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Finding the Right Mountaintop for You

Finding the Right Mountaintop for You

In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, one of my absolute favorites, we talk about how social conditioning and outdated systems have trapped us in ways that undermine our true selves. My guest, Nikki Innocent, shares her personal journey of transitioning from corporate to entrepreneurship and the lessons she’s learned about herself along the way. We also talk about ways to better know and love yourself so that you can find the right mountaintop for you.

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About My Guest

Nikki Innocent is a humanity activist, keynote speaker, and social entrepreneur with a focus on women’s leadership and diversity, equity & inclusion. After over a decade of experience in the corporate world, at companies like Bain & Company and Bain Capital, Nikki left her corporate career and ventured into the entrepreneurial world to find a solution to the challenges she faced in the workplace. Nikki is a certified new paradigm women’s leadership coach and diversity, equity & inclusion consultant tackling issues around inclusion, belonging, imposter syndrome, burnout, conflict resolution and collaborative problem-solving.

She offers both individual coaching and group workshops believing the combination of individual and collective learning is a key component to shifting towards a more connected, inclusive culture. She has led workshops for organizations from startup to Fortune 5 companies, across multiple industries including tech, nonprofit, government, healthcare, and professional & financial services.

Nikki is a two-time TEDx speaker who dives into topics of belonging, inclusion, the future of leadership and living authentically. Her first TEDx talk is about embracing the times in life where you feel “other” or like you don’t fit in and using them as a clue to activate your unique gifts and her second TEDx is all about rewriting the rules in your life to thrive fully as you.

Nikki’s podcast, Checkbox Other, explores a variety of topics and features guests who discuss times in their lives where they have felt “other” or that they didn’t belong. The power of witnessing these often unheard stories is that listeners experience empathy and shared humanity. We see that despite the ways we differ, we are much more alike than we are different.


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Kim Meninger Welcome Nikki, I can’t wait for this conversation and we’re already starting this conversation and we’re just waiting to hit record so I can’t wait to jump in. But before we do that, I would love to invite you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about you.

Nikki Innocent Yes, I am, first of all, thank you so much for having me. I am amped to be here. I am somebody, I guess, introduction. My name is Nikki Innocent and I tend to be somebody that is like an incredible hype woman and in that, I like bubble over with excitement when I’m happy to be somewhere so hopefully, this is spilling over onto you. For all the listeners. I hope this is a good thing for you if you’re ready for a little bit of extra energy like my body is hot right now. So I’m so excited you’re all here. Who am I? It’s so funny. I was just, I just, popped in. I have a podcast myself and I just did a little like impromptu. That was I actually am titling it, “What am I? or, “Why am I?” And so one of the questions that’s super hard for many people that are racially ambiguous, like myself, I am half white and half black, is kind of, what are you? Or who are you? Most of the time it’s what are you? And so a big part of my identity is really embracing the in-between and living in that space of other and would I say that that’s how I’ve been actively aware of my bio for a long time? No way. I, my background is in corporate. I was in corporate for over a decade I worked at places like Bain & Company, Bain Capital… I worked at Arnold Worldwide an advertising agency. I went to Bentley University, like all other like resume building perfection that like I was taught was a way to be fully financially supported, attractive to any employer, productive, capable, all the, all the words, all the kind of keywords that mean like, yeah, you’re set up for success. But what happened was, as I was approaching 30, it’s probably like, 29, I was crying in the bathroom at work, and I didn’t grow up being really allowed to cry. Crying was like the last resort. Unless I was watching like a sad movie, then I go, I cry. But um, I was, I was my body was telling me loud and clear that where I was, was not allowing me to exist as myself. All the ways that I was checking all the boxes to be perfect on my resume, were the opposite of checking the boxes to be sustainable in my life. And so I actually in my corporate-corporate life, I thought, okay, the smart way to do this is to go from a large company that people know to like a smaller company where you’d have a huge impact and be super strategic. And so took me a while, but I made a decision to go to a new company, and to run marketing there. And that was not, the beauty of it was, it was a short experience because it showed me so much that that wasn’t the right move. And it was undeniable. Usually, I had been in places for like two years before I was like, okay, I should probably go. But it was like on day three, I remember being like, oh, okay, we made the wrong move. We don’t have to give all of ourselves here right now. And there’s not necessarily something wrong with you. But maybe the process we’ve gone to do all these things that makes us feel like we are the top candidate through someone else’s eyes are not actually the steps that you need to take to get where you need to go. Because every time you try to like put different lipstick on the same costume, you’re ending up in the same place, and then you’re exasperated and frustrated with yourself. And so after that gig, I decided I was like, you know what, I actually don’t know where I want to go, I was looking at startups, I was looking at the same kind of thing. And then I was like, you know, I think you just have to trust that you’re gonna know how to do this, I think you have to leave the situation to actually find what you need next. And I took the leap into entrepreneurship from there. I initially started doing marketing consulting work, because that’s kind of where my sweet spot was. But in that process, in the first month, I stumbled upon a podcast that was all-around women’s leadership. And it was like I always say it was like therapy for my career. I’ve been a big proponent of therapy my whole life, I’ve been going to therapy, I like self requested therapy at like eight. So to have that experience for my career, when I knew it was in a spot where I was like, I’ve done everything, I’ve used all the tools that I like, grew up learning, and they’re not leading me to the right place, you know, finding something like a podcast that was like, by the way, all the things that you think are wrong with you. It’s wrong with the system around you. I was like, wait, what? And then the marketer in me like, I need to shout this from the rooftops. And so I went from doing you know, I don’t know if anybody else does this, but like in my Uber rides, I was helping coach and market people. I was like, why am I not doing this for a business and so that’s how you know my marketing consulting business. I was like, Oh, I could do this, I could do this with my eyes closed. And then it’s like, but I can do this with my eyes closed because I have been doing it. It’s not really what is making me light up and fulfilling me, filling my cup. And so that’s how, when I, when I heard all of this, this conversation around the fact that like leadership itself, the paradigm that we’re in within leadership doesn’t allow for us to exist as humans, for humans, especially not women, I was like, oh, I need to dive into this. And so I did. And I became a certified women’s leadership coach. And then from there became what was called an aligned leadership coach, which was gender-neutral. So it was taking the same principles and, you know, elevating them to not just be for women to be for anybody of any gender, to be supportive for you to actually be able to show up as yourself and not be stuck in the traditional way of leadership. And then I was invited, I keep having to remember that the way that things happen in my life is they’re actually through invitations of people, not the way that I was programmed to build my resume, to be a DEI facilitator for a new pilot program that was being launched from a women’s tech organization called, She Geeks Out and be one of their first facilitators, as were built, they’re building content for recruiting and retaining diverse talent. And so that then was the invitation into actually what was already happening behind the scenes with me in exploring my own kind of racial and ethnic identity, bringing that into the fold. And to me, because I’m insatiable started bringing kind of generational stuff into the fold, because it was like, hey, the millennial generation is making a huge impact, it’s huge. It’s the largest generation we have. But we’re also still operating, I’m learning that we’re operating from the super masculine model of leadership. But we’re also operating from like, generations ago models of leadership that aren’t relevant to where we are today. So all of that blended, super long intro, but all that blended into the kind of the work that I do now, that’s really intentionally focusing on creating space for you to be able to kind of break down those old models of leadership that make you feel like you’re less than unless you become a robot, and allow you to take up space as yourself and lead like you. So I work with people individually, I do group work, I have a membership. And we have a mastermind. So it’s like, I’m just literally trying to like spread the gospel of like, you’re enough as you are, you’re amazing. I swear.

Kim Meninger I absolutely love that. And I’m so inspired by your story. And, and I want to go back to when you were talking about the boxes you were checking for the quote, unquote, successful career and the boxes that you would want to check for yourself, right? Can you say a little bit more about where the disconnect was? I think a lot of people are going to see themselves in your story. Could you be specific about what are some of the things that just didn’t work for you about the model that you were in?

Nikki Innocent Like how much time we got, no, um, so I would say there’s like a couple very, like, concrete things, I feel like that’s helpful. So one of the things that was, I actually have a TED talk I have, so if for those who like TED Talks, I’ve got two TED Talks. The second one I wrote I have that’s called Rewriting the Rules. And in that, I actually talk about three very kind of specific rules that are just commonplace that we all kind of follow. And one piece of what, why I always felt like I was a rule-breaker, but I also knew how to follow them. I knew how to get things done, but also was like these rules aren’t meant for me, was this idea that we had to be quiet, we had to take our time, we had to be small as women for sure, that you couldn’t be bossy, where a man could be strong, that you couldn’t, you couldn’t necessarily explain your perspective unless you had been there for however long or you got promoted, which we know from study after study after study, the broken rung is a very real thing, that women aren’t being able to get promoted to hold those positions of leadership to then have their voice heard. So there were so many elements that I was a very, I started talking at like six months old. So they’re, and both my parents are very quiet people. So for me to have to kind of keep my mouth shut when I saw things that were unjust was really difficult for me, I worked in the financial services space, like it’s very old boys club, mahogany walls, I was talking about like, sure, biz cas, business casual was great. We weren’t in suits all day, but like, there was something about the confines of just doing it the way it had always been done that was always really difficult for me. And the way that my brain works, I learned was that I don’t see things the same way other people do. And I don’t think I even understood what that was. And even more, so I’m like, the more I’m allowing that to exist. Like, I when I started allowing my brain to relax a little, I started realizing, oh, I think that I actually am a little dyslexic. I don’t do math problems the way we’re taught to do math problems, I don’t think of, of the linear progression of things in the way that we’re taught to go from step one to step five and be done. I actually I’m like, okay, so step one, and step five, but how can we do this in step two to bring us back to step five? Like it just it was against all the models of how to be efficient? So I found myself always asking questions and being like, no, you just need to sit and watch and listen, it was really hard for me. And especially for women of color. When we do speak up oftentimes we are seen as aggressive. We are seen as causing problems. We are ostracized from a room. We are the angry black woman. And you know, I like to bring that up. Because from a perspective on the shades of the colors and spectrum, I am white-passing more than most. And for that, for me to be the darkest person in a room and be experiencing that creates a much larger issue for anybody that steps into those rooms after me, steps into those rooms alongside me. And for me to have the opportunity to leverage whatever level of white-passing privilege I have, to be able to create more space for other people was so important to me, but I didn’t I, you know, I was so deflated and burnt out from just trying to be heard that it was like, what am I doing here? So that’s one. The other that I always had a hard time with… I was a creative like background, backbone. Why I even went into marketing was because it was like psychology and thinking about the world and thinking about how our brains work, and how we can create new pathways to solve problems. And I went to a very analytical space. And so it was very much regimented around like, here’s the time you get into work, and here’s the time you leave. Here’s the way you do this. Again, like if you think about like word problems, when you were in school that there were five steps you had to take, even if you had the right answer, you had to show your work. And if you showed your work differently than the teacher, your right answer was wrong. So I always had a hard time at work about you know, I would, they would give me a hard time about when I was in the office or not. But I was working a job that wasn’t based on the stock market at all. So against the confines of time where somebody is doing that. But I was working until two in the morning, and I would come in at 9, 9:05. And it would be a problem. I was like, but I’ve been doing this all day, and I’m out here doing very different things than everybody else that’s abiding by these particular rules. And I knew, from even the people that I worked with that, like they were working outside the confines of those hours. So why were the rules so rigid to keep us in line, to keep us under the thumb, keep us under surveillance, it just didn’t feel right. And again, I guess that little kid who always has spoken has a hard time when it’s like, okay, maybe I’m doing something wrong. But when I start realizing like it’s not just me, it’s that everybody is being kind of shoved into a box and nobody fits in. It’s really hard to stay quiet.

So yeah, I think the, the fact that there’s so much of what we operate within that tells us that we can’t actually have our own experience, we need to kind of regurgitate out what the approved script is. Climate that tends to be big picture, what tends to kind of make me rebel and get out of the box. So anyway in your life where you feel like you have to change who you are to be acceptable, I feel like that’s, at least for me, has been a really big clue of like, what’s on the other side of that is like what you are so uniquely destined to take up space in this world to do. And so again, I just feel like so much of my experience was constantly telling me not to lean into that, not to lean into the kind of beauty and the uniqueness that I’m bringing to the party. And you know, I could, I could soapbox this on all those buckets. But there are so many ways that we are told that we shouldn’t trust our gut, we shouldn’t trust ourselves. And I think that is like one of the biggest disservices that we do to ourselves, because why are we here, if not to be able to contribute our unique contribution?

Kim Meninger Absolutely. And you know, what you’re making me think about too is that when we find ourselves in those kinds of situations, especially if we don’t have the benefit of a community that acknowledges this, that it’s so easy to internalize this lack of fit as something being wrong with me, right? I’m not doing it right, or I don’t belong here or just things that undermine our own confidence and sense of connection. And I’m curious how you were able to make that transition from this is, this is not about me, necessarily. This is about the system, like did you struggle with self-doubt along the way? What did that look like?

Nikki Innocent All day. Yeah, it’s so funny. I was thinking about before we hopped on here about like, okay, impostor syndrome. I mean, you’re here all the time. So what’s an example of what we want to do, right? And I feel like so often that impostor syndrome, when I talk about impostor syndrome, usually I’m talking about the fact that like, yeah, we have the definition. And initially, the definition was back in the 70s and was pertaining to, it was a women’s issue, which, you know, makes me roll my eyes in a whole bunch of ways. But I actually view it very much as the way that we categorize each other and value our worth. And so when you are the only person in a room that looks a certain way or occupies a certain identity, and you are a representative of that entire identity, you can’t it’s very difficult to dis, disassociate, or to detach yourself from the feedback you’re getting, as that being something larger than yourself. So when you are the only one you’re like, well, I don’t have anybody else to compare it to. So it must just be me. And what I started learning because I’m a, I’ve mentioned this a couple times, because I like to talk to people, was the more that I started talking to people about like, is anybody else like feeling burned out, is anybody else feeling their voice isn’t heard, is anybody else crying at work? And you know, the older that I was getting, and I went to a school where most of the women, there was 30% women. And most of us were, you know, in, in, on the business track doing the things we were supposed to do, but all of us were feeling inadequate. And so I started realizing I was like, okay, it’s like one of those things that you’re like, okay, so if all of your first dates are failing, it can’t be all of your first dates the people on the first date, it’s either like how you’re setting up the first date, or how you’re showing up. But then when you have data points that are constantly showing you a trend, to make each of the data points its own story and to ignore the elements that might be the trend are the things that are going to make it so you can’t actually move forward, progress or learn anything. And so, as I started having these conversations with people, I was like, okay, I’m sure mine has its own unique flavor. Sure. And I know, you know, I’ll go to therapy, I’ll talk to my therapist about my contributions here. But the more it started, just like showing itself in front of me, it was kind of like a science experiment, that was like a no brainer, it was like, oh, okay. And so what happened was when I started learning more about women’s leadership, and just like that, even just like baseline, the idea that time and money above all else is the construct with which we like put all of our value through, and how much that doesn’t actually make room for the way that our society has positioned women was like, oh, this is my, okay. This is much bigger than me, this is much bigger than 30% of women I went to school, this is, this is huge. This is how our whole society has been built from generations ago. And it’s the beauty of it, too, I think was give being given even the larger lens of history to be able to pull up and see like, in more kind of, I’ll say ancient wisdom traditions, women were the leaders, women were creating space and creating circles to create new ways of leading forward and I’m like, oh my god, how have we gotten so masculine? I mean, I don’t know how inappropriate this is… How have we gotten so kind of phallic in our way of doing everything? Like even I remember, when I was doing branding work, and every, everything we were associated with, everything was so masculine, everything was through the male gaze… The marketer and me looking at logos was like, why are we looking at a logo that looks like two breasts? Why is that happening? But and I had to say it to the people around me be like, oh, I didn’t even notice I’m like, right? Because it’s so programmed that the way we value and look at things and the things that are aesthetically pleasing, or whatever, are through a very specific lens, it’s I mean, I could go very deep and very far on this stuff. But there was a part of all this that I was like, well, once you know, you can’t unknow and once you open your eyes, and you start looking around, and you’re like, oh, so like everything is set up on this belief that like, we are in a hierarchy, I am better than you are, I’m worse than you. If you are succeeding, it means I’m failing, like this binary dynamic. There’s all of these pieces that are like what about the collaboration that we can bring to the party? I grew up playing on sports teams, I know the beauty of being in collaboration. Where did that go the older that I got? And so I always think about this in a way that’s like, how, how can you allow yourself, even if you’re hearing this, we’re like, Nikki, that’s so nice. Like, I still think it’s me, fine, not gonna convince you, not my job to convince you. But just give yourself like 15 minutes a day to be like, wait, if it weren’t me, just give yourself the room for consideration. Because the reason that we’re told not to talk about these things, the reason that there’s no, the reason that we’re banning women’s right to take care of their bodies the way that they choose, the reason we’re not allowed to talk about critical race theory, the reason we’re not allowed to, we burn books in our history, is that once you start allowing your brain to open up new pathways for things, you’re like, oh shit, I never saw that before. And so I always encourage people to just give yourself the smallest little inkling of opportunity for your brain to think about it in a different path. And that neuro pathway, even if you use it for five minutes, starts getting stronger and stronger. And you start seeing that there’s so much opportunity outside of the lane that’s been painted in front of you.

Kim Meninger So I’m going to ask you a tough question because if it were, if it were simple, we wouldn’t be where we are, right? And let’s say I’m listening to you, and I’m thinking, I’m nodding my head and thinking, oh, my gosh, you are telling my story. What do I do? Can I stay in a system and make it better from within? Do I have to leave? Do I have to become an entrepreneur in order to escape the madness that we’re talking about?

Nikki Innocent Well, here’s what I, here’s… So here’s what I always encourage people to do because I don’t think there’s a blanket answer. I think that we are so used to being told that there’s a blanket answer for everything. Like there are five New Year’s resolutions that we can choose because those are the only paths you have, though you have like every path you’d ever want. So I don’t think you need to do what I did. I don’t think you need to do what anybody else has done. I encourage people more often than not to actually take a minute when you’re feeling this. And because there’s this spectrum of like, feeling like you have all of the control and the onus of everything, and then on the other side of the spectrum is like, it’s futile. It’s like this huge, big beast that there is no way for me to overcome. And so you feel exhausted in both spaces, and you get so exhausted and burnt out, you’re like, I guess I’ll just stay where I am. And so what I encourage people to do, rather than feeling like, I need to take ownership of every single thing tomorrow, or I need to take on the whole system, is, I actually think the most revolutionary thing you can do, especially if you’re a woman, especially if you’re in a non-dominant identity bucket is to actually get an understanding of who you are, and how you operate. And really, I always talk about the fact that like, I believe that the most important relationship you can have in your life is with yourself. So figuring out how you can fall in love with yourself a little bit more and get a sense of like, where you’re strong, where you resonate, where you’re able to actually show up fully as yourself, and be able to then notice the times in your life where that space and that lane is opening up and trust yourself enough that like you can start to dip a toe in those spaces. Because when you are in a spot where you’re first realizing, oh, my God, the system’s rigged against us. You can feel I think the same thing. I was like the feeling of like, how did I not know this? Because that’s how I felt when I was first listening to the podcast that I was listening to. I was like, oh, my God, I have been drinking this kool-aid for so long. And I have been, you know, I feel like I’m a really smart person. But how did I not see any of this, the goal in that isn’t to be like, well, now you’re all educated and you’ve got everything, go, go go. It’s really to take some time and be a little bit compassionate with yourself. And to understand like, okay, I learned those things, I have been marinating in this soup for a very long time. That’s why I believe what I believe, I’ve seen what I have, they might not be my beliefs. But even bigger, I think it’s important to get to know who you are. So you can understand your values outside of the conditioning around you. So that when it shows up, you can make an aligned decision for yourself, and not just how you feel like other people want you to, so I always encourage people like step number one is to get a really close understanding of how you operate and what actually resonates with your intuition. So you can understand like, does that feel right? Or does that just feel like it’s the way that somebody would give me a gold star 100%? Because those might be two very different things, my value is giving me 100% somebody else giving me 100% could be completely different. But if I don’t know what it feels like for my values to give me the thumbs up, I’m never going to be able to overcome that kind of really tempting, here’s the 100% here’s the extra credit, you’re doing such a good here you’re perfection, right? The perfectionism of it all is really intoxicating. And, again, the reason we’re here like not an easy question. Yeah, it’s not I mean, we are surrounded by systems that are keeping us in a place of like, stay where you are, and feel like it’s you. But feel like you can’t and won’t do anything about it. So the part of this that is so important, I think is just to like create some space around you to exist as yourself, I think it’s the most important and the most kind of generous thing you can do for yourself. And then the beauty, I always have a hard time using the word contagious in the middle of COVID. But the contagious energy that comes with your ability to take that space actually gives permission to the people around you to take up their own space a little bit. And as you start witnessing yourself making decisions from your intuition and other people doing the same thing. It is something that catches like wildfire. And I would hope that this is at least how I’m doing all these things is like I believe that we activate each other to just create space for the way that we exist and that there’s more than enough room at the table for us all to exist. And I know that it might sound the opposite of the way that we’re told, that there’s only a finite amount. And so we all need to you know, get ours while it’s there. It’s like a pizza party. Get your slice of pizza before someone takes five. There is actually infinite pizza. And there are ways for us to go about seeing that infinite pizza. But right now we’ve been blinded by the fact that there’s all that pizza to the left and the right of us.

Kim Meninger Oh my gosh, that’s, there’s so much in what you just said. [Sorry.] No, no so many powerful things. Because I’ve been thinking about this a lot too. And I’m probably falling into the trap of either-or thinking as well because I’ve always, I do a lot of speaking on impostor syndrome. I do a lot of coaching on impostor syndrome. And so there are so many different strategies that I will recommend when it comes to managing impostor syndrome. But when I think about my own story, if I’m really being honest with myself, I think the absolute biggest turning point for me in my own journey with confidence, impostor syndrome, how I saw myself was leaving a situation that wasn’t a fit for me. And now working in a space where I feel completely myself and I feel like I am doing the kind of work that feels meaningful to me and there’s obviously privilege that comes with that right? Not everyone can do that. But I have never felt more myself than I do in this very moment and in the context that I operate within today, right? And so my wish for absolutely everybody out there is that we would all find that and I think that’s what you’re talking about, too is that you create more space for you to even figure out what that real self is because I will be honest and say, I don’t know that I knew that this was my real self back then when everyone has an opinion on what’s the best path for you, and what’s the right way to do things. Exactly like you’re talking about and, and unless you can get to a quiet enough space where you’re only hearing your own intuition’s voice, not even the fear voice, like the voices that are masked. [Oh, this is so hard, this is hard stuff.] Yes it is! So you know, I think that it’s for people who don’t have the luxury of being able to, you know, leave, have it, have a quiet space, and then make a decision. How do we do this in the day-to-day of what we’re doing now?

Nikki Innocent Yeah, so okay, there’s two things that just came to my mind. I was scribbling down notes so I didn’t forget them. Like, it’s like an answer key that I hope I remember to use it. But um, I think there are two pieces that came to my mind as you were speaking about this. I think one of them is, before we can start, we have to know where we’re going. That’s a very kind of linear way, that’s kind of the way we’ve been taught the way we see things is in a very again, I was talking about kind of that very direct model of like, in order to take the first step, I have to know where the goal is, and I have to have a plan, I have to have a five to 10-year plan in order to do anything. I have to know my destination in order to be able to do it. There’s a whole bunch of information about especially hormonal information about how our brains are developing as we’re in like in utero, about how our kind of neural pathways are created and developed and stunted based on the influx of different hormones, based on how, testosterone and estrogen. So very fascinating, I encourage if anybody’s interested, there’s a book called, Moody Bitches that I absolutely love that talks about this. And there’s like a very short segment about it. But it was one of the things that kind of revolutionized my, already the background I had around kind of women’s leadership and being a lot less linear and a lot more circular, a lot more cyclical. So I think there’s a part of this, I just want to say like, if you are feeling like in order to take the first step, I have to know my destination. Maybe give yourself the okay that you don’t, I always tell people, if you’re searching to reach the mountaintop, so often you don’t even know if the mountaintop is where you want to go and you’ve spent so much energy to get there. So the real goal is to focus on the steps along the way to make the next best step for you. And you never know, that next best step that you thought you needed to get to that mountain. But when you start taking steps, there was like four other mountains over there that were even more aligned with where you needed to go. So I feel like oftentimes, especially.. Go on, like an education dynamic, but like the way that we are educated in this country, it is that we need to invest so much of our time and energy and follow the steps to get to like, if you want to be a doctor, how much time do you have to? When did you have to commit to that? And how much time do you actually get to be that? And do you have the ability to kind of chart your own path along the way, there’s a couple decision points? But really, those decision points are within the confines of a very small window. And so if we think about, as we’re making these decisions, and as we’re feeling like when can I start, I encourage you to start with baby steps, and really try not to get too disillusioned by the mountaintop. Because the beauty of this work, I think is that like your mountaintop is so much more magical than you could ever envision. That’s the part of the co-creating along the way that is so important. Then the other part of this that I think is really, really difficult. And this is the part where I was like, this is so hard. Because it is I mean, I didn’t, I can tell you. So I’m almost five and a half years into this journey of entrepreneurship. And I had no idea. I literally had no idea as I was saying, I left where I was and started doing marketing consulting because I knew I was good at marketing. It’s what I had been trained in. And I was working with women’s small and medium-large, sorry, small and medium women-led businesses. That was my goal. So I was like, well, we’re not creating a space for women to be representing themselves as brands as women, we’re trying to put them into masculine models. That’s kind of how my brain was working. But I didn’t even know that that was what was happening. Then I started listening to a podcast that someone in a spin class told me about that then changed my whole trajectory of oh my goodness, I can make space for myself to be myself. But also here’s a whole new pathway that like I feel like no one’s talking about and people should be talking about. And so all of these invitations that have led me to where I am today, I could never have imagined them six years ago, never. And so if I had made my 10-year plan, I would have missed all these opportunities because I would have been so focused on it. The second part is this feeling of fear and intuition and knowing the difference between the two because fear can be so ingrained in our entire bodies especially. I mean I feel like we live in a culture that fear is so rewarded by financial, financial. There was this whole I don’t know if you watch, there was a 60 minutes episode this past weekend around Facebook and the Whistleblower from Facebook and she was talking about the algorithm actually rewards creating more division and fear, it actually creates more action for people, people stay on the app longer, there is a monetary reward for Facebook to have people stay there. And so there’s a lot of our culture that is fueled by this feeling of lack. So go buy whatever you need to make yourself feel better. Constantly make yourself smaller, you need diet culture, so you can buy all these supplements to do that go find all these people to fix you because you’re broken. All of these things are so baked into the way that we look at the world and we view ourselves that no wonder it’s like, is this fear? Or is this an, I’m so used to fear is that the way I react to everything, and so the way that I actually cuz I have my own journey very much so with fear. I mean, this morning, I had my own little, hold on, are we feeling fear? Or are we not? is getting really close with your body. And so, for me, when fear comes, I feel like I shrink, I feel like I want to be in a cocoon, I want to kind of hideaway for a minute. I want to be quiet. I think I don’t want to walk on, I’m like walking on eggshells, but I don’t even want to walk like I just kind of still a bit. And so I don’t know how that feels for everybody. But I really encourage you like if you, a way to do this, it’s like watch a scary movie, see what your body does, like put yourselves in specific instances of fear that are like safe, you’re not actually putting yourself in extreme danger. But start watching how your body reacts to those things and acknowledge okay, well, my body’s reacting to that. And it actually reacts the same way in other ways in my life. That’s fear. That’s not my gut. My fear is so strong that I can feel in my, I can feel it everywhere. But that’s not me telling myself I should or shouldn’t do something that’s me saying, I’m afraid of that thing. So I’m shutting down. And then intuition I always think is expansive, I think it is spreading your wings. In my first TED talk, I talked about the evolution from a caterpillar to a butterfly. And so I very much think I was just referencing cocoon as well, I very much think the ability to really align with our values, our intuition is the ability to spread our wings, even if in spreading our wings it’s saying no, I don’t want to do that. Witnessing yourself do that is a really important thing. Or no, that’s not right for me, or you know what, no, that is very close. That is very close to something that created a lot of fear for me, that’s not right. The difference, I think, is really being grounded and less. I just did a podcast about ego versus mouse modes of being very shaky and anxious, is just the way that we’ve been operating for so long that we think that’s who we are. And really on the other side of it is we can live a life of more ease. When we allow ourselves to really believe that we are meant to be who we are in this space in this time. We’re not late. We’re not early, we’re doing everything we need to do right now in the moment and we’re even other people have different paths, we don’t need to be on there. We don’t need to be in their lane, you can stay in our lane and trust that the way we’re doing things and the way we’re learning things and the pace at which we’re moving is okay.

Kim Meninger I want to go back to what you were saying too about the mountaintops and everything because I just think this all fits together so perfectly. So, I am right there with you on the five to 10-year plan, I mean, never ever in my life, would I have seen myself where I am today. I never thought entrepreneurship was going to be my path. And so I’m thinking about just the inherent limitations of trying to come up with a five to 10-year plan when you can only see the world through the lens that you have available to you in this very moment. And so your options are going to be so fixed in terms of the biases and the context in which you’re currently operating. Right, you’re not going to be able to see more expansively than that. And so I love what you’re saying about creating the space where those kinds of invitations that you never would have noticed, never would have presented themselves in the past, become available. And then you, you take that first step, and then it opens new doors from, from there. And I think because of the way we’ve been conditioned, whether it’s through the education system or just societal pressure, we do have such a linear way of operating and there is that pressure to say, well, I can’t do this until I know what the end goal is. But we’ve, how many of us are actually in, on a path that we thought we were going to be on anyway, even if we are linear by nature. So I think just recognizing that that has worked in the past to step off of the linear path is helpful too. And just this whole concept that you bring up about how do I know if it’s fear talking, right? Because anytime you step into something new even, even if it’s a positive thing, right? Even if it’s like a self-discovery thing of like, wow, this feels so different. It can be scary because our brains are programmed to think uh oh, this is not familiar ground, right? Like, doesn’t matter what you think it is, this is, this is not a safe space and so to just be able to identify what fear feels like so that you know it when it shows up and, and you can be compassionate towards that part of yourself that’s simply there to keep you safe and to, you know, to keep you from doing something dangerous, but not let it stop you from moving further in the right direction.

Nikki Innocent Yeah, I’m like I have… So if you are somebody that’s like this sounds really cool. How do I learn more, there was a book called What Happened to You. Oprah Winfrey, I don’t know if you’ve heard her kind of famous name. And Dr. Bruce Perry came out with a book was that earlier this year, late last year, that actually walks very much through our trauma responses as human beings. And I think there are a lot of people that we think we’re tough, and we think we’re too strong to say we’ve gone through trauma, and every single one of us, especially after this past year and a half, has experienced some form of trauma one way or another. And this past year, for sure has been bringing people into new modes of operating or bringing them back to old modes of operating when things have been uncertain, things have been unsafe. And so I really, if you are interested in learning more about this first, I mean, I always encourage go to a therapist, I think you were just talking about something that I’ve worked with, I’ve been to a bunch of different therapists in my current therapist and I work a lot on something called parts work, which was exactly when you were talking about that, I think it’s, it’s really, really helpful to have compassion for the parts of ourselves that we feel like are standing in our way or are harming us in some way or we’re really frustrated with. I think, impostor syndrome, when I do a lot of work-around that I’m always talking about the kind of not new news here but inner critic, and how that inner critic isn’t something that we’re trying to get. I was, I was talking about it took a lot of metaphors, but talking about it, but being in a car, right. And so if your inner critic is driving the car and has the wheel, like, you’re likely just running into a whole bunch of negativity and a whole bunch of walls and staying safe as possible and playing really, really small and not really necessarily doing anything, unless you’re doing it for somebody else’s approval. And the idea like at first I remember being like, can I just kick, can the inner critic just go? Can like, can we drop that? Can we like go to a rest stop and be like, oops, sorry didn’t notice you weren’t in the car. See you later. But the answer is you can’t do that, right? Like that is a part of who you are. And so to shun that part of who you are, they just get louder. It’s like a kid that’s screaming in the backseat, and you just ignore the kid. And they just keep getting louder and louder and louder and have a louder meltdown. And then everybody starts melting down. The ability to be like, oh, my goodness, thank you so much for your information, inner critic, I actually really understand where your strengths lie, let me give you an opportunity to use them somewhere else because right now it’s actually making it so we can’t move along this journey, we can’t go to our next step on the road trip. So I think that that particular part of this as we are feeling, as we are feeling like, well, I’m not really sure how to do this. I’m not really sure if I should be planning at all. Is that what you’re telling me, Nikki? Should I not be planning the five-year plan? Are you telling me? No, no. But also like, allow yourself to witness what’s happening along the journey, I think is the main piece of this because there’s so much discovery to be had that when we are so focused on urgency. And we are so focused on doing things quickly, we are so focused on doing things efficiently, we are so focused on doing them the way somebody else approves of, we lose our ability to tap into ourselves because we have been trained. I always talk about this with regard to I don’t know why education is getting so much play today. But we don’t have a class, growing up, about ourselves. We have a class about history, we have a class about English, have a class about math, we don’t have anything to get to know how we operate. We don’t have, do anything. And I, it’s fascinating to me, because we are built to be able to live in this in-between. You think about kids, they’re off to the world, their ability to play in a sandbox, their imaginations can run wild, and they can create all these things that we never thought, saw possible. You have imaginary friends that they have genuine relationships with. And at some point, we decided that is no longer useful. Unless you’re an innovator in Silicon Valley that play with that for two seconds, and you monetized it within five, five minutes in your parent’s garage, right? Like that ability to play is not allowed here. And so I always think about, like, how can we create? How can we tap back into the things we’re already really good at, rather than trying to become a better, more improved version of ourselves by adapting somebody else’s way of living or fixing the thing that’s broken, be like, okay, when were there times in my life where I was doing things where I was in the flow? And can I do more of that, and just watching how, because I, as I was mentioning before, the way my brain is now allowed to operate is because I’ve taken the kind of, I’ve taken the rules off of it. And it’s like, Am I really really good at being as logistically sound as I used to be? No, but can I be so much more creative? And can I be so much more of myself and contribute rather than being I have had so many people be like, Nikki, you’re so different than you used to be. I’m like, I’m actually not. I just had to silence so much of who I used to be for so long. So she was there this whole time, but she was like, Hi, can I hang out please? And she didn’t get to. And so I think giving ourselves the compassion for all of those things to be true, and for the goal to be that you can live this life where you feel good, right? You’re talking about, like, I didn’t see that I was gonna be in this place where I could wake up and be like, yeah, I needed it. This is pretty cool. Like that is I think the goal for every person. And that doesn’t mean you have to run your own business, you can be that way working for someone else, you can be that way. Being anybody I mean, literally being any version of yourself throughout your life, I think it’s important. The other piece that I always think about, especially the last like I remember when COVID started in March, and I was, I was starting a really big corporate engagement that was supposed to last a long time I was gonna be training all these people. And it was about DEI. But at the time, it said, please don’t bring up race. I was like, wait, what? But I remember in that moment being like, okay, and the reason I bring that up is like now if somebody brought in some of her DEI, and they said that it would be so different, right? And that’s 18 months ago. But I think about the fact that we have this idea of time. And a month ago, I had a completely different plan for my life than I do right now. Because the way that COVID has handled time and has handled choices and has handled predictability, we at this point, have had to constantly pivot. No matter who you are, where you are in your life, you’ve had to kind of be able to move the pieces on the board around to make it work for the moment. So if you feel like this is scary, I don’t know if I have the capacity to be able to navigate without knowing the end goal. You’ve been doing it this whole time in some way. And so yes, it is scary. And yes, especially if people have told you for your career to be successful, you have to follow this track. That makes sense that you would be afraid of this, but you have proven time and time again in the last 18 months if, I don’t even know you, and I know for you to be where you are right now, you’ve done some version of figuring out how to pivot and align yourself with what needs to be the next best move for the moment right now because we don’t necessarily know where the mountaintop is.

Kim Meninger What a perfect way to capture that. I think that is just such a timely way of thinking about our own ability to navigate uncertainty, right? Yeah, we didn’t, we didn’t ask for it. But we certainly have figured, we’ve been forced to figure it out. So just this is a natural extension of the, the new tools you’re already.

Nikki Innocent How did you know I mean, my dad knows how to use zoom, no problem, like that was never gonna happen, never gonna happen, right. And he’s still like, I don’t like it. I’m like, right, but you’re good at it, you know how to do it now. And never, in other circumstances, this never would be the reality that within a week, two weeks, he would be doing that. It’s like you have all these people in your lives that are showing you that ability to morph and change and evolve. That’s the beauty. Again, I’m like, I have a huge crush on humanity. But our ability to be able to adapt is the thing that gives me so much hope. And I think the other part about, you know, this feeling of, I can’t, I can’t necessarily take a step until I know that you know where I’m going. We don’t know where we’re going. But what we do know is that the world is not gonna be the same after this, the systems and the structures have seen so much light that they cannot stay in the shadows the same way they are. There was a lot, there’s a lot of outdated stuff crumbling, if you look at the census, I encourage you to look at the census to get a sense of how much the demographics of our country are changing so significantly. The 2015 census was a huge catapult for me to actually be doing a lot of this work. So I was like, oh my god, all the data is showing that like the way things are set up aren’t going to work for the majority of people. So like, even if they stay where they are, there will be so many like, I don’t know, loopholes that were, there’s gonna be so many exceptions, we need to make that the rule is gonna break. And so the way that things have been done are not happening now and cannot exist moving forward. And so this is such a wonderful opportunity for you to create a path where you can chart and be like, I actually am foundationally firm and sound in knowing who I am, I don’t actually have control over how the whole world is gonna go. But I do know how to get to know myself. So I know how to make decisions from that kind of firm footed place when the opportunities come up.

Kim Meninger Oh, what a, what an optimistic note for us to wrap up on I love it. I just, yeah, it just really not, not to put any time pressure on people because we’ve been talking about that sense of urgency too. But I do think that if you’ve ever been thinking about, if this resonates with you, and you’ve been thinking about this, there’s no better time than now to really start to put some of these things into action. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re experiencing the Great Resignation right now too. I think everybody’s coming to this in their own way, right?

Nikki Innocent Oh my god, the little kid in me is just like, this is what I’m talking about. I’m like, so excited to see I was, again this sounds weird, but like this past 18 months, I’ve just been so excited for all the things that are showing up that have been hidden. And yeah, I think any, even when you’re saying taking action, it does not mean quit your job if you don’t feel like you can quit your job. It means take a step that you wouldn’t necessarily take to be able to uncover something that’s been hidden. That’s all it means. You don’t have to. You don’t have to have, again the easy button. You don’t have to go and like blow up your life. You don’t have to do any of those things, but just trust yourself to like maybe step out in line a little bit for yourself and watch what happens.

Kim Meninger I love it and this truly Nikki has been one of the most fun conversations I’ve ever had and I know it’s hard stuff and I know that, you know, we’ve got a lot of progress that we still need to make but I feel so hopeful just listening to you and I, I really know, I know everyone is going to take a lot away from this conversation so thank you so much.

Nikki Innocent Thank you I’m getting all emotional over here. Thank you, thank you and thank you for all of you who listen. I know I value so much the time and energy you put into it. I mean there’s so many things that we hear and we listen to you and we take our time with and so I’m just so grateful to have, have occupied a little bit of your day today.

Kim Meninger And if anybody wants more of Nikki we will absolutely include your bio and links and anything else that you want to share with us in the show notes as well. So feel free to reach out to her as well.

Nikki Innocent Thank you so much for reaching out because I do really believe that like, so often when we are navigating that, that discomfort of like, I don’t know if I know this person, I’m not able to, like meet you at a networking event, I’m not able to do the normal things, the willingness to kind of put yourself out there and be like, hey, like, I have a hard time for my own podcast being like, hi, you want to be on my podcast? I know that that can be a really hard thing. And so I’m just so grateful that you were willing to, to open up the invitation. I think, again, it’s just modeling even more of what we’re talking about, about the fact that like putting things out there bring so many things that you don’t even know you’ll expect. And so I’m just incredibly grateful for you bringing me on here today because it was such a joy.

Kim Meninger Thank you so much. I can’t, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while.

Nikki Innocent Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I’m so grateful. Oh my goodness. They just like made my day. What is this? Go on.

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