Jo Saxton Unpacks Women's Stories to Make the World a Better Place - Jen Hatmaker

Jo Saxton Unpacks Women’s Stories to Make the World a Better Place

Episode 04

We’re wrapping our Live Podcast series on a high note with leadership trainer, international speaker, and author Jo Saxton. Jo graced us with her guidance in an early podcast series (one of our favorites) called “For the Love of Women Who Built It.” And now she’s back to share her invaluable work to help women learn to become better leaders in every facet of their lives. Jo talks about “the hunger of the how” when we are trying to figure out how to be “unstuck” and encourages us to evaluate why we feel stuck (could it be that we’re afraid to move?). And to get unstuck, Jo encourages us to tell our stories. In fact, as Jo notes, throughout history women weren’t able to tell their stories to inspire us—and she wants to make up for lost time by helping us unpack our own. Jo reiterates that there’s room for us all and that women should advocate, recommend, and introduce the women they admire to each other—because individually and collectively, we can each go after our dreams with no apologies.

Episode Transcript
Narrator:  Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.

Jen:  Hey, everybody. Hi, Jen Hatmaker here. I am your delighted hostess of the For the Love Podcast and couldn’t be happier that you’re here today. Welcome to the show. Welcome to the show.

What a world right now, right? What a world. What is actually . . . what is actually going on right now? Everything. I want you to know that my whole team is thinking about you constantly, like, pretty much around the clock. We are just literally thinking constantly, “How can we serve the community? What can we do right now? How can we bring joy? How can we bring encouragement? How can we bring hope? What can we do? What do the people need?” Like, we are just thinking about you constantly.

And so I did want to tell you, I do have something right this minute for you. Like, right this very minute because we just need some, like, awesome bonus content in our lives right now. And weirdly, we kind of have some time for it. We’ve got some weird time on our hands right now in different ways. And so I want you to know that we have rolled out a ton of preorder goodies for my new book that’s coming out. It’s called Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire. You’ve definitely heard me talk about it.

Okay, so here’s what that means. Anybody who has preordered the book from any vendor in any format—audio, digital, hard—whatever you want and from anywhere—and that includes everybody in the Jen Hatmaker Book Club, of course, because it is their April selection; they get it three weeks before it releases—anybody who preorders receives the introduction and two of my favorite chapters to download immediately, an audio chapter—guys, we like poured our hearts and souls into the audio book. So I’m excited for you to hear that—a one-hour coaching video that I delivered at the Rise Conference, plus the audio of the coaching session, *and* an exclusive webcast on April 30th with me and some very, very, very special guests. So we just got so much Fierce goodness for you to go and grab. And you get all that you get all that today. The webcast comes out on April 30th, but everything else you download right this very minute. So trust me, these are tools that will help you like literally dig deep and get through these weird times. I promise you this. I have written the book of my heart and the book of my whole life. And you’re gonna get some pieces of it.

So preorder your book—or go grab your order number, if you already have from wherever you got it—and then go get your free stuff right now at Okay? So that’s it. It’s so easy. It’ll take three minutes. Just get your preorder information, your confirmation number from wherever, whatever vendor, and then pop over to Plug it all in and boom. Just like that, all your downloads pop right up.

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Okay, on to today’s episode: we are wrapping up our series of live conversations that I had on the road last fall with some of the loveliest people I know during our very first For the Love Live podcast tour.

You’re right. I’ve said this many, many times about our next guest, but she is undeniably one of my favorite leaders and teachers on the planet. And she has been a really good friend to me. Really, really good. And if you’re new to her, you’ll see why I’m saying all this.

So today we have the privilege of sitting down with leadership trainer, international speaker and author Jo Saxton. Y’all, I love Jo. She was actually one of the first guests in one of my very favorite series we did called For the Love of Women Who Built It because Jo is a force, you guys, you’re about to see. And the work she’s doing in the world is absolutely invaluable because she helps women every single day learn how to become better leaders in every facet of their lives. That’s her niche. She teaches us how to go after our dreams with absolutely no apologies. And she’s so good at it.

If there is anything you’re wrestling with right now in your life, if you’re looking for some dials to turn, I’m telling you, Jo is going to speak right to your heart today. I love her. And you’re going to love her, too. So please enjoy this wonderful conversation with the brilliant and the beautiful Jo Saxton.

Jen: Before I bring her out, I would love to introduce you to our special guest for tonight. I’m delighted about this. I’m so happy she said yes, because she is a wonderful and a busy woman. And so I said, “What if I come all the way to your town, then will you do it?” In fact, I’ve already interviewed her once on this show. She was a guest on our For The Love Of Women Who Built It series, because she has built an amazing space of leadership which we’re going to talk about.

I marvel at who she is and how she moves through the world, and how she spreads her love, and talent, and encouragement across the board. She does so much good and interesting work. So, let me tell you a bit about her. Our guest tonight is Jo Saxton. I know. Yes.

So, Jo is a leadership trainer, she’s an international speaker, she’s an author, [and she’s] very passionate about seeing Jesus transform lives across the globe. [She’s] very passionate about seeing women step into their gifts of leadership. We’ll talk about this, but she grew up as a child of Nigerian immigrants in the U.K., so she learned a lot very quickly about how this world can cause us to doubt our dreams, and doubt who we are, doubt how we have been created. So, her personal story informs a ton of her work today. She’s got this great system of training leaders by empowering them to lead from the inside out, which I’ll ask her about, so you can hear more about her approach there.

Jo said she feels like the world is full of business experts and how-to guides, but real leadership effectiveness starts with a solid identity, a keen sense of how to apply one’s skills, and a passion for progress. And, of course, you know I couldn’t agree more. She helps women tap into all of their potential. I hope that tonight you are inspired when you hear her, I hope she throws a little fuel on whatever flame you have burning in your life, and in your heart, and in your mind, in your corner of the world.

So, in addition to all this awesome stuff, Jo’s also a pastor, she chairs the board of an international discipleship organization called 3D Movements. She’s on the advisory board for Today’s Christian Woman and she co-hosts the Lead Stories Podcast. There’s nothing she cannot do, that’s really what I’m trying to say to you.

She is one of my dear friends, one of my most trusted voices in leadership. She is absolutely the real deal. One of her favorite things to ask the women that she works with is, “Are you ready?” So, you guys, I hope you are ready, because Jo is going to rock our world tonight. Please help me give a warm welcome to Jo Saxton.

Jen: Hello.

Jo: Hello. It’s very sophisticated.

Jen: You’re so fun. Hello, my friend.

JoHi, darling.

Jen: Thank you for being here tonight.

Jo: Thank you for having me, it’s lovely.

Jen: You’re lovely. Let’s see, when was the first time that we met?

JoI think we met about ten years ago.

Jen: Yeah, that feels right.

Jo: Yeah, we were speaking at an event, you were wearing a black outfit.

Jen: Oh.

Jo: You had a white top, your hair was up. I didn’t tell you I have a semi-photographic memory.

Jen: You do?

Jo: Yeah, kind of.

Jen: This is news to me.

Jo: Yeah, because people are weirded out by it from time to time, because I tell them.

Jen: The fact that you were telling me what I was wearing…

Jo: You had brown boots on.

Jen: All this feels on-brand.

Jo: Yeah, and you were doing the feathers, in terms of the earrings.

Jen: I wasn’t there yet?

Jo: You were early, early feathers.

Jen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the topknot?

Jo: Yes, it was a topknot, definitely. And I think we might have been the only women in the room, because we were gravitating towards each other.

Jen: Oh, yes. Was it Verge?

Jo: It was. And we spoke on exactly the same thing.

Jen: Well, you know what?

Jo: Yeah, it works.

Jen: That’s because we’re two smart girls.

Jo: There we go. It wasn’t happening.

Jen: That’s right, a decade of friendship.

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: Lucky me.

Jo: Lucky me.

Jen: Thank you for being my good friend all this time, you really have been.

Jo: Oh my gosh, always.

Jen: So you were on the show spring of 2018, which, in our world, that’s a lifetime ago.


Jen: So, can you just tell everybody, briefly, what have you been up to this last year? What sorts of things have you been putting your hand to, and what kinds of places has it taken you? Because you’ve had some stuff.

Jo: Yeah, okay. I think after we spoke on the podcast, I joined a running club.

Jen: Well, that.

Jo: They’re here. There they are.

Jen: What’s this?

Jo: Mums On The Run, represent. They’re awesome.

Jen: That’s your crew?

Jo: Yeah. They’re amazing. You know like when your body goes south?

Jen: Yes, yes I know.

Jo: I felt that the gravitational pull was running away from me, so I tried to catch it up.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: Because I still wanted to have snacks.

Jen: No, I know. I know.

Jo: Because what kind of life is a life without snacks, sisters?

Jen: Well, let me just say, we were eating dinner backstage before we came out here. We ordered it, we all put in our little order from where it’s coming from.

Jo: We did.

Jen: And Jo opens up hers, and it’s a huge styrofoam container of just french fries. And I was like, “Is that your dinner? Because I respect that.” Yeah.

Jo: Yeah, it was.

Jen: This is why we’re friends.

Jo: It was glorious, actually, it was glorious. I joined a running club, which was great for me, they’re wonderful women. I was speaking around a number of places, I do a lot of speaking in faith-based places and also in corporate spaces. And I think around that time I was like, “I just want to talk about leadership. I just want to talk to as many people as possible about leading and how we can utilize all these incredible gifts that we keep hidden, and call humility, and actually use them.”

So, it’s been fun to do that. I had a wonderful opportunity to gather lots of women leaders together, just to meet each other. Sometimes women in leadership can feel quite lonely and quite isolated.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: So to give them a chance to meet, and network, and do all these things [is great]. I traveled a bit, went to Australia, took the family.

Jen: I know, so fancy.

Jo: That was a great thing to say yes to.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: It was like, “Do you want to come?” I’m like, “I’m on the plane actually, yes, thanks.”

Jen: I do. I do.

Jo: Thank you, thank you. My kids used that, bragging rights, for days.

Jen: Of course, I would have been insufferable.

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: If I went to Australia at that age, that’s all I’d have talked about for the next ten years.

Jo: Yeah. It was my eldest’s fourteenth birthday.

Jen: That’s great.

Jo: Her picture is on Instagram with her in front of the Opera House, and the bridge, and smugness. She was delighted. It was wonderful, actually, it was a lot of fun.

Jen: That’s awesome. One thing that I want you to know about Jo is that she really practices what she preaches. In fact, I had a live podcast event a couple of weeks ago with our friend, Austin Channing Brown, in Portland. And Austin and I were talking about you, as you were the next guest, and Austin said something to me like, “Jo will send me texts about one a week, or every other week with this very specific encouragement to keep doing exactly what it is that I’m doing.”

And I was like, “Wait, she does that to me.” I felt like I was special, like I was the recipient of her very direct and specific encouragement. But she does it to everybody. So, yay, but also boo. I wanted to be a snowflake in this. It’s just how you are.

Jo: There’s only one you, Jen, there’s only one you.

Jen: There’s only one you. And I do want you to know that about Jo, because she is one of the greatest encouragers to me. And very specifically, in the last three years in which I needed an encourager, I needed somebody to be saying, “Keep going in this direction you’re going. Keep moving. Keep your foot on the gas.” Jo has done that for me every single week for the last several years. So, I would love for you to tell everybody, if you would, those of the women in the room who are just meeting you tonight, a little bit about your background, where you grew up. We’d love to hear about some of your biggest mentors and how they helped you, at least early on, embrace your own potential and giftings.

Jo: Yeah, sure. So, I’m a Londoner by birth. I was born in London, in England. [I have] Nigerian parents and a very broken scenario. I know a number of us would describe broken families in different ways. You pick your design. But the way the brokenness worked out in our family is I ended up in foster care for the first six years of my life, and it was never anything I was embarrassed about because it was all I knew, to be honest. Our family was just that eclectic-looking.

So, me and my immediate brother were fostered together, and then after six years went back to live with my mom, and lived with her until I left home. And I think there’s all kinds of things. My foster was an amazing woman. She died at the age of 102. Incredible, incredible. And to describe her, she’s a really quirky woman, but she was old when she fostered me. She was in her seventies.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: And what had happened was she had never wanted to get married. She decided early on that was not for her. That was part of her own story. In World War II, she started fostering evacuees, taking them out of London—this is a little touch of English history for you—because of the blitz and because of the bombings, she would look after kids. And, basically, in the midst of war she found her purpose, and her calling. She started fostering and kept on fostering, and kept on. And she just never found a reason to stop. And so by the time she’d finished fostering, and I think she was forced to retire, she’d fostered over 100 kids.

Jen: Wow.

Jo: I like to say I was number ninety-nine, but I think that’s just me deciding that. I mean, there were maybe two after us, so, yeah. We were some of the last ones. But she was my first memory, she was my safety, my security. I mean, it was the seventies, which means all kinds of things. The seventies was not very welcoming to a multiethnic foster family.

Jen: Right.

Jo: And she was a force on our behalf. In many ways, when I think of motherhood, I think of her. But then when I moved back to London, and I grew up—I know the accent is a charm for America. God bless you, I get discounts all the time. I’m very grateful, I don’t understand it. Where I grew up everybody sounds like this.

Jen: I know, I know.

Jo: But, yay, God bless America. So, I’m taking it. I take it all.

Jen: It’s true, it’s so true.

Jo: But when I got back to London, I grew up in the inner city, and it was a challenging neighborhood. Very difficult, lots of deprivation. We were an immigrant family, and there were the kinds of things which are said about immigrants now and were definitely said about immigrants then, just change who it was.

Jen: Right, yeah.

Jo: We were apparently stealing peoples’ jobs, we were promiscuous, we were lazy. We were all these things. And there was basically a village of African women, mainly Nigerian women [that consisted of] my mom, and her friends, and extended family who basically had to carve their way through London at that time. And [they had to] raise their families, and support families in another part of the world, and allegedly kind of be all these things to all kinds of people. And they were nurses, and they worked at night, and they had to deal with people who wouldn’t allow them to touch them even though they were saving their lives.

Jen: Wow.

Jo: Even though they were looking after them. So, when I look back, I feel I’ve always been surrounded by women who worked out how to be strong. Some who knew they were strong from the beginning and some who worked it out along the way and realized that they were stronger because life demanded it of them, really.

In terms of understanding leadership, I think I would probably be one of those who would say I was the last to know. I didn’t automatically think I was. I thought doing things was something I did, you know?

Jen: Sure.

Jo: I was one who was given responsibilities, I kind of liked the responsibility. But I would have never have called myself a leader because it didn’t fit my image of what a leader was. I didn’t feel articulate enough, I didn’t feel confident enough by any stretch of the imagination. I was very aware of my weaknesses, very aware of the broken pieces of my story and how they continued to gnaw away at my psyche and at my heart.

So, it was a youth pastor who gave me responsibilities, it was teachers who encouraged me, and I think it took me maybe ten, twelve years to ever even allow the word leader to be associated with me. It was just something I did, it wasn’t anybody I was, really. And I think it was looking back that I realized that leadership was part of my life.

Jen: So, you said a minute ago that there came a point sort of in your recent adulthood where you said, “This is the lane I want to run the hardest in, this leadership space.”

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: So a lot of your work right now, you’re focused on creating tools to build women up so they are confident to step into their own leadership positions, which is really good work. So, I’d love to hear from you, number one, why do you think this is such a need? And then I’d also like to hear what you are noticing as the biggest obstacle, or two, when it comes to women stepping into leadership space?

Jo: I mean, I think it’s important. There’s that quote that says, “Women make up half the sky.”

Jen: Yes, I love it.

Jo: And I think if we want to make a better world with human flourishing and a better place for all our idealism, it needs all hands on deck.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: I think some of it is just purely practical.

Jen: Absolutely.

Jo: It’s just purely practical. We have a big job to get done, it will require all of us. I think as a person of faith, one of the tenants of my faith, is that we’re made in the image of God. And because we’re made in the image of God, we have gifts, and talents, and abilities that we have often left unwrapped.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: We’ve left them unwrapped because we’ve been told that women can’t use those gifts, we’ve left them unwrapped because we weren’t sure. I like to imagine it like Christmas, my kids send me a PowerPoint presentation. I wish I was exaggerating. They do. They send me a PowerPoint presentation telling me what gifts they want. They like it because our family is spread internationally. They like us to send it to all the relatives around the world.

Jen: Sure. Mm-hmm.

Jo: Because who wouldn’t want to be blessed by spending all of their money on them in some way?

Jen: Totally.

Jo: But on Christmas Day, they don’t even talk to me, they’re just at the presents and things, because that’s what they want to do.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: But I can’t imagine what it’d be like with my kids, or any child I loved, to see them with gifts that they wouldn’t want to touch.

Jen: Great.

Jo: Because they didn’t feel good enough, because they didn’t feel worthy, because those gifts made them threatening. And, yet, I think women do that all the time. I think we do that with our talents, I think we do that with our abilities, I think we do that with our potential. I think we don’t unwrap our gifts. And those gifts are not just about us. They’re for human flourishing.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: The way you have with numbers, the way you have with hospitality, the way you have with communication isn’t just for you. You do get to enjoy it, but it actually gets to help somebody else. So I think that’s part of the fuel behind the fire for me on that front. I think one of the biggest obstacles is we don’t live beyond what we believe about ourselves. We don’t love beyond what we believe about ourselves. We love to the degree to what we think we’re worth. We live to the degree to what we think we’re worth. We lead to the degree to what we think we’re worth, and what we’re capable of.

Jen: Right.

Jo: And if we feel like we’re a fake, if we feel like we’re not sure we should be there, [we think] Who do I think I am? What have I got to offer this place? Maybe one day they’ll find out that I’m a fraud and they’ll tell me I shouldn’t be here, and then I’ll leave or something.

I was reading this book about imposter syndrome just to make myself feel better. I think the book was called The Secret Thoughts Of Successful Women. I think her name was Valerie Young, or Valerie Daly. I think it’s Valerie Young, forgive me Valerie.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: But she talks about the different faces of imposter syndrome and she describes it as the perfectionist. Nine out of ten isn’t good enough. The expert is the person who will look at a job application and feel like unless they can fulfill all of those and more, they shouldn’t even apply.

Jen: Yes, yes.

Jo: I know women who haven’t applied for jobs they were more than qualified for because they felt they had to be the expert first.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: Statistically, guys don’t feel the same way.

Jen: I was just going to say that, it’s so interesting. A lot of the men in my life can hit maybe two out of ten and be like, “I’m your guy.”

Jo: Yeah, two out of ten and, “All right, pick me. Choose me. Love me.” I mean, what?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Meanwhile, I’m like, “Oh, but am I good enough for you? Then what if I don’t know all the answers?”

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Because I’m not. Anyway…

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: So, the one that got under my skin most, the natural genius is someone who is good, naturally, at certain things, but when they have to learn something new, because it doesn’t feel like the things they were naturally good at, they feel inadequate. They feel like a fake, an imposter, because they should know this by now.

Jen: Sure, wow.

Jo: The soloist who feels they have to do it all on their own.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: And then the superwoman, the superhero. Wonderwoman is my personal favorite superhero, who has to be excellent at everything. At work, at home, with her friends, with her family, with the people she hates, I mean, all of those.

Jen: That’s the Christian version.

Jo: Do you know what I mean?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: I don’t hate them, I just want bad things to happen.

Jen: Yes, yes, yes.

Jo: And when they do, I’m like, “I’ll pray for you, boo.” Ew, stop it.

But I think all of those things can empower. I think we have to be aware of the different ways imposter syndrome can show up in our lives, and how it stops us from showing up for our lives. And how it can cause us to second guess our talents, our abilities, our skills, our contribution in the workplace.

Like, conversations we’re meant to have when you know someone’s taking you for granted, but you won’t say anything, because Who do I think I am?

Jen: Right.

Jo: It’s not just in the big picture leadership of a job or a role, it’s in the leadership of your own life.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: The neighbor you are.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: And how easy we can be taken for granted if we don’t feel we’re good enough.

Jen: One thing that I love about you is your very uncanny ability to help the woman who believes that she is stuck. Like, she’s not progressing in her work, she’s not progressing in her relationships, or in the space she’s been handed. And you have regularly helped that woman identify roadblocks that are in her way that are holding her back. So I wonder if you could talk for a moment about what that means to you and how you, in your own words, train women to lead from the inside out. I love how you say that. And how you help them reach into some of their darkest moments, and lead forward, and turn that into a potential.

Jo: I think a lot of it, for many of us when we think of who we become, comes from our own story. And I think when I was a child, I felt incredibly powerless. I felt incredibly disposable. Now, don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful experience in foster care. My story is one of those poster child, idyllic scenarios. However, to say you’re not living with issues would be incredibly naive.

Jen: Of course.

Jo: And I felt disposable. I felt disposable. When we lived in a city, I felt stuck. When you have people dehumanizing you and your family on a regular basis, you feel stuck. When people talk to you slowly because they think you’re unintelligent, you feel stuck. When people write you off because you’re a woman, because you’re a black woman, you feel stuck.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: When people assume that you will never amount, tell you you’re not going to amount to anything, you feel stuck. Because who is ever going to see you? And I remember in my—we call it secondary school, I think it’s middle and high school here.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: My teacher’s telling me, “You can be anything you want to be.” And I’m like, “How?”

Don’t give me dreams unless there’s a how, because you don’t live where I live. You don’t see what I see. Some of my friends—and I didn’t realize until I was an adult—were trafficked. Some of the kids I used to hang out with at the basketball courts were trafficked, that was what happened in my neighborhood. So don’t tell me about dreams unless there is a how, unless there is a how which gives me a step, by step, by step piece.

And I don’t think that was the response she was expecting from a twelve-year-old, which was awkward. But I think that hunger for the how has informed me as a leader, and has informed me when anybody feels stuck. Are you as powerless as you feel, or are you frightened of the choice you have to make?

Jen: That’s a good question.

Jo: You know? Are you frightened of how people will feel about you if you make a particular decision? Those are some of the things that have stirred me. So that was one part of it, and then the other part of it is when I did leave home and I went to college, it was like an emotional catch up, because you meet other people who’ve been raised very differently and who’ve had access to lots of different opportunities. And I just remember grieving. Grieving for the piano lessons I didn’t have. I don’t know if I wanted to learn how to play the piano, I just grieved anyway.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: Do you know what I mean? I wanted access. I wanted access to what my friends had. And I grieved that I didn’t have a father, and I grieved that I didn’t have all these pieces. And I realized that if I didn’t process the wounds, they would consume me. If I didn’t process the difficult things that had happened in my childhood, if I didn’t process the living realities of those things they would stay with me forever.

Jen: Right.

Jo: And because of the memory I have, they stay with me, but they would not just have a picture memory, they’d have a memory that would define my life.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: And I realized I began to—what’s the phrase we use now—do the work of healing, and acknowledging, and giving voice to the past it freed me up for the future.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: And so I think I began to work on leading and working with people. I realized when I saw leaders telling me, and women telling me, they were stuck, or that they couldn’t come to anything, or they’d never be able to amount to anything, I saw a similar feeling of powerlessness because they didn’t know how.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: And I saw similar wounds. Different stories. Stories which I could never even imagine how they made it through, but they were there. They were still there. So if you’re still here telling that story, then there’s some energy to move forward.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: And so part of what I do when I’m working and coaching with people is in some ways unpacking the stories. So often in our history when we look at our literature, when we look at our art, the women’s stories aren’t told or heard.

Jen: Right.

Jo: And we don’t actually see ourselves in the world. More now, but growing up we didn’t see as much. So hearing the story, I like to catch people saying, “So how did you do that?” Because we don’t always realize the things we’ve overcome, or the implications of the things we’ve overcome.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: Now, I’m not a therapist, though I tend to send people to them.

Jen: Mm-hmm, yes.

Jo: Just say, “What you need is your neighborhood therapist.”

Jen: Yes.

Jo: And don’t get me wrong, I have therapy intermittently, and I probably will for the rest of my days.

Jen: Yes, right, same.

Jo: Because I’d rather have it for a year then need it for twenty. You know? I’d rather have it and do the work, and cry the tears, and find the tools that I just didn’t get given than it manifest itself all over my life. Or, worse, my family, my marriage, my kids, my friendships. And so one of the things I love to do is encourage people in that therapy direction.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: And then say, “Okay, what was also on the inside? What were the dreams on the inside?” I often ask the question, who were you before anybody told you who you were supposed to be?

Jen: That’s a great question.

Jo: Just begin to dig for that original design.

Jen: That’s great.

Jo: Just begin to dig for those gifts and talents that have been buried by our weariness, and our tiredness, and our business, and cultural oughts and shoulds, and all the rest.

Jen: It’s so true that there is something really powerful about a moment when women realize and acknowledge that they have agency over their life.

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: Do you ever share therapy?

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: Like, me and my friends tell each other what our therapists tell us.

Jo: It’s cheaper.

Jen: Yeah, it’s like we’re doubling down.

Jo: Groups share the wealth.

Jen: Right, right, right.

Jo: Share the wealth.

Jen: It’s a two for one. One of my friends went to therapy recently, and the way that her therapist talked to her about it was she said, “You know, you need to imagine that you are a powerful creator and that you have agency to create new things. You have agency to create relational healing. If you are so unhappy with the way something is going, you are a creator. It’s possible for you to steer the ship into meaningful change. It’s possible for you to do the work. It is possible for you to say, ‘I’m not going to put up with that anymore.’ It’s possible for you to say, ‘I’m going to make a change.'”

And so I think of that. That rattles around in my head now, about being creators in our own world and having agency over it. And just that acknowledgement is a huge step. A huge step into the work, which then seems way more possible.

Jen:  One thing that I’ve heard you talk about a lot, that I have learned from, is how you talk about negative labels.

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: And names that either we have given ourselves or someone else assigned to us at a really crucial time, or even as grownups. And sometimes we don’t even know that we’re hanging onto those. How would you counsel us in the room to identify negative, unhelpful, untrue labels and then exchange them for something meaningful?

Jo: Yeah. I think first of all, I’d like to remind people of the power of words. Because I think we say things about ourselves and we get quite dismissive of their impact. When I was a kid there was that phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words could never hurt me.” And it’s such a lie.

Jen: Right.

Jo: I mean, it’s such a lie.

Jen: Right.

Jo: It’s like that may be a pithy rhyme, but it’s rubbish.

Jen: Yes, it is.

Jo: Do you know what I mean?

Jen: It’s rubbish.

Jo: Actually junk. Give me a stick any day.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: Because then we can go stick to stick, do you know what I’m saying?

Jen: Yes, yes.

Jo: Give me a stone. I will share stones also with you. Or boulders, whichever is. But words have a way, words have a way of getting under your skin, and into your heart, and into your mind.

Jen: They do.

Jo: And I can’t remember who the quote was, but they say, “Words create worlds.” If you get told you’re stupid every day, if you get told you’re not good enough every day, it sticks. And if it doesn’t stick, you are worn down by the fighting.

Jen: Right.

Jo: You know, for some of us it didn’t stick, but we have expended energy on the fight that could have been used elsewhere.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: And so what I encourage people to do is think of the things they say they always are or never can be.

Jen: Oh, that’s great.

Jo: We often find the words in the always and the nevers. We often find them in the shoulds.

Jen: That’s a good filter. I can think of some that come right to mind.

Jo: Do you know what I mean?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: What have you said you’ll never be? I said I’d never speak in public.

Jen: Oh, cute. Whoops.

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: Whoops.

Jo: Self-awareness wasn’t happening at that point.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: What did you say you’d never be, what did you say you could never do? And I don’t just mean the ones like, I’m never going to be able to learn how to fly. Do you know what I mean?

Jen: Right, right.

Jo: Within perspective. When you’re hard on yourself, what are you likely to get frustrated at yourself for? Because sometimes these things are so embedded in our being we don’t have words for them now, they’re feelings. They are instinctive responses. Are you disappointed in yourself all the time? Do you begin the day with a list and if you have not accomplished that list you’re a failure? I’d say pay attention to the thought processes, what are the loops that come around? A good time to think about it is the holiday season, when you see fam.

Jen: Right.

Jo: I mean, if anything’s going to bring up the junk…

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Let’s talk politics, you know what I mean?

Jen: Oh, it’s just terrible. It’s so terrible. It’s all about to go sideways.

Jo: Do you know what I mean? It’s like a dumpster fire kind of thing.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: I think observation is important, because the thing is, in a room like this, you walk in and you see chairs. You look and you see the intricacies of things in the room. I think if we pay attention, close attention, to how we function, the things that go through our mind, we’ll see some things there.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: And the other place I’d go is to where you compare yourself to people. Because it often speaks to what you wish you were or wish you weren’t.

Jen: Right.

Jo: Those are some of the places. But I think sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to resolve all these things on our own, when actually there is a role for your community. There’s a role for your key people, your sisterhood, your friendship group, the trusted friends. Not the friends that hate you really, the trusted friends. Those aren’t, by the way, your friends.

Jen: Right.

Jo: That one who puts you down all the time, no, she ain’t your friend. Get rid of her.

Jen: Yeah, no. We’re too old for that. Yeah, too old for girl drama.

Jo: Bless her own journey, elsewhere. Do you know what I mean? Sorry.

Jen: We bless and release.

Jo: Bless and release. Go on your path.

Jen: Yes, yes.

Jo: But I think there is a place for trusted friends who see you, and love you. Not like your yes friends who hold your hands to your own destruction. I don’t mean those friends either. I mean, that was fun when you were nineteen, but also awkward.

Jen: Right.

Jo: Also expensive.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: You know, my best friend is going to hear this, and she said, “I was in that pause, wasn’t I?” And I’m like, “Yes you were.”

But I think we have to recognize that identity isn’t just an internalized thing that we get by navel-gazing, it’s given. There’s a tribe. Our mutual friend, Ann, tells me about this, there’s a Himba tribe, who, when a child is born, they sing a song over that child. And at certain key points, they sing a song over that child. And when that child is grown, and if they ever lose their way, the villagers gather that child to them and they sing the song that was sung over them when they were born.

Jen: I love that story.

Jo: And I think sometimes you need to know who your people are, who will remind you of who you are,  who will remind you what you are about, who will remind you about your purpose.

Jen: That’s great. That’s great.

Jo: Who will remind you of what you’re about, who will remind you of your purpose.

Jen: Yeah, yeah. That’s great.

Jo: And, you know, I can’t speak for the spiritual experiences of the people here, but growing up, many of the sermons I heard didn’t talk about the women.

Jen: Right, same.

Jo: I didn’t hear people talk about Deborah.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: I didn’t hear people talk about Lydia, who was a businesswoman, and Deborah, who was a judge.

Jen: Right.

Jo: I didn’t hear their stories. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I can’t learn from guy’s stories. Of course I can, I’m a human being.

Jen: We’re into Moses, we like John. Yeah.

Jo: You know what I mean, I’m a human being, do you know what I mean? Of course you can learn.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: It’s just that I didn’t hear their stories, and their stories were there.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: I think one of the other things, and this is one of the things that I beat a drum about, is the part in the Bible in Genesis 2 Verse 18, which has become the crux of things for a number of people, where there are two creation accounts. The second one, God’s made the sun, the moon, the stars; good, good, good, good, all wonderful. And then says, “It’s not good for man to be alone, I’ll make a helper suitable for him.” And for some it’s like, cool. And others it’s like, cool?

I’m not sure what that means, I’m wondering what that means. And we’ve often brought our understanding, our cultural understanding, and you don’t need to manipulate a text to say what you want, it’s just that the word that is helper in Hebrew is Ozer.

Jen: Right.

Jo: I don’t know how to pronounce ancient Hebrew, sorry.

Jen: That was good enough.

Jo: Go with the accent for a little bit longer.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: And it’s a combination of a few words, two words, meaning to rescueto save, and to be strong. It’s a word with military connotations, the Ozer is a warrior. It’s a word which often is associated with strength and power.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: In the culture of the day, it was someone who had the power and the resources to help. Twice when you read it, it’s referring to the woman, three times to military aid, about fifteen times God delivering his people from his enemies.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: So when you’re thinking about being made in the image of God, and God is described as an ever-present help, you realize that maybe what we’ve placed on the word helper is not what God placed on the word helper.

Jen: That’s good, that’s great.

Jo: I’ve seen that free people up, because sometimes there are women that feel they can’t be strong, as though periods don’t happen. Do you know what I mean? I’m like, seriously, seriously. But, seriously, I think we have relegated ourselves, we’ve squeezed ourselves into boxes that we were never asked to put ourselves in.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: And I’m not actually talking about positions or roles at this point, I’m just talking about DNA. I’m just talking about your DNA and how you’re wired, how you’re created, and how wonderful it is.

Jen:  It helps us as leaders to sort of push against that narrative and challenge those traditional understandings, because we have daughters. And so to me, that’s when a lot of this stuff gets real crystal clear. Sometimes, when I’m thinking about myself and the way that I grew up, and the messages that I internalized, and where I was and was not invited to use what my gifts are, it gets muddy. But when I look at my girls, it gets clear. Like, no, that’s an incorrect assessment of what scripture said, or what our design was, what their capacity is, what their potential is. So, it is that next generation that, for me, offers a lot of clarity on how to move forward.

Speaking of, one thing that you do also really well is that you say it’s really never too late, in any way, to move into leadership space, or to turn a corner in your life in some sort of meaningful way. I’m curious, how you think we cultivate a mindset that says, I can do hard things even after I feel like my time has passed. Right?

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: How do you encourage us, really, wherever you are in your journey—too young for that matter, or, I’m not there yet, I need more time. How would you lead us toward that sort of mindset?

Jo: I think we’ve got to remember where ageism lives. Do you know what I mean? I think it’s weird. For those of us who say we’re people of faith, and you look at the characters in the Bible, a lot of them are a lot older when they actually did stuff.

Jen: True, yeah.

Jo: They’re a lot older.

Jen: That’s true.

Jo: So, I’m like…

Jen: That’s a good point.

Jo: So that’s not working. And I think some of this is cultural. In terms of my Nigerian heritage, my Yoruba—that’s the tribe I’m from, the Yoruba tribe—and actually not just the Yoruba’s, but all the tribes, you respect elders. That’s the place of wisdom. So, I think I would ask you where is this cultural landscape that you are adhering to that tells you that it’s too late? And I think some of it is because it’s what we see. Marian Wright Edelman, who worked with the Children’s Defense Fund, said, “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.”

And so if you don’t see yourself, or if you see kind of like, Oh, I see women doing things until a certain age and then they disappear. Then you might think you disappear. I think for me, I’ve been blessed with the example of the women in my life. So, like with my foster mother fostering at seventy…

Jen: Right.

Jo: Well, that decided some things. When I was looking through a newspaper years ago, I looked at the newspaper and—her name was Aunt May—I said, “Why is Aunt May in the paper?” She had won an award for England’s most inspiring learner.

Jen: Wow.

Jo: What I didn’t know when I was fostered by her is that she was illiterate. She told me later that at fourteen, a teacher had told her she was stupid, so she left the classroom and never went back. And then in her nineties, she decided to go back to school. So she went. We have sixteen plus national exams, so she did English, and then she did math, then she did computing. She sent me an email that said, “Hey, Jo, I’m emailing.” And I’m like, “Oh, all right.”

But I think she just kept on reminding us by her example that it’s not too late. It’s not too late. You have breath, you have time. And I think most recently my mum, as well, [has reminded me of that]. Now, me and my mum have not had an easy relationship. She would agree with that.

Jen: Mm-hmm, right.

Jo: She’d so agree with that.

Jen: Right.

Jo: I was talking with her the other day, and I said, “What are you doing?” And she said, “Oh, I’ve taken up an art class.” I’m like, “I’m sorry what?” And she goes, “I’m taking up painting.” And her and my Auntie Bessie, who was like my other mother, they kind of moved together as a pack, they’d go to a workout class and then they’d do painting. And she said, “You know, you’re never too old to learn.”

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: She’s eighty. And I am struck by both sets of women who had very challenging stories, very challenging stories, and [who were] complicated people who have not given up yet, and who are still gaining and drawing from life. We have, was it Mary Oliver who says, “What will you do with this one precious life?” And I think some of it is if you have breath, you can learn.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: And the internet is free now.

Jen: Yes, it is.

JoThe Googles are there.

Jen: It’s on your phone. Yeah.

Jo: It’s on your phone. You know? And why not? Why not learn something new? Why not try something new?

Jen: Yeah. That’s great.

Jo: I think we’ve said why so many times that we actually haven’t just said, “Why not?”

Jen: Why not?

Jo: Why not join a running club? Why not do this thing? Why not join a choir? And, no, you might not be famous, but let the Kardashians do that for us all.

Jen: Thank you.

Jo: You know? Go with God.

Jen: Taking up all the oxygen.

Jo: You know, it might not be monetized, that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: It might just bring you joy.

Jen: That’s right, and that’s enough. That’s worth it.

Jo: That’s enough. It might just be fun. Hello, fun.

Jen: Oh, that’s cute.

Jo: Had any hobbies recently, anybody?

Jen: Yes.

Jo: Do you know what I mean? It might just be fun and I would encourage us to keep on in that trajectory.

Jen: My best friend, Jenny, who you’ve actually met before, she’s fifty-one, and last year she Googled, “Google, is fifty-one too old to learn a language?” And Google was like, “No, it’s not.” And she was like, “Okay, Google says I can.” So she’s taking Spanish.

Jo: That is awesome.

Jen: Yes, she’s at a Spanish immersion class. She’s terrible. Oh, she’s terrible. She’s from like Deep South, Alabama, so it’s atrocious. But she’s going for it.

Jo: But, hey.

Jen: It’s not too late, why not?

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: Why not? I love that story about going back to school in her nineties.

Jo: Mm-hmm. It’s amazing.

Jen: I had never heard you tell that, I love it. What are some cool stories you’ve heard lately in leadership? It’s funny, because some women automatically assign leadership to a type of leadership, but leadership exists on a hundred planes. Who have you spoken to recently that you’re like, “I like it. I like her. I like what she’s doing, I like where she’s going.”

Jo: One of my friends, she’s not here, [her name is] Colette. She is a professional here in the Twin Cities, and what I love about her is, one, her generosity. She’s just a very generous woman. She is not threatened. She is proactive and recommending people, she commits a percentage of her time to networking.

Jen: Oh yeah.

Jo: To connecting with people, to making introductions.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: So, we go for walks. I think people are terrified of us when we go for walks. We walk around Como, and we walk around fiercely, kind of.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: Because we are like talking about these things, and it’s amazing, and it’s awesome.

Jen: It’s an intense walk.

Jo: It’s an intense walk.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: And, well, then we have snacks, which probably undo the walk.

Jen: Well, it’s just right.

Jo: But you know, you’ve earned it or something.

Jen: Yeah, yeah.

Jo: I love what she does. I’m actually going to embarrass somebody, Beth, who’s one of the coaches at Mums On The Run. Awesome woman. One of the policies they have is no woman left behind. And I think it’s just a good lesson for life.

Jen: It’s great.

Jo: It’s a good lesson for life. It doesn’t matter how out of breath somebody is, that woman will never be left alone, ever.

Jen: That’s good.

I want to talk about something that you just mentioned with both those examples. You mentioned that Colette spends thirty percent of her time networking, no woman left behind. You and I talked about this earlier when we were back here, but can we talk about the lie that women often buy into, number one, a lie of scarcity, that there’s just not enough to go around, that we are all fighting for the same two seats at the table, and that we are each other’s competitors?

We’ve been taught that, we’ve been conditioned to see one another in that way. And, yet, you just listed two examples that are born out of generosity, out of sisterhood, out of community, out of collaboration. I don’t know what my question is except I want you to talk about that.

Jo: Okay.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: I think it’s completely understandable, because I think they are the felt experiences of many a woman, where they are the only woman in the room. Shonda Rhimes described it in her book, The Year Of Yes, this being the first difference in the space that she was in, and that sometimes they were only spaces. Those were the only people employed or whatever. And so I think part of the problem is that there’s enough truth in it for it to be pervasive. But there’s not enough truth in it to render us powerless permanently.

And what I mean by that is, again, how do we get to change the narrative on certain things? We don’t always have a choice. I was going to say we have a choice about where we work, and my mother would be like, “Did I?”

Jen: Right, right. Sometimes we don’t.

Jo: Because sometimes we don’t.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: We don’t always. But we do have a choice about how we function in certain places.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: We have a choice about how we make friends, and how we share information, and share knowledge, and give people access. We do. And I think that’s probably why there’s been a rise in entrepreneurship with women, because when there isn’t a place at the table, and why the side hustle, as it’s often described, has become more of—I mean, I think it’s always been a thing, to be honest. I mean, my mom and my aunt’s always selling stuff.

Jen: Oh, yeah.

Jo: Always. Shoes, they’re from Italy apparently. No, they weren’t really.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: But always buying so many shoes, my aunts were. They always had a business, but I think it was, If there is not room at this table I will find a way to build my own. I will build a wide, long table for anyone to gather at. So I think one of our challenges with the scarcity feeling, we have to ask ourselves, one, is it real in our workplace and how are we going to deal with it? Are there policy things, are there structural? Some of it’s structural. Are there things that we need to talk to our HR about, and all of that? For those of us who do have positions of power, what are we going to do with that power that we have?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: I think that’s an honest question we need to ask.

Jen: Absolutely.

Jo: Are we sponsors to other women? I’ve read something—I think it was a Harvard Business Review thing—that said the difference between a mentor and a sponsor is that a mentor gives you wise advice, a sponsor helps you get to the next level. Will we be the kind of women that will help another woman get to the next level?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Will we be proactive about that, will we recommend somebody? Now, I think the competition thing is hard, because if there’s a job that you want that could change your life, and you know there’s a woman in your department who could change her life, it’s hard. I think we have to acknowledge that reality. But I think what I see from the athletic world is that there is a way to compete clean, and there’s a way to compete dirty. And I think we have to work out the people that we’re going to be.

Now, I mean, there are people who have treated us dirty, for sure. And I can’t control anybody else’s behavior, but I am responsible for mine and the way I relate. So I am responsible in my sphere, and I know there’s a range of different progressions here so it would all contextualize differently for us.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: In my sphere, I make a habit of recommending people.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Of making introductions. I harass my publishers. I harass them and say, “Have you heard of this woman, have you heard of this woman?”

Jen: Yes.

Jo: “Do you know what she’s doing, do you know it’s amazing? Do you know her?”

Jen: Yeah, same.

Jo: I make introductions all the time.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: And that may cost me opportunities, I don’t care.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Because it shouldn’t just be me, I’m not the only black woman who speaks.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: I’m not even the only black woman with an English accent.

Jen: That’s true.

Jo: You know what I mean?

Jen: Yes.

Jo: I’m not the only one.

Jen: Yes.

JoAnd so it doesn’t actually need to be me.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: And actually, I can’t remember the quote and who it’s by, but that whole thing about a rising tide lifts
all boats.

Jen: Floats every boat in the harbor.

Jo: And I think there is a sense in which we can be proactive about that in our spheres.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: We don’t control everything, but the areas where we do have some say, where we are inviting people, including people, recommending people so that the areas where we have a say, we’re not letting it stay scarce there.

Jen: I love it, you know, I agree.

Jo: I think that’s an important thing.

Jen:  Okay. Before we move into Q&A, we’ve got a little, like, rapid fire. Okay?

Jo: Mm-hmm.

Jen: So, on our podcast, we often ask our guest what are you listening to right now, what’s your playlist? So, in that spirit, what either song or album are you listening to right now that is just firing you up? The conquer the world stuff.

Jo: Oh, well I have a kind of like playlist of those.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: There’s one particular song. It’s old, by a woman called Jill Scott. And the song is called “Golden.” And there’s a line where it says, “I’m taking my freedom. Taking it off the shelf.” And it’s this woman who is basically owning her agency. And it’s this really joyful, elevated song, and she has an amazing voice as well. And it’s just kind of like, “I’m good. I’m taking my freedom. I’m wearing it around my neck. I’m putting it in my car.” And it’s the whole thing of, all that I’ve got, I’m putting it to good use kind of thing.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: Always Beyonce.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: Just always.

Jen: Yeah, yeah.

Jo: Yeah. Just always, Beyonce is helpful.

Jen: Just always, yes. Yeah, that feels right.

Jo: Yeah, that’s good as well.

Jen: What is the last TV show or series that you binged?

JoModern Love.

Jen: Oh, I’ve been hearing about this.

Jo: Modern Love. Oh, hello? Anyone agree in the house?

Jen: Yeah, yeah.

Jo: What? I mean, it is awesome.

Jen: I’ve been hearing this.

Jo: I think it’s an eight episode, I may have watched the first eight all in one sitting.

Jen: In a day.

Jo: I think I did. I think I started and then it was like, “Oh, it’s three a.m. I probably should go to bed now.”

Jen: Oh, I love that.

Jo: It was amazing and just beautifully done, great stories. I watched one again last night. I’m going to watch it all over again.

Jen: Sure, okay. Brandon came into the room a couple of nights ago and I had powered up this next series that I was excited to watch. He’s like, “What are you watching?” And I was like, “The History Of The Roosevelt’s.” He’s like, “Nerd. Such a nerd.” I love history.

When you either are having a bad day or you’re celebrating, either way, what is your go-to comfort food?

Jo: Fries. Always fries.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: If they’re really hot as well, if someone brings me like really hot fries I know I’m loved.

Jen: Yes, yes.

Jo: Do you know what I mean? When it’s so hot and so fresh, you almost don’t need ketchup. You have ketchup because it’s right.

Jen: It’s so good.

Jo: And sometimes, if it’s feeling a little, I don’t know, you’re feeling a little je ne sais quoi, then you will have different…

Jen: Aioli.

Jo: Yes, yes.

Jen: Yes, yes, yes.

Jo: You’ll have a little bit of that, and maybe a touch of some kind of sweet chili sauce and things.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: Just to dip.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Just to dip.

Jen: Do you like them skinny and crunchy? What’s your fry to squish ratio?

Jo: You know, I don’t like to discriminate with my fries.

Jen: Okay.

Jo: No fry left behind. Yeah, on that kind of stuff. No fry left behind. But, I will have them. I do like them long. Like, even if my kids are having them. I remember when I was with my eldest—I probably have to pay her for mentioning her. But, I was with my eldest in Arizona a while back. I took her on a trip with me, and she had these fries and one of them was particularly long, and she said, “Mum, you can have one.” And I thought, “I’m taking the big one.” And I did.

Jen: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know what? You paid for it.

Jo: I did. And she knows my love for fries, too, so she’s like, “Please just take it. You’re a disaster.”

Jen: Oh yes. This draws me to you.

Jo: Thank you.

Jen: So, thinking through like the work that you do, the spaces that you occupy, do you have a person that you look at and go, “That is a…” I don’t know that you aspire to be like her, but she’s a role model for you.

Jo: You know, the thing is I think I like to look at leaders in all their different spaces, so the person I watch a lot is Ava DuVernay. 

Jen: Oh, yes. She’s so amazing.

Jo: Now, I’m not a filmmaker or anything, but I think I’ve just watched her career and I’ve watched the way she gathers and includes people. I’ve watched the way, I mean, some of it is personal. Some of it is personal in the sense of seeing a black woman leading, seeing when she did A Wrinkle in Time, the protagonist looked like my girls. And she said she wrote it for kids eighteen to fourteen, these girls. My daughter, my youngest, was at a point where she said to me, “I’ve never seen myself on screen.” And she said, “I’m tired of it.” And she said, “I’m sick of it. I never see myself in books, I don’t see myself in TV, I don’t see myself.” And then the year after happens, and it’s A Wrinkle In Time, and Black Panther, and everything else. And it’s like, “I see myself.” And it’s awesome.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: But I loved the way in her work she finds people.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: She makes sure that the lighting touches black skin in a way that celebrates it. She includes a range of people which gives a range of perspectives in their art. And I think I just want to be the kind of woman where there’s no woman left behind. I want to be the kind of leader that finds the people who are missing and says, “Who’s not in the room? Why is there not an indigenous woman in here? Why is there not a Latino woman in here? Why is there not an African immigrant in here? Why isn’t there an African American woman in here?”

Because they all have unique, distinct stories. Where are the introverts, where are the women with disabilities? Who? Every single one. Do you know what I mean? I want to make sure that we’re hearing, listening. I think leaders are listeners.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: And when I look at Ava’s work—I say first name terms like I know her.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: When I look at Ava’s work, I see that you don’t do that passively. You actively do that.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: If you don’t do it, you don’t do it.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: It doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen by wishful thinking or by passion, it happens by action.

Jen: That’s a great answer.

Jo: And I see someone who does it by action.

Jen: That’s a great answer. Before we ask the last question that we ask everybody, what are you working on right now?

Jo: Oh, things.

Jen: Woo.

Jo: I love gathering women who lead, so, I have a digital platform where I coach once a month. It’s originally called Jo Saxton Leadership Coaching.

Jen: Well, that’s clear.

Jo: Because I’m great at names.

Jen: It’s clear.

Jo: And it’s a digital platform where there’s a monthly gathering online, and then there’s an online community. Again, I just wanted an accessible space for women who are leading in whatever sphere they’re in to have a place where they can learn. And if that night they just need to go to bed, then they can go to bed and it’s archived. They’ve not missed out. And also a book. A book called Ready To Rise. What is the subtitle? Yes, Own Your Voice, Gather Your People, Step Into Your Influence.

Jen: I like it.

Jo: I know, it took a long time to come up with that.

Jen: I like it. Oh, I know.

Jo: And when I say come up with it, I think somebody else did.

Jen: Totally. Totally.

Jo: It takes a village to write a book.

Jen: I almost lost my salvation on subtitles.

Jo: I mean, seriously, seriously.

Jen: So, yeah, yeah.

Jo: It’s like, “I want to say everything. Can I write it in all the corners?”

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: And I’m excited. I’m excited about it because I just want to put into women’s hands the courage. You know? The how-to’s. How you can get your voice back, how you can grow your grit, how you can build a village. How to build the kind of relationships where you talk to each other about what you’re getting paid.

Jen: Yeah. Yeah.

Jo: Do you know what I mean?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: I was saying to you, we were talking about this round back, saying, “I want us to have the kind of relationships where we can have honest conversations about pay.”

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Because there is so much happening in secret.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: #MeToo was happening for decades in secret.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: And we didn’t know. And because we didn’t know, and I’m not trying to make guys the enemy when I say this, I’m just saying in the context of our environments, because we didn’t know, countless people suffered.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: And I think we have so many opportunities if we learn how to build a village of relationships where we can feel secure enough to really talk about what’s really happening, and we’re vulnerable enough to say, “This is what I’m getting paid.”

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: And say, “This is what you might want to be asking for.” And when I say might, that’s my English way of saying, “Should be asking for.”

Jen: Yes, that’s right. When does that come out?

Jo: That comes out April twentieth.

Jen: Last question, and then we’ll move to your questions. I’ve asked you this before, I ask every guest this. And you can answer how you want, it’s Barbara Brown Taylor’s question. What’s saving your life right now?

Jo: I think probably, right now, it is the village. It is. We share a team, we have a similar team. And I will embarrass them by saying they are saving my life right now. They are good people.

Jen: I know.

Jo: They are kind, they are generous. Over the years—and don’t get me wrong I’ve had a lot of real good people in my life. I know it sounded a bit scary at the beginning, but I have a lot of good people. But, I think sometimes when you become strong, you become the strong one. And when you’re the strong one, you take care of everybody else. And I can see some of your eyebrows saying you agree.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: You take care of everybody else’s needs. You make sure everyone else is getting what they need, and you forget you need looking after.

Jen: That’s right. We would love to pivot to any questions you have. Now, we reserve the right to not know.

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: Is that fair?

Jo: That’s so true.

Jen: We reserve the right to be like, “Pass.” But, if you have a question for Jo, or for me, or for both of us, we have a bit of time to do our worst on them.

Jo: And it might be. It just might be our worst. So, godspeed.

Monica (Speaker 1): Hi, I’m Monica.

Jo: Hi, Monica.

Monica (Speaker 1): Thank you for being here. One of the things that I thoroughly admire about you is the fact that you embrace people’s truths, and encourage more speaking about them, and really want people to be seen for who they are and where they are. And what I’ve found is that we live in a kind of culture now that is very defensive of their truths, and that just because my truth looks very different than somebody else’s doesn’t mean they can’t both be true. And I really, really enjoy listening to everyone’s truths, because I feel like it gives you a broader perspective of the world. Race, culture, all those things. Everybody’s different. I come from a place that’s very different than most, and I feel like my struggle has blessed me with that perspective.

That being said, how do you, in difficult conversations, respond to the defensive and the walls that come up? Because when I share my side of something, or share who I am, or hear somebody else’s side, I want to learn. I want to be a better human being and a better compassionate person. Because I don’t really think we’re going to get anywhere as a country if we don’t start listening. How do you encourage more of that instead of defensiveness?

Jo: Yeah. Well, that’s a hard one, isn’t it?

Jen: It is.

Jo: It’s a hard one because I think people are so passionate, and we are in a context which seems to be so binary. And it’s like, “You’re either this and you think that.” This is obvious. I think in some ways, you’ve answered a lot of the question in terms of listening. I think we do need to learn to become active listeners again, and I think compassion goes a long way. It’s very hard to hear other people’s stories when they go up against all the things that you stand for. But I think what keeps me listening is I have to remind myself that a person is made in the image of God, even if I want to punch that image in the face.

Jen: Yes, yes. That’s fair.

Jo: Do you know what I mean? I’m not saying that because it’s right, I’m just saying it because I’m honest. Do you know what I mean?

Jen: Fair.

Jo: But I have to stay in. I have to stay listening. I have to stay loving. I have to stay wanting to hear, even when it’s hard. Sometimes that means staying off Facebook. Sometimes it means unfollowing people so I stay liking them. I mean, it really does.

Jen: Right, yeah.

Jo: Sometimes it’s all the noise around. And also there are contexts for conversations. You have to put your weapons down to eat together, whereas when you are Tweeting with one another, I mean, it’s just, I can’t do it. I’m not good at that. I know the way I hear people best, and it tends to be in relaxed settings, when everybody’s human again. That’s when all my sincerely thought, reasoned out opinions are put to the side, and I see a human being in front of me.

Jen:  Mm-hmm, same.

Jo: And I remember there was an event I was at one time, and it was a workshop, and it was a group of people talking about their story and where they’ve been marginalized. And I thought, you know what? I just need to be silent for the whole time.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: And sometimes the best way we can respond is nothing at all.

Jen: Right.

Jo: Is to hear people.

Monica (Speaker 1): Teach people to listen, by listening.

Jo: Sorry, what’s that?

Monica (Speaker 1): I said teach people to listen by listening.

Jo: Yeah, and I think we have to ask curious questions again.

Jen: I agree.

Jo: I think there are things to remember, like anger is a secondary emotion. I remember one of the therapists told me that, and that’s free to share.

Jen: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jo: 2004 that was. Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s to do with fear or pain. And so if someone is angry, I need to ask what are they afraid of, and where are they hurting?

Jen: That’s it. Yeah, that’s it exactly.

JoRather than, “Oh, you’re angry, and that must mean you’re…” No it doesn’t.

Jen: Mm-hmm, that’s exactly right.

Jo: That’s another thing we’re afraid of women being sometimes, is angry.

Jen: Right.

Jo: And uncomfortable.

Jen: They’re very shrill.

Jo: And so I think I’ve had to be okay with, Will I dare to hear what they’re afraid of even if their fear is based on something completely unrealistic? Will I dare to hear where they’re hurting, and their sense of loss? And those things have been helpful. I also have to know my propensities. I’m excellent at judging people.

Jen: Same.

Jo: It’s a real gift, real talent. I could train and coach for years on judging.

Jen: Yes.

Jo: You do it like this. Anyway, so, I’ve had to recognize what I bring to the conversation before a word is said. Am I already staying in judgment over you? Are we having a place which is known as my territory? Or are we meeting in a place which is neutral territory, because of power?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: Am I willing to listen? And even if my voice wants to burst forth and interrupt, will I pinch myself until I am silent? Do you know what I mean? It’s things like that. Will I ask questions and actually listen to the answer? And will I thank them for sharing and see that?

Jen: Yes.

Jo: Do you know what I mean?

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: And I’m going to say that I’m good at it sometimes. I’m going to say I’m still learning how to do that better.

Jen: One little tool that my friend, Kelly Corrigan, gave me to extend a conversation, because what happens is it hits hard right up front. That’s where the friction is like, boom. And that’s where the defensiveness comes in. That’s when it’s going to go the worst. And so one tool that she’s used with her kids, but it also works in really challenging conversations to extend the life of it, which is really just giving that conversation the gift of time to flesh out a little bit more, is to simply say, “Tell me more. Okay, tell me more.”

Because like Jo said, generally under that horrible thing, they just said is something else. And just under that is something even more. Well, tell me more, and tell me what your experience was. And that can really move a conversation into way more tender territory than just that sort of hostile, initial. But, I mean, honestly, mostly, I just want to punch people. It’s hard. It’s hard.

Jo: This is why we need exercise.

Jen: Yeah, you’re right. That’s right.

Monica: And french fries.

Jen: That’s true. Thank you for your question, it’s a great question.

Speaker 2: Hello ladies.

Jen: Hi.

Speaker 2: Lots of really great, deep conversations in talking about undoing a lot of those damaging beliefs that we have about one another. I’m an educator by trade, and I was hearing you talk about your daughters, and you talk about your child and saying they don’t have a model, and I couldn’t help but sit here and think, do you have resources that you could point the crowd to in regard to what you’re talking about, opening room at the table for youth? To try to help these conversations flourish? I know that there’s a lot, and me as an educator myself, I just was sitting here thinking I actually don’t know enough organizations that are creating networks, creating sisterhoods with teens, young teens, older teens. And just wondering if either of you ladies have some resources?

Jen: Well, I would say in terms of representation for your students, racially, specifically, culturally, that it’s really a simple matter of looking at whatever your content is. What is the lesson, what is the issue, what is the bit of history? What is the material? And rather than just reach for the lowest hanging fruit, which is just typically white contribution, just do a little digging. It’s all there.

There has been black excellence, and black genius, and black innovation, and black creativity, and art, and music, and literature. And frankly, when it comes to history, the truth. The truth of it. So, again, not to just beat the point to death, but it’s just intention. Rather than saying we’re going to default to the white narrative, which we’ve always done, we’ve built a whole country on it, it’s this mental channel change where I’m going to tell a fuller truth, a fuller story, and, again, everyone wins there. That’s good for every single student, that’s good for the whole school. That’s good for you as an educator. And I appreciate you asking the question. I really do.

Jen: Did you have anything you wanted to add to that?

Jo: I was thinking of the work of the why was one. But I actually thought of another thing. I think one thing that I would really encourage everybody to do is to contact a publisher and ask for it, and contact the library and say, “Hey, I need some resources. Latino authors, anyone? African American authors?” And demand it.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: Demand it from your publishers, demand it from your radio stations, demand it from your TV. Say, “I would like to see more women stories, more women of color’s stories. I would like to see this, I’d like to know the resources that are out there.” I think we actually can call people to account for some things on that kind of stuff.

Jen: That’s great, yeah.

Jo: That would be one of the things. But I would actually go to the library, the library is good, the library is free as well. Which is always nice.

Jen: Mm-hmm.

Jo: But ask them and say—I tend to like Google “Top ten black authors.” Or, “Top ten for teenage fiction.” And then if you see a book which is known, like Children Of Blood And Bone, or The Hate U Give, or whatever. Those were bestseller books, then you look at them on Amazon and see the other books that are associated with them, and you’ll likely find more in places like that. So sometimes it’s kind of a bit of a rabbit run of looking for things, but I would ask.

Jen: Yeah, same.

Jo: I actually would contact people and just say, “I need some help here. And since you’re a national publisher, I anticipate you represent the entire nation.”

Jen: That’s great.

Jo: Do you know what I mean, just a thought. Do you see what I mean? But then we’re actually reminding those who are making decisions that this is something that we all want.

Jen: Mm-hmm, yes, exactly.

Jo: Because it’s not just me who wants it.

Jen: We get to vote with our dollars. And so as we put our consumer dollars to good use, we can very much consider what we’re funding. Thank you, for that.

Speaker 2: Thank you.

Jen: Thank you, I appreciate that. Thank you.

Speaker 3: Hi. I’m so thankful for both of your guys’ voices. I loved what you’re saying about when we’re stuck, and how that can be something that holds us back from our leadership. And I’m wondering if you could speak specifically to being stuck in loss, and especially loss of purpose. How do you deal with that, where have you encountered that?

Jen: That’s a great question.

Jo: I think the loss of purpose does bring an element of grief.

Jen: Sure.

Jo: That is okay, first of all. I would say it’s okay. And grief is medicinal. You know, some people say it’s a gift. I’m like, “It’s not what I wanted, actually. Thanks.”

Jen: Yeah, same.

Jo: Medicinal. And sometimes that needs some time to do its work. So for a while, I’d just do things you enjoy again. Sometimes we lose purpose when we get burnt out, so it takes a while to work out what we enjoy again. And literally you have to ask a friend, “What did I do before I lost my life?”

Jen: Yeah, that’s right.

Jo: I mean, literally, we do. And then when we’re stuck, I would look at the things that begin to make you start feeling alive again. What are the things that you get angry about? What are the things you get excited about? What are the things you have opinions about? But give it time. And it’s okay if it takes time. I think sometimes we have felt like we’ve needed to do stuff. Like, have that idea so we can go after it. Sometimes purposes are uncovered. Sometimes it’s like I had a dream, I had a purpose, I’m going to go there. Sometimes I don’t even say I’m on plan B, I’m on like plan N now.

Jen: Same.

Jo: I mean, I don’t even know what happened to what I was planning. And that’s okay, that’s okay. So I would come back to some interests. I would come back to the things that you used to enjoy. If you’re a journaling type, I would write down things I dream of. And nothing may come for ages. But it’s almost like you write, and write, and write until it begins to come. For those of us who are more extroverted, and we process with other people, again, trusted friends. Trusted friends who’ve seen what you’ve done before, seen you at your freest, are great places to start.

And I would remind you, sometimes we find our purpose even through tragedies. Unexpected discoveries, shall I say. But even grieving, it feels stuck, but even grieving isn’t stuck.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: Grieving is releasing something that was wonderful or something that was meaningful, and something that was cherished. And actually some things need a worthy lane to rest. And that’s okay that you lay it to rest. When we don’t grieve and we’re like, “I’m just going to go on.” Then almost part of our story needs some space a bit.

But if you get to a point where you think, “I’ve got to do something.” Then I’d volunteer for something. I’d pick anything just to get you moving. Even if you decide, “Yeah, that was just for three weeks. Yeah, that’s not it.” But it’s a start, you know?

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: But some of your trusted friends at these times, it’s not that they’re telling you what to do but they might be reminding you of who you are.

Jen: That’s a great answer, thank you.

Speaker 4: So, my question is a little bit different, because we’ve been talking about some very big things.

Jo: Yes.

Speaker 4: And I’m here with my MOPS group, and we are all moms. We’re all moms of very little people.

Jo: Yeah, man.

Speaker 4: And right now I’m in the stage of life where, let’s face it, I’m barely surviving.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: You look good in it though, I’m going to say that right now.

Speaker 4: Thanks.

Jen: Yeah, she does. She does.

Speaker 4: I showered today.

Jo: You look awesome.

Jen: She went shopping today.

Jo: Results, sis, results.

Speaker 4: Thank you. My question is, though, as women tackle these big topics and invite the conversations as you were saying about race, and about these big things, but still try to raise our tiny humans, it feels like too much. It feels like I can’t get my twins out the door in the morning and actually have them have pants on, and also try to wrap my brain around these big things. So, I guess my question is what baby steps can I take right now while my people are little, and while I’m surviving motherhood, to start teaching them as white boys how to embrace this conversation?

Jen: Yeah, yeah. It’s a great question. Do you want to start?

Jo: I think there are some things that in the same way with our kids, we give them milk before we give them that rice thing. Do you know what I mean?

Jen: Yeah.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Jo: I would say the great thing that you—and shoutout to all the MOPS in the house—get to do is every book that they read can be as diverse as you want it to be.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: You can normalize so many things right now. I would say you are in a precious position. I mean, like you say, there’s spit up and everything else. Do you know what I mean? There are things that you can normalize right now.

Jen: Black baby dolls.

Jo: Baby doll, toys, all of the music. The whole thing.

Jen: Yeah. Shows. Yeah.

Jo: That they will grow up in a world where they see certain things already.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: And I think for you, for yourself, I mean, I couldn’t read when my kids were little because I don’t know where my brain was at that time. It had gone on a very long sabbatical.

Jen: Same.

Jo: I wasn’t really interested in anything other than Grey’s Anatomy for quite some time.

Jen: That was the season.

Jo: It’s a very diverse show.

Jen: Yeah.

Jo: But I would encourage you. Podcasts might be where you’re at.

Jen: Yeah, that’s good.

Jo: And I don’t think you need to apologize for that. But if you’ve got baby steps, rather than saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m not running a marathon.” When a baby learns to walk, we celebrate the two steps. So, I celebrate your two steps.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: Because that will give you the strength for the next step.

Jen: I agree. Thank you for asking.

Speaker 5: So, kind of in the opposite wavelength of that last question, I am here and I go to women’s events, and I hear about families, and I’m probably not the only person in this room who’s dealing with infertility. I’m a stepmother of three beautiful kids, but I met the youngest when he was four and a half. So, there are some women in here who are struggling to find their purpose in life, not getting any baby legs through pants, and feeling like that’s where my worth is not coming from. I loved hearing about your time in foster care and I can’t remember her name, Auntie?

Jo: May.

Speaker 5: Auntie May, who changed your life for the better. And you have adopted children, so,  [there are] those of us who may never have biological children, and a lot of times that’s a lonely place to be in the church as well.

Jen: Yes, it is.

Speaker 5: I just wait for the pastor to say the word infertility, and he did last week, actually, for the first time ever. And I wrote him an email.

Jen: Yeah.

Speaker 5: So I just want to hear about a woman’s place, any good authors to read? I mean, I have a lot and I’m in that kind of resting of grief right now. Yeah. I just kind of want to hear your thoughts on that, two very wise women.

Jen: I want to acknowledge that that is a lonely and sometimes really sad place. You’re not alone, I know you know that, but you’re not alone at all. It’s just like so many other things are normalized in our culture, so is married with kids.

Jo: Yeah.

Jen: Married with kids is always center, especially in church.

Jo: Oh gosh, yeah. Books and everything.

Jen: Married with kids is the center of the bullseye. And virtually all the programs, and the sermons, and the content is developed around that type of family. So, I want to just say to you that whatever end that feels, like Jo said earlier, where do I see myself? Where’s my representation in my spiritual, in my faith community? That that’s real. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what a poor job the church has done making room for every kind of believer.

Married or not married, if they’re a step parent, no parent. We’ve not done a great job of that. And so what I just want to say to you, and then I’ll let Jo have the last word here, is that regardless of what the narrative is telling you just based on what kinds of families are prioritized all the time, you absolutely have a role to play. You just can’t sit it out. You don’t get to. I’m sorry, we need you. And we need your voice, and we need your gifts, we need your perspective. We need you to help rattle the cages of normalization and say, “Hey, we’re not all in this center of the bullseye.” Be it the way that our family looks, be it sexual orientation, be it race, single. The people who are single are very rarely centered in any faith conversation.

It’s more like, “Just try to sit there and look nice until you finally bag a man.” You know what I mean? You know? Is that kind of what they say?

Jo: Well, yeah.

Jen: And so it’s good for you to keep raising it up, raising up the red flag, “Hey, not all. Not all.” And so whatever it is that brings you to life, whatever it is that you were made to do on this earth that brings about human flourishing, that serves this world, that brings hope, you’ve just got to do it. You’ve got to do it anyway. You’ve got to do it as you are, where you are. Because this is your station and it’s good. It’s good. You are good. And your contribution to us is so important. Do you want to add?

Jo: Yeah. I think on a couple of levels. Just as you were talking, I thought, May was just as much my mother as the woman who gave birth to me. As the mother who gave birth to me.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: You and I, I know there are a number of people in the room, but just pretending you and I were here, I would say that to you as your mother. You know, in England we don’t have Mother’s Day, we call it Mothering Sunday.

Jen: Oh that’s good.

Jo: Because of the act of mothering.

Jen: It counts.

Jo: There are many of us who have been mothering. When we first moved to the Twin Cities, there were a number of young adult women who aren’t that young anymore. You’re over there, I see you. Who aren’t that young, but they mothered my kids with me.

Jen: Yeah, yeah.

Jo: Because I really do believe it takes a village. So I want you to know that when I look back on my childhood, I was raised by mothers. And every one of them, my mum, my Auntie Bessie, my Aunt May, were all my mothers. And then on a faith perspective, I think one of the biggest oversights that we have is that Jesus was single and didn’t have kids.

Jen: That’s what it says.

Speaker 5: Amen.

Jo: He didn’t have kids. Jesus was single and He was complete. And, yet, we say we follow Him, and we celebrate His example, and how wonderful He is. Well then.

Jen: Do better.

Jo: Let’s do that then. And I say that because we need the village. And the village of us can do that.

Jen: That’s good.

Jo: The village of us can celebrate that. In our village, there are women who have given birth to a child physically. There are others who have carried a child through foster care, or through a blended family. There are women who don’t want to have children, actually.

Jen: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Jo: And that is not a gasp-worthy situation.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: Do you know what I mean? Who are happily single, or who are divorced, or widowed.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: But each of us still has that same intrinsic, made in the image of God value and contribution to make.

Jen: That’s right.

Jo: And if Jesus can be single and change the world, and not have kids and change the world, and we’re following in His footsteps like we say we are, then so can we.

Jen: That’s right. That’s great. On that note.

Speaker 5: Thank you.

Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!

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