would actually ask that person . . . and when I’m coaching people I would ask them, “What’s a small first step?” And sometimes a first small step is standing in the mirror and saying, “I have this dream. I would like to lead this thing. I have an idea. It seems crazy, I don’t know how I’m going to get it done, but this is what I am.”

And then the next thing I coach a lot of women, when they say, “I don’t know,” to put a comma next to that, rather than a period. Because we often are like, “I don’t know how it’s going to work.” And we check out rather than, “I don’t know how it’s going to work, but . . .”

I think that’s the moment for me of curiosity, where curiosity and courage can step in if we choose to put a comma there, saying, “You know what? It’s all right that I don’t know everything, but this is the start of my journey I’m going to explore, whether that’s my local library, whether I’m going to use the internet, whether I’m going to read up on my favorite topic or the idea in my mind,” rather than think, “I don’t know, therefore I must step back.” It’s like, "I don’t know, so I’m about to explore for the next three months what this might mean.”


Replacing Periods with Commas

Jessica: Oh my gosh, I love that. It makes me want to redo the logo for The Going Scared Podcast and put a comma at the end.

Speaking of going scared, in that moment where there’s a period, often that period is fear. And The Going Scared Podcast is all about erasing that period and putting a comma. So what are some of the key fears that you see ultimately hold women back?

Jo: I think it’s a fear of not knowing enough. We feel like, Well, I’ve not got an MBA. We think of all the things we don’t have. I don’t feel confident speaking publicly, and when I first started public speaking, I was ill most times for about a year. I think not knowing enough, not knowing if people will like us, not seeing ourselves can be a big one for women. If we don’t see people doing it, we wonder if we can.

I think it’s Marian Wright Edelman who would say, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” or, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.” And the visual affirmation, when there’s a lack of it, when I’m like, Hmm, is this just me? Is the world wrong or am I wrong? Because if the whole world is doing some different, maybe I’m wrong? when actually the question is, Has it just not been done yet, or in this generation, or in this culture, or in my eyesight? actually is way to be thinking.

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” – Jo Saxton quoting Marian Wright Edelman

But I think the fear of not knowing, the fear of not being, and the fear of, How on earth I’m going to make it all work? have been the three loudest voices I’ve heard when women get to that point.


Courageously Go…Courageously Explore

Jessica: So what about you? Where are you going scared right now?

Jo: Oh, I knew you’re going to ask me that. I was like, “Oh, no.” I was walking around my house saying, “Where are you scared, Jo? Where are you scared?”

You know what? I was thinking of this: right now, in my parenting, I’m struck by the fact that I’m an immigrant. And I was born and raised in England, and I’m raising American children, and I’m continually on catch-up of just different cultural things that we did differently, different things . . . I remember calling my friend and saying, “What is ‘on a roll,’ because my child is on it. Could you explain to me what that means? I’ve seen it in John Hughes movies. I don’t know. I just don’t know.” And, What’s the kind of gift you give your child at this moment? kind of thing.

So in some way small things, big things. But I remember I was writing something. I was writing a letter to my daughters. I haven’t given it to them, it’s just something percolating in my head. And I said, “I’m sorry for the gaps, because I’m afraid that you’ll miss things because I haven’t learned enough yet of the world that you’re growing up in.” And I remember thinking, gosh, because I’m an immigrant daughter as well, and I’m an immigrant’s daughter who was trying to navigate their way through England, and the culture being so different, and trying to explain to my immigrant mother why certain things matter, and some things were just teenage things, and some things were really important.

So I think one of the moments, for me, is to courageously go and courageously explore, and not hide behind what I don’t know. But again, put a comma there and just say, “We’re all learning, let’s run into this,” and to feel confident that although I don’t feel I have every tool at my disposal, that I can go for it.

“Courageously go and courageously explore, and not hide behind what I don’t know.” – Jo Saxton

So I think that’s probably the most keen one. And then, I think one of the things, most recently, that has taught me something is: I was really afraid of water, like, being out of my depth water-wise. And when I was about 10 or 11, I had this terrifying experience in a canoe, where I thought I was going to drown and all this kind of stuff. So last year I started kayaking again—and learn how to kayak, and try to kayak and all of that.

And it was wonderfully redemptive, and I think some of it now, for me, is I want to face as many fears as I can. I want to face. And for me, speaking in front of people isn’t a fear anymore. It was when I began, though, and it made me physically ill, and not it isn’t. Or going to the bank and saying, “All right. I’ve got an LLC,” doesn’t seem weird anymore, but it did when I first did it. Or going to the tax man.

And I thought everything began with fear. Everything began with fear. So I want to kind of flex the muscle of facing some fears: the vulnerable ones that are tender to my heart and the ones that are skillset fears, as well, and face them all.

Jessica: I love that because I think you could’ve just ignored that water fear and kept doing a workaround, and kept surviving and getting by. But to actually put that out on the table . . . because we have enough of those in our lives, that if you ignore enough of them, you’ve actually got a lot of periods, and you’re not living into your truest self. Because all of those things ultimately are obstacles to our growth, and to our impact, and to making the impact that we are created to make and have in the world. So I love that.

Jo: Absolutely.

Jessica: This is really causing me to think about, okay, what are some real . . . because that’s really tangible. I’m afraid of water, specifically around the canoeing accident. Okay, the antidote to that is to get in a boat and get on the water.

Jo: Yeah. And I think I’ve been recovering for years. That was one of the first things. I was on a boat and I was fine on a boat because someone else was in control. And I realized, Okay, my fear has kind of shifted. It’s not the boat—it’s me I’m afraid of with the water.

Then I was on a jet ski. I was on the back of a jet ski and I thought, This is nuts, but I actually am enjoying it, but I wasn’t driving the jet ski. And then I was driving the jet ski. So I’m not as afraid of water anymore, I’ve got a life jacket on, I feel okay. So it was step-by-step.

And then it was, I don’t know, tubing or something, which felt like the worst exfoliation I’ve ever had in my life, just being dragged along and slapped. And I remember letting go, and thinking, Okay, I’ve got a life jacket on, I’m fine, I can swim, I can tread water anyway. This is fine. And all of those things over the years led me to the moment of, Okay, and I now I can face the kayak.

And I think for some of us, we look at these fears and they’re so big and looming, when actually it’s the next step, and the next step, and the next step, and the next step that leads you to that point. Rather than thinking, I’ve got to take on that huge mountain, maybe just put on some walking shoes, and then walk a little, and then call a friend in so you’re not walking alone.

I remember going at five o’clock in the morning with my husband to this lake—I’m in Minnesota so there’s lakes everywhere—to this lake. And I said to him, “Look. I’m terrified. When I say stop, we stop, but I’ve got to do this, because I want to kayak with my kids. My kids already kayak, and I’m behind now.” But by that point, he was like, “Yeah, but let’s remember all the steps that you’ve already taken. The jet skis, the boats, the other things that now aren’t a deal for you. Let that be the thing that’s in your mind, rather than the fears from where you were a kid.”

And it was a real helpful thing, because then it was just taking another step rather than scaling a mountain in one go.

Jessica: Yes. Yes. Sometimes it’s just simply putting on the right shoes.

Jo: Yeah. It is.


Sharing Stories Of Leaders

Jessica: Okay. Your podcast, Lead Stories: I was catching up on it this morning. You and your co-host Steph O’Brien really are speaking to leaders. What are some of the types of stories you feature on the podcast? And for those that are going to go tune in and listen, what should we expect?

Jo: I’m sure you’re having lots of fun doing your podcast too. It’s been a real fun ride, doing the podcast. We like to just get people thinking. We invite voices in, who are leading in different spheres of life. We’ve had a number of psychologists on, talking about what it means to deal with stress. We had a woman who is living with OCD and is a leader, and how she is working that through within her life and her habits and her patterns. We look at some of the challenges people have had with leadership.

What our heart is, is that we recognize most of us human beings are more influential than we realize, that we all have places where we are accidentally influential. So what would it look like to skill ourselves to be intentionally influential? And what would it look like to think of ourselves as leading and have an opportunity to do something for the common good and for the wider good in those spaces?

So yeah, we look at things like feedback, and leading on anxious times, or what does it feel like to break the mold. Our hope is that leaders who are notorious for taking care of everybody but themselves have a moment where they get to invest in their leadership abilities, skill sets, talents and gifts.

Jessica: I love that.

Well, Jo, thank you so much. I cannot wait to see you at our leadership summit in Nashville. Oh my word, I mean, you are just so important to these women who are just on various journeys in their leadership path. I just love that we really share that: this deep, deep passion to see women empowered to walk in their influence, and in their impact.

Jo: Absolutely. It’s a wonderful thing.

Jessica: It’s fun. Well, thanks again.

Jo: Thank you. Good to talk to you, Jessica.

Jessica: You too. Bye-bye.

Jo: Bye.


Rewriting Our Stories

Jessica: That was such a great conversation. I love how Jo gets really practical and walks us through how we can really learn how to become the leaders that we are meant to be, to own our voices.

I think a great activity this week would be to list out our fears and how can we rewrite those fears? How can we erase the period and put the comma? Think about those things in your life where you thought, That’s the end—end of story. You thought it was written in Sharpie. But you guys, we have the power to write these stories in pencil and redefine them and rewrite them and live into a narrative that demonstrates our worthiness and that we are loved, and we can own our voices, and we don’t need to live small lives.

Thanks so much for joining me again today on The Going Scared Podcast. Don’t forget: go to jessicahonegger.com if you want to join my book tribe.

I can’t wait to see you on the Facebook group. I can’t wait to just keep holding your hand, and you’re holding my hand, and we are all simply going scared.

Seriously, launching a book is no joke. I have got fear all over again, like when I started Noonday 8 years ago! But now I actually have a tribe to do it with me, and that’s what’s awesome. So let’s form a tribe together. I’ll see you on the other side.