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Ep. 101 - Time To Come Alive: “What Makes Me Come Alive?” With Valerie Hope, Leadership Coach/Speaker, And Guest Interviewer Ingrid Gavshon, Filmmaker And Executive Coach

Updated: Jul 3

Not Quite Strangers | Leadership

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Time To Come Alive: “What Makes Me Come Alive?” With Valerie Hope, Leadership Coach/Speaker, And Guest Interviewer Ingrid Gavshon, Filmmaker And Executive Coach

How do you know when it's time to do something new? Before doing something new, how do you complete the old? Welcome everyone to a final episode of Time To Come Alive. This is the final, final episode. I think I said the last one was the final but my name is Valerie Hope I am the host of the show and I've had the beautiful blessing of having this show for almost two years and this marks the official 101st episode. This is a special episode because of this particular closing and completing chapter.


I reached out to some very talented, very empathetic, very clever, and creative partners in crime to help me bring some honorable closure to this experience. I want to introduce a friend and also a former guest, Ingrid Gavshon. She’s a filmmaker and a coach. She's done all sorts of wonderful things and I reached out to her. Ingrid, how long has it been now? Maybe a month or so. I reached out and I said, “Ingrid, I'm going to end the podcast. I think it would be great to flip the script.”


What I mean by that is I've heard from several of my guesses, those who don't know me that they didn't get to know me during the podcast. I was the one asking all the questions. Every once in a while, I would interject with something but the opportunity for them to speak was not present, so I thought this might be an opportunity for me to mix it up a little bit. I've asked Ingrid to be the interviewer part-time for this episode. Thank you so much Ingrid for being here with me and for having said yes.


Thank you so much, Valerie. It's such an honor to be here and it's such an honor that you asked me. As you know, I was always behind the camera and never in front of the cameras. You put me in the hot seat. Hopefully, your being in the hot seat is going to reveal new things about you that people are going to learn about Valerie.


Things that they may not know about or stories they haven't heard before. A little bit about your background, a little bit about your beliefs, a little bit about what makes you you. From everybody I've seen and all the podcasts I've seen, these 101 episodes you've done so far, you've had this extraordinary ability to open people up. As one of the people said, “Thank you for being a change agent in my life and the lives of so many others.” I know that you will continue this. As everybody probably knows about you, you are very accomplished.


You are a lecturer at UC Berkeley, you teach, you write, you salsa dance, and you do many things. You create your programs and you're a well-known speaker in many communities so it's such an honor to be here. As you know, when we teach at UC Berkeley, I always start the workshops with the South African saying which I think encapsulates what you do and what your podcasts have been about for the last two years, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” A person is not a person without other people. Valerie, you personify the goodness and the ability to bring people out, to bring people together, and to network.


You've had such an interesting selection of people over the years on your podcast. From students, from Iran to professors talking about Black Lives Matter, to other professors talking about leadership, to people in your family, to people that you've met in Uber. Uber drivers turn out to be amazing filmmakers, doing amazing things. Wherever you are in the world you have this amazing ability.


I'm going to ask you a series of questions, which I'm sure you will answer and I look forward to hearing what you have to say. The first one is, what I want you to know about me and what would you like your audience to know about you that they don't know already.


I think everything you said is true. I don't know why I love people so much and connecting with people. I don't know if I've shared this much before but my mom always said that when I was little, her friends would come and visit her and they would inevitably spend time talking to me. I would ask now, so what did I talk about? These were 20-year-old, 30-year-old people that were coming and hanging out with this 5, 6-year-old?


She said, “I don't know, I was off getting some refreshments or something and they ended up talking to you.” I'm always compelled to learn about people and I think a part of it has to do with wanting to be wise I feel like people hold the key for my wisdom. That's probably why I ask a lot of questions. I think it’s an opportunity for me to become a better human being by being with other humans.


Through the series what have you learned about yourself?


That I can let go of being in control on a very public platform. Even with this experience, I have no idea what questions you're going to ask. I have to give a shout-out to my friend Felipe who's also been a big part of this experience. The two of you have been working together.


You can let go of being in control.

I think I learned on a few occasions especially that letting go of control was exactly what I needed to do to have whatever spirit the universe needed for me to do through this program. It’s needed to be done through me, not by me. I learned a lot about where to let go, how to let go, and let God.


That's wonderful. You seem to be instinctive in the questions you ask. Where do you think that inspiration is coming from?


One thing I always do before every podcast, at least at the beginning of the day, maybe it's not immediately before the podcast but I have to meditate because it helps prime my mind and gives me an opportunity to get centered. That's probably the only thing that's very specific and then the other is I connect with the guest.


Typically one other time before the interview, there might be an initial conversation where I do the invite. I would say, “You'd be fascinating to have in the podcast.” Then we do a little 30-minute prep. I noticed even beforehand, maybe when I first met that person, that Uber driver or the person next to me on the airplane.


I have a sense and I feel it in my body when I start getting excited, when I start to come alive in the conversation. That's what we should talk about. That's what I tap into during the interview and then it helps me with the next question. I have no idea what the questions are. I don't send them in advance. I don't often write anything in advance. I think I've been as present as possible in my life when I'm sitting in this chair.


That's a great leadership lesson for people to learn. About being present and being able to listen, I imagine.


That’s huge. That's probably been the biggest, not just a learning experience but the opportunity to practice and see the value of that practice through this program. I've learned to trust myself and trust other people. When I've attempted in the past and micromanage the experience, it did not go well. I also wanted to honor my other people's needs perhaps for some more structure or more certainty. Also figuring out what's a good balance so that the experience is as authentic and present as possible, but also provide a sense of certainty for the others. I've learned quite a bit through the practice.


What do you do to build trust so quickly with people?


What do I do? So much of it is instinctive. I think listening but listening for what they're committed to and why they're saying what they're saying. Not just the words or the story but more about what's in the background, perhaps. I get a sense of what they might be saying or not saying. That's tough. How do I build trust? I don't take myself so seriously. I think you know that. I get a little goofy sometimes because it helps people relax.


I don't know another way. The fastest way I've learned to relax is by laughing. I laugh a lot and I try to create moments of laughter because that's probably the shortcut to the relaxation. That's a great question to ponder. I'm not sure if I do anything intentionally, but so much of it is paying attention to the person.

Not Quite Strangers | Leadership
Leadership: So much of building trust with people is just paying attention to them.


I remember one guest in particular. When I started the interview, he was talking so fast. I could tell he was nervous but I also knew that it was nervous energy. The answers were great. He was coherent. He wasn't on drugs or anything. I thought, “He'll be fine,” but I needed to keep him talking about whatever it was. It had to kind of burn off.


I think not trying to force a conversation in a certain way, but allowing it to burn off and picking out some fun things. I spent a lot of time talking about stuff he loved at the front end, and that was a conscious decision because I could see as he got more into the things that he enjoyed. He seemed to relax, and the pace became more conversational but I do remember instinctively going, “I need to shift the energy here a little bit,” so I've made it a little lighter.


As you know, the next part of this exercise that we do in our workshops that you teach is, “What I don't want you to know about me is.”


What I don't want you to know about me is that I have some tissue here because my mom warned me that I might cry, which I'm like, “I don't often, at least in public.” That's one, but I've also been working on that. I know it sounds so cheesy to say this but I grew up in a family that was matter-of-fact, very logic-driven, three brothers.


Dad was in the military, mom is a school teacher. Expressiveness and emotion were not something that was highly prized. It was corrected swiftly if it went out in line, let's just say that. What I've been learning is I am not expressing sadness in a big way in my life, nor anger. That's the most recent discovery. I am talking recently like, “I don't express anger.”


These are two big emotions that in my life, I haven't learned to express often. I created some physical pain for me, some back pain, and all that. I've been working through this and recently had some wonderful wonderful books and learned some teachings that help me see, “This is where all this emotion has been stored up.” I guess you know now. Those are the two things. Big expressions of emotion don't necessarily come naturally to me, but I'm working on releasing all of that.


You talked about your parents, you talked about your dad. Once, you told me the story about your dad. Maybe you want to tell the people who are watching here a little bit about the fact that you were an Army child and a little bit about what that experience was like. You grew up in Panama. What was it like growing up in Panama? What was it like coming here as part of the Army? What were the different experiences for you?


There are quite a few things that jumped out for me. One is I was nine when we left Panama. A lot of the childhood that I experienced, to be honest, I don't remember childhood in the States. I remember my childhood in Panama. We played in the streets, we lived in a suburban neighborhood. Kids could go out and play hide and go seek, and we had bikes, and I loved roller skating, and hung out with people until the lights came on outside the lamppost. That was when you knew it was time to go home.


I do remember having a very rich childhood. I had a lot of freedom during that time. There were times when there was sadness. As kids, we get corrected or punished for something, and there are consequences too. The thing that stood out to me the most was the amount of play and fun that I had in that part of my life and also it is a very diverse community that I grew up in.


People of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ethnicities, although all Panamanian, many generations perhaps a go, immigrants from other countries in some cases too, but those are the things that stood out to me as a child in Panama. Then when we moved to the US, I was nine. We moved to Georgia, I didn't speak English in any significant way. We watched some TV here and there so there were probably some words that I knew, vocabulary words.


I remember my third-grade English teacher. I guess at that grade, she's everything. She's homeroom, Math, Science, and whatever. She's, “The Teacher” I can't remember her name now. My mom will kill me because we've talked about this teacher very often. Anyways, she's my third-grade teacher. She was from Virginia and had this Southern drawl. Somehow, I never picked it up.


I remember her bringing me to her desk during some of the lessons and she would help me one-on-one with some of the assignments or some of the activities because I didn't understand enough and then I was also taken to another part of the school for special reading classes. One thing I remember is that I love to read growing up. I read a lot. We always have books in our home.


One of the things that was surprising to me was how I couldn't be with other kids while reading. Why do I have to be taken away? That helped me double down on making sure that I learned English quickly. I learned English a lot not only from that teacher but also from watching television, The Electric Company and Sesame Street. Anyway, that was childhood but I don't remember being as playful when we moved to the US as I was when I was in Panama.


Culture is very different here in the States. That was very distinct for me and being on a military base too. There's a certain sense of propriety. There are some things that you don't do in the military. There are kids playing and stuff but it doesn't feel the same the same level of freedom and abandonment that I grew up with. I also remember when we moved here, it was around the time when that child Adam Walsh was kidnapped.


It's early ‘80s or maybe it was shortly after that. I think we moved here in 83. It was this whole thing about you being snatched in the streets and kidnapped as a child. That terrified me. Going outside to play did not seem like a wise choice, so I didn’t. It did cut off a bit of my childhood, but my brothers and I always had fun at home.


We moved around quite a bit. We didn't do tons of moving. My dad was much older when he joined the military. He was 34, it was a cut-off age for anybody joining the Army at the time. By the time I went to high school, my mom was like, “No, we're not moving anymore.” We at the time were stationed in Alabama and decided that's where we were going to stay. Those are the things that stand out to me about the transitions and of course, within all the places we lived had some interesting experiences that marked who I am or the experiences that stood out to me.


Tell us a little bit about those experiences and what are the emotions that came up with those experiences. Tell us about some of that as well.


In Georgia, for example, we lived there maybe a total of three years and went to three different schools in that three years. When I left Panama, a few things happened. One, we left my grandparents behind. My mother's parents. I left my German Shepherd behind which I probably cried over more than over my grandparents.


I feel like I had an emotional death for many years. I'm talking like decades after, anytime I saw a German Shepherd would bring tears to my eyes. It felt like, “Cupid,” my dog. I remember when we were living in Georgia, moving three times primarily because when you're on base, you go to the schools on base, but when you live further away, you have to go to whatever schools are in that particular district. In that transition, moving from off-base to on-base we would change schools.


I learned to say goodbye very quickly. I learned that to get attached to things or people in those formative years when I was in fourth grade. We moved to Hawaii and that was a whole different ball game because the cultural experience of living on an island is very distinct. The foods. I remember from May Day we had to wear leis like, a hula skirt and a band of flowers around our head and we had these dances that we did. It was so much fun.


In seventh grade, I had my first crush, I won't say his full name but his name is Mark, a Japanese guy, and for two years, I don't say lusted because of seventh grader cannot lust. Not that I know of but I remember like, “He's so smart and he's so this and he said that.” I never said a word to him. I didn't know him. I didn't talk to him. My friends all knew and they're like, “Look, Valerie. Look who's over there.” I'm like, “Oh my God. He’s so cute” but I've never said a word. I was shy.


As outgoing as I was, when it came to relationships, I was always self-conscious. Plus, I think it is not necessarily that there was anything wrong with liking somebody from a different ethnicity. Especially Japanese cultures were so homogeneous even in Hawaii there wasn't necessarily like not that I saw a lot of mixing there with the with people of Japanese descent anyway. I felt a little bit like maybe that was not the way supposed to go. I'll enjoy the view from the far. Those are some of the moments.


Is that something that's continued through your life where you take a step back and look at the view from afar?


In my love life, yes, often. It's happened often. Until recently I would say, in the last five years or so, I've been a lot more intentional, more assertive. Assertive in terms of at least letting the guy know. That's my commitment. Now, he has to come halfway too. I don't necessarily hold it to keep it to myself anymore.


What I also learned in life was that because we were in places sometimes in a short period of time, you had to jump right in. My mom taught me that. When she came to the US, she didn't know how to drive. It was for her being super independent and a very assertive woman herself putting her in a dependent state with my dad having to stop and do things and then take her someplace and pick her up.


She found ways to get very involved in the community. She found friends to teach her to drive, she was always a go-getter. She always told us, “Bloom where you're planted.” Even if we were only going to be in a place for a year, we got involved in school, we were in the music program, we got involved in whatever was going on in the churches. That helped me also in my whole life, not to waste a single moment.


Even all the travel I've done since then. People say, “I can't go anywhere. I only have two weeks vacation. I don't have enough time.” and I'm like, “Really? Give me 72 hours.” I can do some damage in 72 hours. I'll go places and do things and say things and experience things that most people would like to have two weeks to do. I'm like, “Why?” I don't stand on the edges or enjoy the view as often. I'm usually in the middle of the view taking a selfie.


Tell me about some of those 72 hours. Where you've taken the reins and you've gone and done something interesting with those 72 hours when you happen to have landed in a place.


The ones that jumped out to me. When I was right out of college, I went to work for an organization called Up With People which is an Intercultural Leadership Program. We traveled internationally, lived with host families, performed musicals, and also did community service. Oftentimes we would only be in those communities for 3 to 4 days.


In some cases, when I went in advance as a staff member. I would spend up to a month in certain places. I remember a couple of different experiences. When I first started working for Up With People, I was sent to Caracas Venezuela. Because I was a Spanish speaker, they wanted me to go in advance to a city that the cast would be touring. The challenge was that there hadn't been any confirmation from the city that they were going to be hosting us.


This was in the days when there was no internet and no cell phone. You got to have a landline or you had to do snail mail. That was it and now you're in a foreign country to boot. We were in Caracas for about a week. We didn't hear anything. I was supposed to go with a Dutch intern to another city on the East Coast of Venezuela.


This intern and I were waiting to see what would happen. We spent another week in Valencia, another city in Venezuela. No news and eventually they said, “We have to keep moving. This tour is going to come no matter what. We have to go to the city called Ciudad Bolivar. You guys figure out if we have a place to perform or not.” Literally, they gave us a one-way ticket. Here I am with the Dutch intern who doesn't speak any Spanish and we go to the city where we know nobody and it's as far off the beaten path for that particular country.


We knew nobody. All we knew was that there was a hotel that we could stay in and from there, we would figure things out. We'd have to find our own host family. We'd have to figure out where the crew was performing, all that stuff. I think that experience too although we had a little bit more time. It wasn't necessarily 72 hours, but we had to produce results under massive pressure because we had 130 young people who were going to be traveling into that city in three weeks to perform a show and stay someplace.


From that, connecting with people came in so handy. In the hotel, Michiel the Intern and I had to share a room because we didn't have the budget. We didn't have the money, nice guy. I was a nice girl. It was great. It was on the up and up but we shared a room and we became friends with the front desk staff, with the people in the restaurant, with the people in the nightclub.


They’ve become our family. They would knock on the door whenever we had a phone call. Eventually, we found someone in the government of the city that would sponsor the show. They couldn't find host families for us so they said, “Why didn't you stay in the hotel? We'll pay for it.” We ended up staying at the hotel the whole time and then somehow miracles started to happen.


We found a baseball stadium to perform in, we had the Military Barracks host the majority of the group. All kinds of cool things happen. I went to Poland once and I remember ending up walking around the city, I think it was Warsaw. There was a Labor Day parade happening and I'm like, “Where are all these people, and why is it red and white everywhere?” It happened to be Labor Day. I enjoyed that.


I went to Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. Our friend Felipe was living there at the time. I remember I had one or two free days there and I ended up going to Corticovado which is where you have the Christ. I went to the Sugarloaf Mountain. I went to a Samba school dance as well as the botanical gardens all on the same day. I crammed it in because I didn't know if I was going to go back. Those are the kinds of things that I always forced myself to do. Life is short, we never know when we're going to go out, but I want to go out with as much activity and excitement as I can. That's a long example.


Life is short. We never know when we're going to go out.

I see. What excites you now?


What excites me now? Being in the middle of a pandemic has limited travel. Connecting with people. The podcast has done a lot for me seeing that in a short period of time, I can get to know somebody so profoundly in one hour. Even before that hour, there were a couple of guests that I met on an airplane, and an Uber or somebody introduced me and I had one conversation and out of that. I feel the excitement of not knowing how to reach people.


I'm the person who a networking event where somebody will share whether their father was abusive or not. Those kind of conversations. I think it excites me to create a space for people to feel open to sharing things with me. It also excites me to learn. I love learning new things, I love learning new skills, I love learning about different things, and I love learning about myself. Like I said, the podcast has taught me so much about me, about how I listen, about how I connect, about why it's important.

Not Quite Strangers | Leadership
Leadership: It excites me to create a space for people to feel open about sharing things with me.

You asked me a question that bent my mind, which has been on my mind for the last two or three months since you interviewed me. I've told it to many people in many guises since we are talking about America, and there’s been an election. We can talk about that later, but you asked me when I knew that I was White.


That was such an interesting question because it was something I'd never thought about. I thought about other political contexts that I hadn't thought about and I'd like you to maybe tell us a little bit about yourself and about finding yourself in America, having grown up in a multicultural Republic of Panama where these things didn't matter and people didn't define you by who you were or what when looked like, or the language one spoke. People were people and were seen as people. Clearly, that was a lesson you learned because it seems like there was such a seismic shift for you when you came to Alabama when you came to America, and I'd like to explore that a little bit more.


Panama is not a perfect place. There is racism, discrimination, and prejudice like anywhere else in the world. Colorism, you name it. it has its own flavor. Let's just say that. As a child, it is not something that I was aware of. It wasn't something I was present to. It wasn't something that my family ever espoused. A lot of it had to do with my upbringing. Your question is when did I know I was Black?


What was the awareness that came when you came to America?


The first one was the language. Understanding that I didn't speak the language was one piece.


Do people make you feel that you were lesser or that you weren't good enough? One of your interviewees, Rooha talked about coming from Iran, not speaking a language, and having to learn English fast. I wondered if you had a similar experience as older people where they come to another country and they feel like they're the other because they don't speak the language or they don't have the right accent or they do not pronounce things properly.


Not that I recall. I think one thing that you should know about me is that as confident as you see me, I have been that way since I was born. I have a picture of my first public speaking event. It wasn't even a speaking event, I was singing the National Anthem at my school. I used to go to a private school in Panama called IPA, Instituto PanAmericano.


My mom has a picture of me in front of a sea of hundreds of people. Standing straight up looking straight at the crowd singing the national anthem. I think that there's something and I don't take the credit like, “I became this great bold confident person.” I come from a line of bold, confident, women and men. I feel that it shaped who I am in the world. I always felt I had worth and value and I have something to say.


I think people are intimidated by that even as a child. No one messed with me in high school, elementary school, and middle school. Actually, when I was in fifth grade, this girl tried to recruit me to be a bully with her, but I couldn't because I was like, “No, I don't like making fun of people. Why?” We didn't hang out with her very much, but I didn't necessarily feel that my culture, my language, or any of that got in the way none that I recall. Nothing that stuck with me that made that deep impact on me.


In Hawaii, especially because there were so many types of people, I could move around quite well. I was often the only dark-skinned person in a group. I was the only Black person. Some of that I was conscious of but not in a way that made me self-conscious or in a way that had me pull away or feel uncomfortable with people. I don't know what it was like for people.


I had people of all shades in Panama and Hawaii who were close friends with me. That's always been what I attracted. The place where it made the biggest impact on me was in Alabama when we moved to a small town in Southeast, Alabama. We lived on the military base, but there was no high school on base. All high school-age students had to go off base.


The challenge was off base. I went to Carroll High School, shout out to CHS. There's a generation, perhaps the parents of the students were integrated into that school. You can already see how that might shape the experience of not only those parents but also the students, and their children. When I went to school for the first time riding on a bus to school, I was coming off a military base with other students from there.


When we get to the school, I see that there are certain hallways where more Black people are here, White people over here in the cafeteria. There was a marked distinction between where the Black students sat, and where the White students sat. Anyone that didn't look white or black I'm sure found their way someplace. That was where I think made the biggest impact. I didn't know that being Black mattered.


I hadn't experienced it until that moment and it pulled me out of being as engaged with people. I didn't trust it. I felt that I wanted to get out of there, “I'll do my four years here and leave. Go find someplace that I feel more comfortable.” I’d only seen it on TV up to that point. I didn't have a lot of conversations about it but after the first two years of high school, I ended up in the band. I shared this before but the band where all the misfits end up.


Right there we had a blast and there were all sorts of people and shout out to Mr. Bolich. One of the most impactful teachers that I've had. He was a band director and he also tapped into so many things about me that showed how much more value I could offer. Those two years of high school, junior and senior year of high school were phenomenal. He was a big part of how I plugged into that experience.


What did he see in you that brought out of you, and what was he so impactful?


I joined the marching band in my junior year of high school. We had to try out along with a few other friends. After the marching season was over which is in the Fall, Mr. Bolich asked me if I was going to be in the concert band. I play the keyboards and I take piano lessons for many years, but I don't play a band instrument. I used to play the clarinet. I've given that up many years before.


He's like, “You play the keyboards. Could you learn to play the mallets like the xylophone and bells?” I'm like, “Yes.” He goes, “I’ll send you to somebody so you can learn how to use the sticks.” I'm like, “Great.” I took six months of drum lessons and Mr. Bolich put me in the percussion pit and I had a blast. Then he said in the summertime, “You're going to come back to the marching band?” I said, “Yes.” “Why don't you try out for Color Guard Captain?” I'm like, “Captain? I've only done it for one year. Brandy Jerkins deserves to be Captain this year. She's been here before. I think she wants it.” He's like, “Just try out.”


I tried it out. My tryout was average, it was underwhelming I think. I could execute well, but I wasn't very creative. Mr. Bolich called Brandy and me into his office and he looked at us and he says, “Congratulations. You're both co-captain.” I was like, “Yehey. Why?” Brandy was crestfallen. Mr. Bolich looked at Brandy and he said, “Brandy, you're creative you understand movement. You're going to be predominantly focused on choreography. That's your talent.”


Then he looks at me and I'm like, “What am I supposed to do here?” He goes, “Valerie, you're a teacher. Your gift is working with each individual and helping them come together.” Until that moment, no one had named it for me. I always had this compulsion to help people learn something. I would stay after school, work with people, I would protect some of the girls who were being made fun of because of their skills or whatever.

Not Quite Strangers | Leadership
Leadership: I always had this compulsion to help people learn something.

I would help them sharpen it. When he called that out, for the first time, I was like, “That's what I do.” He kept getting me more opportunities. I don't know why. The other thing was the Jazz band. It was a very elite band and I wasn't talented enough on the keyboards to play Jazz. Robin was much better at that. He's like, “We don't have a bass player. Can you play keyboard bass?” “I guess.” “Come on to Jazz band.”


He kept inviting me to do more and more things. It helped me up my level of leadership. It helped me up my level of contribution. I felt that I was being called to do something and now all I could do was say yes because I respected him so much and I understood his vision for the band.


To this day we're friends on Facebook. Mr. Bolich if you're watching, thank you so much. He has refused to be on Time To Come Alive. I've asked him a couple of times, for his own reasons, but I think with him specifically, I got the power of a teacher, being able to see something in someone, and all they have to do is pull that thread out and allow the person to expand. That's what I've also found myself doing in the interviews, in conversation with people. I'm like, “What’s that little thread?” I think he influenced a lot of my style as well.


That's such a beautiful story and what an amazing teacher. I imagine that everybody watching thinks, “I wish I had a teacher like that because that is a rare gift.” What could the people watching learn from that? What can we as individuals learn from that to make a difference in other people's lives?


Number one is to listen. We often listen to evaluate if we agree or disagree with what the person is saying, if we like it or dislike it, and if we think is right or wrong. We have a lot of judgment in the way we listen typically when we are not intentional. People generally tell us things about who they are, and what they value in what they say. I think what Mr. Bolich was able to do was observe. He didn't push me into anything. It wasn't like he was forcing, “We needed someone to do this.”


It wasn't about him. I was very clear that it wasn't about him needing something and this would support him getting that need fulfilled. It was always finding who are you and where would you be able to give the best contributions. I think listening and watching people and where they blossom, where they grow, giving them the opportunity and space to try something. That's the other thing, he made it very safe to to try.


Although I didn't know anything about playing in the percussions section and I had to take drum lessons and people were like, “Really? You're going to put her here?” The fact that he had that confidence and that he made sure that he communicated clearly to the people around me made me feel safe that, “I'm here to try something and hopefully it'll work out.” I think creating a space for people. Once we've pulled the thread, now we have to create space for people to try something and how do we make it safe for them to not only try for themselves, but make it safer the others to give them the opportunity.


We have to create space for people to try things.

We're in a world right now that is hurting not only here in America, but around the globe. Since we both live in America now. I'm interested in your views on what is happening right now. It feels like America is at this pivotal point where everything has been in this seismic shift for the last four years and everything's changing.


You're from the Caribbean, but Black Lives Matter has emerged as a stronger force than before and people's voices are being heard and being sought more than before. What do you think of what is happening now? What do you think can be done to change the paradigm and let other people see one another as who they are? Like Mr. Bolich did. He picked out something. He pulled out those leadership skills that were already latent in you.


By the way, Mr. Bolich is White, FYI. One of the things that I think is missing. It's a little tough for me to answer this question because although for that time in high school, I was confronted with race matters here. Personally, race hasn't mattered. In my life and the lives of the people in my family, our skin color matters because it's a distinction between certain people but is never been the one that I use to assess whether or not I should be a part of a group or not. Never.


Were there moments where I've been more cautious and observing? Yes. It's hard to say, “Skin color should matter.” That's pointless. I don't think that's where we are. You shared a quote or a quote was shared recently that I loved that made all the difference and I'm going to pull it out because I think it would help frame what I want to say here.


It was the social justice event that Berkeley hosted on Thursday and the quote by Dr. Lilla Watson. It says, “If you have come to help me, you're wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” A couple of things came to mind when I saw that. 1) Do we need to have diverse spaces? Maybe. We've all been born and raised in a specific spot on this planet, by no choice of our own typically.


“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson

Those places look the way they looked. They were predominantly something. Christian, Muslim, Black, White, Asian, whatever. They had their own flavor and space. Do those places need to somehow be integrated with all? No, not really, but what I think is important is for people who feel that they're liberation, meaning, their fulfillment and purpose in life is tied up with other people.


Like the quote that you said. That is when we have to start looking about at how are we creating that. How are we working with somebody? What sense does it make to have a diverse workplace when people don't feel safe enough to even share what they bring that's diverse? What people look like is not diverse enough. That layer of diversity is so shallow. If you're male or female, if you're gay or straight, if you're black or white, that for me is so shallow.


The level of humanity that we can access is so much more rich and exciting. What I see possible and I don't know how to articulate this in a more actionable way but what I see possible is that people actually connect in meaningful ways with one another. If you know that you're liberation is bound to mine, connect with me in ways that go beyond the five dimensions of protected class distinctions.


That's number one. 2) Can we be more intentional about the spaces we occupy if you're looking to expand a program and have more different faces, different races, and different ethnicities, you might have to go to communities or connect with people who have access to, “Can you put this in your bulletin board? Can you send this out to your mailing list?” I think being more intentional also helps.


Few people mention, “I don't have Black friends, I don't have Hispanic friends.” I've dated a man from India, married an Argentinian, I’ve dated men from Egypt. I'm equal opportunity. I'm trying to find what the next continent is going to be. I'm not tied up in that but the only reason that those were significant romantic intimate relationships for me is because they had a level of soul that connected with mine. You've got to find out what that is and is not found in where people live if they wear hijab or not, or whether they speak a certain language. We can't find it there. I would love for people to dig deeper into themselves and others.

Not Quite Strangers | Leadership
Leadership: I would love for people to dig deeper in themselves and in others.


There’s been an election. How does one create bridges for the different communities to hear each other differently, to see each other as human, and to recognize everybody's own humanity?


I’ll say a couple of things about that. One, the human brain does this. It wants to simplify cognitive processes so we slap a label on something, but once that label is slapped on something it now also attaches a bunch of different meanings. When I hear someone say that they are Democrat or they're Republican, they're no longer saying that they vote for a certain person who identifies with a certain party. Now, all sorts of values are attached to that particular label. My question is, is that fair? I remember when Facebook first came out, I built my account. They ask you if you’re male or female, they ask your religion, they ask your political views or something. There's a bunch of different biographical things.


I remember with religion, I picked spiritual. Not religious, but spiritual. I'm much more open about my source of goodness and God and the universe. I was spiritual and then political views, they have Conservative, Liberal, whatever. I typed in spiritual. Here's why. My dad said this very articulately. He said, “When people say they're Liberal, what do they want to liberate? It’s knowing the “What.” What is it that's important to them that they want that freedom, that choice, or that option?


When people say they are Conservative, what do they want to conserve? What is it that they want to protect? What kind of certainty is it that they're craving? If we can drill down a little bit. Rather than slapping somebody with a label and all of a sudden, that person is everything and I'll go to say my godfather voted for Donald Trump. I did not, I'm fine to say that.


He's Black, he's an immigrant, he's a respectable man. Not Donald Trump, my godfather. I want to make sure that people don't get that confused. Although it would be kind of a fun surprise. “Hello.” We don't necessarily see eye to eye on the why but that doesn't take away his need and experience of what this country should look like and how it should be run. If we can understand better why.


It requires one to be conscious of what we believe. If I don't know what I believe and why I believe that way, it is going to be very easy to get triggered by somebody who questions or challenges me. Consciousness is number one. That's why I always say, be conscious, get connected, and then get creative. Connected is drilled down a little bit. Find out what is it that you want to conserve. What is it that you want to liberate?


The third piece is then create something. Generally, if people want something out of life or out of living, out of the economy, out of their space their work, they want something and it doesn't exist. How can we work together to create it? We're not stuck with force choice. What can we take from each of those so that we can create something unique and different?


These are simple things, they're so hard to do. They require a level of humility and require a level of commitment that could challenge somebody especially because the noise on both sides is so loud. This is not unique to me. I'll tell you that I was in the marching band in high school, which was fun. Thank you, Mr. Bolich, but I was also marching band in college.


I went to the University of Alabama, one of the top football schools in the US. I would take a book sometimes to the games because I wasn't that into football but until people are like, “Valerie, this is being televised put the book away.” I sometimes get in trouble, sometimes I even fall asleep. I'm like, “I'm here for the eight minutes on the field. That's all I care about.” The games that I loved and enjoyed were the games where both teams played well. They played hard, it's an exciting game but not because Alabama blasted them or Tennessee or Auburn blasted Alabama.


It was because both teams were committed to playing the game. I think that's a piece that we haven't come to terms with. When it comes to race, when it comes to politics, when it comes to religion, all these quote-unquote divisive topics. The problem is that we're playing to win. We're not playing to play. I would invite people to play the game.

Not Quite Strangers | Leadership
Leadership: The problem is that we're not we're playing to win, we're not playing to play.


That is a very interesting point of view. How do we get people to play the game and realize that politics is a game and that people should be looking out for each other for the best of each other? That's what you're so good at doing. Before I ask you what your dream is for the future. I'd like to know what questions haven't i asked and what questions didn't you want me to ask.


There's not a question that you haven't asked. I guess the question that I maybe didn't want you to ask, I don't care if you do or not but, “What's next?” People keep asking me that, “You're ending the podcast. What's next? What are you doing next?” I'm still dabbling in that. I had a realization because of some coaching that I received.


I knew that at the hundredth episode, I wanted to do a pivot of some sort and I've never felt comfortable addressing the inclusion conversation in a way that people could hear it. You could hear I’m passionate but it's a perspective that I don't hear very often. I was like, “I don't know if I want to put that kind of energy to do something to shift minds right now.” I was working on something because I felt compelled that I needed to do it. When I started working towards that, a lot of resistance, and obstacles, not other people.


People thought it was a nice idea to do something focused on inclusion, but it didn't seem like it was going in the way or with the ease that I would expect. I thought, “Let me pause.” In the coaching session that I had, when I mentioned I had a hundred episodes and I was trying to think of what the next thing is, but every time I do something it feels like there's a roadblock. They're like, “A hundred episodes. That's amazing.” I was like, “Yes, it is.”


Somehow, what they said and how they said it. I heard it differently. I heard, “A hundred episodes, that's enough.” I don't have to go into the next thing. I can close the chapter and be with it. For me, closing a chapter, or completing something has not been my thing. We would up and move and sometimes without telling any of my friends that I was leaving because my dad got orders, and I was like, “We won't be here next year. Bye.”


This has been an intentional way to think about how I close something and then create space for the other to be created, to materialize. I don't know what that next thing is. I have some seeds planted. I'm spending time and conversation and thought with people that I care about, but I also don't know what the answer is and I'm much more comfortable with that.


I have this posted on my computer and it is a thought that came to me I think with spirit. “You don't need to know, just be ready.” That's what it says. This is marking this part of my life where I don't need to know what needs to come next. I need to be ready. I'm having conversations like this.


I am studying, reflecting, meditating, conscious, and connecting. I'm not sure what I'm going to create yet. I know that something is bubbling up but part of me is sometimes feeling a little bit anxious, and impatient perhaps when people ask, “What's happening next?” I'm like, “I don't know.” I want to do something worthy of me and that is a contribution to others and that's what I hope is created out of everything that happens next.


Taking that one step further. What is your deepest dream for yourself? If you could have a magic wand. what is that deepest dream?


I want to know everything in the world. There's this thing about wisdom that for some reason has always been so compelling to me to know myself and know others. It's hard to say I have a dream as in there's something I want to see happen because I feel like I'm much more conscious of being present, especially the older I get. I'm very proud of myself that I can say that if I die, and I'm not asking for that if I were for whatever off chance something were to happen, I wouldn't have any regrets. I feel like I've lived and done the things that I knew at the moment. I was present that I needed to do or try things that I thought I needed to try. Some things work, some things don't. Some opportunities came, and some opportunities went but I am very faithful about where I'm led so I let go more often.


I'm ready now. My dream is to be ready for whatever the next opportunity or the next nudge, the guidance that I get. I don't know when it's coming or how it's coming. Even this interview, I didn't know what you were going to ask but I feel I was ready for it. I've been doing a lot of work on myself and that prepares me for conversations, that prepares me to listen differently, that prepares me to have ideas and share things that perhaps I wouldn't have been able to five years ago. I wasn't that aware then of some of the things that I need to be aware of now. The dream is getting and growing that awareness.

Not Quite Strangers | Leadership
Leadership: My dream is just to be ready for whatever the next opportunity is.


I can't let you go without asking you this. What was your dream as a child?


That's a tough question too. My mom would always say that I had Barbies and dolls and I was teaching them so for me teaching has always been a part of whatever I do and I don't think I did until Mr. Bolich named it the in that eleventh grade. I didn't know that's what that is. That's one thing and I will say I had a moment where I remembered in college, I was a Resident Assistant. Meaning, I was in the girls' dorm. I was the RA, the person that was helping support the girls in what they needed.


We had the responsibility every quarter, all the RAs had to rotate the responsibility of hosting some dorm-wide program. All of my programs had something to do with international and intercultural something. We had Salsa classes once I remember. We had a panel of men come and talk about dating but men from Sweden, Trinidad, Colombia. It was phenomenal, the girls came out for that. I don't think they even came for the pizza. I think they came for the guys. It was so much fun. This is the thing, I called all of those programs The Valerie Hope Show.


This was in the early ‘90s. Oprah Winfrey was a big thing then. Sally Jessy Raphael, all these talk shows were these names and I felt that there's a conversation I want to have with people. There's something that I want to share with people or something I want to create space for people to talk about. I don't know if talk shows the place in this day and age. I don't know if that's what it looks like, but I would love to continue to have a platform, to share things like this or have people hear conversations or explore things that they may not explore otherwise. That's the dream that has been sprinkled throughout parts of my life.


Any regrets? 


Not yet. I should say this. I remember a couple of weeks ago, I met somebody that I'm like, “You should be my podcast. Wait. No, I'm ending that. What am I going to do next? I feel like there's more conversation.” There are some moments where I'm like maybe there's some other podcast-ish something. There are some moments like that but nothing heavy.


I would like to invite Felipe and anyone else who might be online to join us. Your friend Janet very kindly delivered on our behalf a box for you. We'd like to open the box. I don't know if anyone else is online watching, any of your friends, and if you're previous podcastees.


Ingrid, we did have a couple of people joining us. Unfortunately, the conversation was so good that it took a little longer. They had to leave. I want to make sure you know, Valerie, that Tim Schaffer was here and he sent you the best. Donald “Skip” Mondragon was here and he’s straight from Mexico. Now, we have Christophe Lorvo joining us. We have a couple of special people that wanted to say hello to you.


Wonderful. Hola Christophe.


Como estas.


Muy Bien. Bienvenido.


Gracias. What a pleasure to see you, Valerie. I couldn't believe it when I saw it was your last podcast. I said, “ I got to be on. I did the first one in Spanish.”


Yes, most of them are in English but I did some in Spanish. I could probably done more, maybe a spin-off in Spanish soon to be. I don't know.


Christophe, I've got a question for you and then for Filipe, what changed for you after your podcast? What did you learn about yourself and what changed for you?


From my personal experience? This journey to leadership which we are all on and which we are all in this journey, and I think what always amazed me was this learning that Valerie always shows interest in learning new things. It's all about leadership and wanting to learn something new all the time. That's been my inspiration and I think what's transpired from the podcast which I’ve seen Valerie’s curiosity and interest and always learning.


Thank you, Christophe.


And Felipe?


I remember one of the first conversations I ever had with Valerie was about superpowers. From the very first moment, she gave me space to talk to her and she was kind enough to let me be part of her life. In any of these journeys together, it's all about learning each other’s superpowers and supporting each other. It made a huge difference for me and for everyone that is around me.


Valerie is well known here in Brazil because I tell everyone about her. All my friends and my family members know her because I was like, “My friend Valerie, my coach Valerie, my Valerie.” She's a huge part of my life and we are all here to honor you and to celebrate you. Thank you very much for everything that you do.


Mucho obrigado, Felipe. Tell my Brazilian fans. Yours was one of the most watched episodes too. You had quite a few views. Whoever you got in Brazil to watch, and Christophe, you too. I think people wanted to find out the inner mind and the workings of Christophe Lorvo.


It was a great experience, again this ability to always learn something new. That's been the inspiration.


I'll say that for me, Valerie unlocked something in me that had been buried for a long time for which I'll be eternally grateful. I'm so glad that she and I are friends and will be on this journey together, hopefully in the future. Valerie, there's a box that arrives for you.


Yes, I have a box here.


We'd love it if you open it in front of everybody. Yes.


I was told not to move it in any sudden ways, but here we go. I see a cake bar. There's a big cake and it says, “Congratulations 101.” Thank you so very much. I guess I'm going to have to eat it all by myself. Christophe, you're in Mexico. Felipe, you're in Brazil. Ingrid, you're in California. Who's supposed to eat this cake with me?


The idea is that you'll share it because we never got a chance to touch on your amazing family. Dito, Eva, your mom, and your dad who both in their own ways, from what you've told me sound extraordinary people who have taught you and given you the freedom to be this amazing confident, wonderful sharing, caring person. I think that we wanted to celebrate that with you. I hope that you'll share some of that with them.


They're awesome and yes, I'd be happy to. I might have to take a little bit for myself. My brother has five kids. This would not last. This is so thoughtful. Thank you so much again. I don't know what went into coordinating for Christophe to be here and Tim and Donald “Skip” and all the people that everyone showed up. Ingrid and Felipe, thank you so much for your support. I think I shared with Christophe earlier that I don't ask for help very often.


I've been trained and honed my independent assertive skills since I was very young as part of my spirit. As I've matured, part of the things that I've been learning as a leader is to not only ask for support for myself but also ask for support so that people have space to contribute their superpowers as you said.


How do you use your superpowers when Superman's got it unlocked when he's doing everything? Where does Batman come in? How does the Hulk get involved? In order to have this group of superheroes, we need everybody to take some space or take less space and some learning to take less space because that space allows other people to take up more and contribute to me and to others.


Thank you so much. It means a lot that all of you have trusted me on this journey and revealed things in public. I don't take it for granted. I think I also learned in this process how much of a responsibility that is. I asked questions and you all shared your responses. There's some trust there. There's a willingness to open but I think more than anything, I've felt and learned the responsibility to honor another human being's heart and another human being spirit.


I went to an event a few years ago. We were in the auditorium, and at the opening, Jan Levinson, the speaker said, “Grab the hand of the people next to you. Hold hands with them.” We did and she said, “You have their heartbeat in your hands.” I could feel the heartbeat of the person whose handout I was holding. I felt the sense of responsibility that we all have as human beings when we hold someone's hand, that we have their heart literally in our hands. How to honor that, how to respect that, how to bring light to that. I feel like this journey has allowed me to do that. Thank you.


Thank you very much and very graciously. Thank you for making those connections.


It’s been my pleasure. It has. Privilege is a privilege. 


Just a quick shout-out to Janet Morrison-Lane who helped us get the cake delivered to Valerie. Thank you for coordinating everything, Janet.


Thank you, Janet. She was very explicit about me not shaking it, moving it, dropping it, not opening it. I will I'll take good care of it until it lands in the hands of my family.


Any final words to your wonderful public who are watching and who will be watching it in the next few weeks?


First of all, thank you. It's interesting, I started the podcast because I went to a conference that said you should have a social media presence and what would that look like if you were doing something and I thought, ”I should start a podcast.” It took me a couple of months to figure out what that was going to be and even then the iterations that have come, but it was never about views.


It was never about likes. It was never about shares. It was about connecting and helping others connect with each other. I got how powerful a small act of generosity like sharing the stage or sharing a platform with other people can be. Sometimes surprising how often people want to watch certain episodes or how you know some more than others.


I wanted to say thank you. Profound appreciation for anyone who tuned in to any episode, any part of an episode whether it was on YouTube, on my website, on Facebook Live, on LinkedIn, or Instagram. Any platform that you interacted with in some way shape or form. If you shared it with somebody or you got something for yourself, I want to say thank you so much for being open to listening, open to experiencing.


I hope that whatever difference was made in your life is a difference that will continue to pay forward for you and the people around you. Thank you so much for all of the support and the following. We'll continue, this does not end with this. There's more to come. I always said that my job is to inspire and activate leaders to come alive.


May it be that whatever difference was made in your life is a difference that will continue to pay forward for you and for the people around you.

That's the basis of it. If you've come alive in way, shape, or form because of this podcast, thank you for allowing yourself to spark. As you said Ingrid, the fact that you opened up something as a result of this means so much to me. Now, the responsibility is on you. Not only you Ingrid, but you collectively, whoever's watching and listening to go do something with it. A spark will not last forever. You better go catch something on fire. Those are the final thoughts that I have. Anything else?


We look forward to the special events that are stored to come and we look for the next iteration of Valerie Hope because you can be sure it will be impactful and it'll make a difference in the world. With her spirit, her knowledge, her intelligence, and her ability to reach out across the divides, Valerie is not going anyway. You’ll know more about her.


Ingrid, thank you so much. For everybody else out there, you may not see future episodes for Time To Come Alive, but there are plenty of episodes to watch you have at least 101 of them to binge if you like. Go to and you have access to all of the episodes. If you also subscribe you'll get them straight into your inbox or you can subscribe to the YouTube channel and experience them there and more to come. I'll be sure that whatever iteration comes up, I will be sharing it with you all in some way shape, or form. Thank you all so much for tuning in. Ingrid, again thank you. Big hug to you and Felipe and Janet and anyone else who played a significant role in this, but more than anything, you Ingrid for pulling on those strings.


There were so many more to pull on. There are so many more facets to Valerie that people have to discover that will be for part two.


Have a wonderful rest of the day, everybody. Thank you.


Important Links

Ingrid Gavshon - LinkedIn

Rooha Haghar - Podcast Episode 85

Howard Thurman: "Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs are more people who have come alive."


For nearly two years, I took what started as an opportunity to build my brand as a leadership coach and a speaker, and tapped into an amazing community to learn and grow with. The Time to Come Alive podcast has featured more than 80 guests and 101 episodes.


From the start, I was the one asking the questions, digging into what inspires and makes people spark into action.  As I close this chapter, the tables are turned, and former guest, filmmaker, and executive coach, Ingrid Gavshon, interviews me to share what brings me to life.



  • Valerie’s journey from Panama to podcasting.

  • How we can make a difference in other people’s lives.

  • Growing the awareness



Subscribe to my YouTube channel and access new and past episodes! To receive episodes in your inbox, subscribe at





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