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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 77 - Not Quite Strangers: The Benefits Of Being An Outsider

Updated: Jul 2


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Not Quite Strangers: The Benefits Of Being An Outsider

I love this opportunity to connect with different people, new people, and some strangers to me and some not. The whole idea of this show is to inspire curiosity, establish a connection, and shift perspective. I hope to do that through every episode not only for myself but also for my guests and you, the reader. If you haven't done so already, make sure that you subscribe, favorite us, and bookmark us, whatever it takes for you to make sure that you don't miss a single episode. We appreciate when you make your comments or give us a thumbs up. Let us know how much you like this show because it helps other people get to know it too.

The reason we're here is because I'm undergoing my own social experiment. In this show, I bring together a couple of people so they meet each other and have an experience. In this episode, we're changing it all up. I have a friend of mine who's a fellow coach who sent me an email saying, “I met this woman. Her name is Nenuca. You should have her on your show,” which at first I was like, “My show doesn't work that way. You can't just be on it. I have to match people to it. I don't know this person. How's that going to work?” I admit. I had a lot of noise in my head about like, “That's not how it's supposed to work, so we're not going to do that.” I can't remember what shifted other than, Barb, your marketing person, sent me an email following up because I was still mulling.

I leave it to Barb to make sure that she follows through. I can always count on her to do that.

She's great at it.

Barb is on top of everything.

Her follow-up email was benign asking, “This might be a good person to have in the show. She shared all kinds of stuff about you.” I was like, “This would work.” I don't know who you are. Therefore, I didn't know who to match you with or any of those things, but when I talked to Barb, I was like, “I'll do it. I think it'll be a good experience to meet a stranger.” For those of you who are reading, Nenuca and I met for the first time and after we made sure that everything was working, we talked about our plants and our love for plants, Uber and Lyft drivers. Nenuca, welcome to the show.

I am happy to be your guinea pig for this because I am all about experimentation. So much of my life is around that like, “Has this been done? Let's see if it can be done.” That's hard. Let's try it and see if we can be done and how we can do it in a better way. I love it. I feel like it's serendipitous that I'm your guinea pig for this episode. It's in the part of the way I operate.

I get excited. Maybe this particular part of my life is my brainchild and I have a very specific process. It's been a couple of years now that I've done this show so I have it down. Sometimes, throwing a wrench in it is a great thing, which is why I said it took me a minute to get there, and I was a little surprised, to be honest. I’m like, “Let's go,” but I'm like, “That's not how this works,” and then all of a sudden, I changed my mind.

I wonder what was underneath that for you because when I logged on, I was telling you I love the premise of your show. I have read several episodes already back to back because I love the idea of connecting strangers. You also seem like a very open person. I wonder what was underneath that. Did you have time to think about what was the initial resistance?

It's absolutely control because I'm like, “This is not the way it's supposed to work.” You can ask my family. They could have told you that before it even happened. They're like, “Valerie likes to have control.” I wouldn't say control freak per se, but my initial reaction when somebody offers to do something or promote something that goes against what I've already established, and the rhythm I've established for is resistance, “No, you got to do it first. Why should I even?” Unless it's my idea to do something new and cutting edge and then I'm like, “Bring it.”

That's true for anybody, this whole idea that if it's your idea. I work a lot in the space of change and this whole IKEA effect of something that we leverage heavily, which is it's something that you help build or even better if it's your idea, you sure as heck are going to back that thing. I get that, but I'll also offer you a reframe. Having met you, and getting your vibe, which is maybe it's not so much about being in control, but I've been able to give people this wonderful thing. I want to make sure I'm able to keep doing that and what if this episode false a little short for that? It's a desire to continue to give people something helpful, enlightening, and uplifting. I don't want to mess with that recipe because I have been able to do that. Maybe that's what this underneath that.

I can see some of that, too, but I'm famous for not following recipes. I used books for inspiration. You too?

One hundred percent. That is my husband's frustration. He loves it because I cook pretty well according to him and then he says, “Can you make this again?” I'm like, “I don't know what I put into this.” The thing I found is I'm even better when we have constraints where we're missing an ingredient. There's something we have to use because it's going to go bad soon, and then you get creative around that lack or that need to use this up. I don't know why, but it does.

First of all, the fact that constraints bring creativity sounds like you're a very creative person. You like to see something new, change, and innovate. I feel that way about cooking because I feel like I have the fundamentals. I know how to make something taste good. I come from a couple of generations. My great-grandmother was a great inspiration apparently in the kitchen. I'm all about like, “Let's see what this can taste like.” That's the game I like to play. Where did that come from you?

There's definitely a space in my brain that wants to be more creative like, “What is possible?” It's a way of showing love for the people in my life, which is feeding them nourishing food. I will admit that since I started my business, I have cooked way less because then I realized a lot of my creativity got moved into my business. That's how I knew that cooking was a creative exercise and not so much a culinary exploration in itself. It was about the creativity behind it. My mom is a good cook. I draw a lot of inspiration to her. She's way fancier than I am. I grew up in the Philippines and there you do have people at home who can help you clean up after and set the table. I moved to the stage where I cooked 1 or 2 dishes instead of 12 different dishes for everybody. I don't have that kind of time to do that.

I got to know. What's something that you've cooked out of this creative endeavor when you've had the time?

This is not creative, but I like them, which is banana chocolate chip cookies because I had a lot of bananas that were going bad. I still wanted chocolate chip cookies, but I did not want banana bread. This is not creative value, but this is my honest answer. It is the last thing I literally cooked. Technically, it's baking.

What you said earlier about whatever you have, you work with what you have. If you have bananas and you need to use them and that's the way that you felt that could be utilized and consumed, go with it.

What about you? What is the last thing that you made?

I had a cauliflower in my fridge. I enjoyed cauliflower. It's like a blanket of canvas for me. You can add any flavor to cauliflower and it'll taste good. I've started rising cauliflower, but it doesn't feel like doing the cauliflower thing. I ended up taking it because I didn't want it to also spoil. I had some frozen French green beans. I raise the cauliflower in my food processor. I saw the frozen green beans with some lettuce, some onions, and garlic and I started adding a bunch of different seasonings because I felt like it. Once that cooked well enough, I added the cauliflower to it and then I'm like, “I like to add turmeric.” That's my other signature. My nieces and nephews are like, “Anytime the food is yellow is because Tia Valerie cooked it.” I’m going to mix those two together, and it tastes delicious. I've been eating it for the last couple of days.

I can imagine if you added raisins to that, it would have been good too.

No. I cannot add any fruit or dehydrated fruit to my savory dishes.

Let me tell you about a dish I cooked for my team in North Carolina. We're all distributed, but we got together in North Carolina because there's a bunch of us there. We made a pretty traditional Filipino dish. It's called Arroz a la Cubana, which is normally ground pork. I know that you're going to laugh. I only put 2 and 2 together that this dish is probably inspired by Cuba when I saw it on an SNL skit where Ana de Armas was describing a dish.

I was like, “That's Arroz a la Cubana, which we make in the Philippines.” I was very confused and I put 2 and 2 together. I was very old in my life when I realized that. Normally, it's ground beef or pork, but we made it with chicken. Some of my people don't eat beef or pork. You put raisins in it. There's garlic and onions. You fry bananas on the side and eggs, then you eat it with white rice, they love it. They are Americans, born and raised here plus one Brazilian lady. She made brigadeiros for us for dessert. We experimented with that too. They loved that they were surprised because they're like, “Raisins with meat and bananas, fried egg, rice, and then ketchup on the side?” They loved it. It was good.

I'm not going to judge it. It sounds fantastic. I personally don't enjoy any fruit in my savory dishes. My brother does. He's the one who puts raisins and oranges. His wife's from Spain. He is not into it or whatever. I prefer plantain when I'm eating something savory and bananas. I'm very selective.

We use plantains. They didn't have the usual Filipino bananas, which are a little sweeter than the plantains, but we worked with what we had.

It was good. You live in North Carolina.

I live in the Bay Area, but a lot of my team was in North Carolina, visiting my in-laws. My mother-in-law is a fantastic cook. She's Indian. Indian home-cooked food cannot compare the restaurants. I love it so much. Whenever I'm there, we almost never eat out because I love her food so much. One day, I said, “I want to get my team together. We got together to do some work.” We said, “Let's also cook together.” We had some people chopping and frying. One of our colleagues has 11 or 14 kids. He is the eldest. He was a master at frying eggs because he grew up cooking so many eggs for many people. He like, “Cooked a dozen? Easy.” I constantly bring eggs when I try to fry them.

Something that's never been said on this show is I hate eggs. I don't eat eggs. I eat maybe an egg as an ingredient in a cake or something, but not by itself since I was going to be four years old.

I met other people like that. I, on the other hand, love eggs. I could eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Everybody else in my family loves them. They do poached, scrambled, and omelets. I'm like, “That is disgusting. I can't.” I've learned some techniques to support changing our subconscious beliefs to get more in alignment with our conscious beliefs. You say coaching all the time. I use it with myself. It's transformed some of the ways that I think and feel patterns of habits of thinking.

The other day, I thought, “I have a younger brother who doesn't like fish,” because he had a bone stuck in his throat when he was young. He has some trauma about it. I thought, “I could use this technique so it will help neutralize his connection to that trauma of a fish.” He's like, “No, we're not doing that. I don't care that much about fish.” I thought, “I could if I wanted to probably do the same thing about my aversion to eggs, but I don't want to.”

There are probably bigger things for you to want to change whether it's about yourself or to help the people that you care about, drive the change, “I think liking egg is not following that category.” It's okay.

There are probably bigger things for you to want to drive the change, whether it's about yourself or to help the people that you care about.

Thank you. I appreciate your permission. The thing was it was a conscious knowing that this is something that has tied to my identity for so long and I don't want to like eggs. I don't even want to be indifferent about them. It's not weird. I was like, “I don't want to change that. I'm going to keep hating eggs until it is the last thing on the planet that I can possibly eat, then I can probably do something about it.”

At that point, you will have no choice, but to eat the eggs and you're like, “I don't even need to try to therapize myself.”

Because we're still in the get-to-know-you stage here, I'm curious about what you do. What had you said yes to doing this thing in such a public way? We could just have had a conversation on a phone call.

Why have this conversation? I love meeting people. People don't believe me by the way when I say that I'm an introvert, but I am. I love meeting people in this one-on-one. This is a public forum, but now, all my attention is on you and I love it. I get to know who you are and how you think. That drives me. Tying that back to what is it that I do, I run a consulting firm. It's called BOxD. It’s Better Organizations by Design.

We work in the space of change. We help companies that are going through large-scale change, meaning they themselves are changing their strategy or they're changing their organization, but we also do small skills changes on the individual level. Maybe we're helping leaders lead their organizations through this change themselves or the first time they're stepping up into this role.

It's not like the moment you get promoted, you're suddenly fully equipped for that role. There's learning of skills, but there's internalization, too, like changing how you think of yourself as a leader. I’m working across all of that. What I love about that is that people are both super predictable, but then also very much not like they're predictable when you think about it with the lens of psychology, but when you think of individuals, there's so much listening that you have to do in getting to know them.

This is why I love talking to people because it's only in those conversations that you truly get to know what drives this person. We can talk about what drives humanity in general, but what drives Valerie or Nenuca, and what are the things that bug us maybe, or the things that scare us when it comes to change or growth? That's a way of saying that I'm very interested in people. I was interested in getting to know you.

NQS | Outsider
Outsider: It's only in those conversations that you truly get to know what really drives a person.

There's no roundabout. I think that's very direct. I appreciate that and then this idea of the work that you do with other people. You said BOxD, Better Organizations by Design. What got you into the field? I'm curious.

I wish I could say I had known this field had existed all this time. Before I started this company and even moved into this space, I had built a career in HR. I had done the rounds. I don't know how much you or the readers know about HR. When people think of HR, they typically think about recruiting or maybe compensation. I did do those two functions. There are other things within that two-sided a lot of work in the performance management space or organizational development.

I was lucky enough that when I was at Cisco, I was part of this rotation program where they purposely rotate because they're developing the next bench of executive leaders within the HR space. At the end of that, they're like, “Find a role that speaks to you.” At this time, Cisco was building in-house the capability to do this organization design broader organizational effectiveness work instead of hiring the large consulting firms to always do it for us. That's how I came into this space, which is somebody took a chance on me.

They said, “The way your mind works and able to see patterns and think of things from a systemic level, and be able to translate that for what this means for the business is good. Let's go with this.” I wish other people had this experience also because it was like a duck hitting the water. I realized, “I should have been doing this my whole life,” but then I also realized, “I would not have been that person earlier in my career.” It takes experience to be able to be good at it. I was like, “This is where I should be.” I ended up starting my own business after that, but that's how I originally first got into this space.

You mentioned that the duck hit the water. That's a testament to having the preparation, both the mindset preparation and also the skillset, social preparation, being able to connect to these opportunities, speak to people, and get curious enough to raise your hand. All those have to come first sometimes before the opportunity shows up. I totally get that. I've had some of that experience myself.

I don't know about you, but it's not like when I was earlier in my career, I was very intentional that this was the path that I was heading, but because I was naturally curious, it was like I was gathering all these pieces of information. I didn't know how it was going to come together and make sense. I continued to do that. I'm like a little mouse as I go throughout my day or maybe squirrels for a better analogy. I don't know when it's going to be used in my brain. Later on, a client has a problem and I'm connecting six different dots. I'm like, “This makes so much sense.”

The one area of my life that has worked the best and has required the least amount of effort, and when I say the least amount of effort doesn't mean that I'm not doing the things that need to take the steps and taking action, but the will to make this happen, that part, not that willful, “I need to make it at all costs,” and that resilience. My career has been that the place in my life or the most flow has shown up or the most alignment appears. Into your point, because I have been curious and I look for open doors, and windows and go, “Let me go there and check the doors close after a little while.” Sometimes they stay open and walk through. I've worked in HR for a long period of time because, in the corporate sense, I worked in talent development. I totally know what you're talking about.

Sometimes you don't know if that door will need to lead to another door and another door, “Let me walk through and see.” There's something powerful about having a general purpose in our lives, but then being open to many experiences. I'll never forget earlier in my career, I was to an HR leader at the time, and I said, “What advice do you have for somebody who's starting or in the middle of their career?” I will never forget. She said, “Don't chase titles. Don't even chase companies. Chase experiences, then you will never know what will come your way. It'll form up many stepping stones going forward.” I took that advice seriously.

There's something powerful about having a general purpose in our lives, but also being open to so many experiences.

I want to say my mom probably had a lot to do with that. We are military kids. I'm originally from the Republic of Panama. We moved to the States when I was nine years old. My dad joined the US Army. We had to move around quite a bit, especially in those early years. My mom has always been quite entrepreneurial herself not in a business sense, but in a community sense. Anytime we moved, she was always the one to figure out where the Scout Troops involved, like my brothers and I could get involved in, where were the summer camps, what church we were going to go to, and what volunteer opportunities. We were always looking for things to do to connect and root in the community.

“We're here for two years. Let's go.” Part of that experience for me and that muscle went along with my career. I remember when I was in college, I went to the University of Alabama. I got the opportunity to get a paid internship at the end of my freshman year. It must have been like the summer coming into a sophomore year. My mom found an opportunity to work for a nonprofit. I went into this paid internship thinking, “I'm the youngest person ever to have an internship pay. It doesn't mean anything to my resume.”

My friends and fellow students made me jealous when they came back. I self-studied Public Relations at the time. It was a small town. There's only the director and me. For a couple of weeks, it was cool to get a paycheck and dress up because I was in this fancy building, but then after two weeks, I was like, “That was boring. Mom, do I have to do the whole summer? How many weeks ago is this thing?” I hated it.

The director was amazing. I enjoyed the experience. She gave me so many opportunities to connect with donors. She had me write up stuff I could put in the newspaper and all that stuff. I remember, sitting in a room by myself working was not my thing. The next summer, I went to volunteer at the fitness center. I share some of this stuff. I shared all the details in a TEDx Talk that I did. Essentially, I remember that that was the summer that I got that this is not about the money.

You said it's about the chase of the experience like, “Don't chase the money. Don't change the prestige. Chase the experience and this idea of coming alive.” That's where I first started to embody like, “That's what the coming alive thing,” where I feel like when I was that volunteer job, like, “How is it that I'm volunteering my time willingly, working more hours and paid staff?”

It’s better than you did with the internships.

I loved all the people I got to meet. Every day, it was exciting. I would wake up super early. I go to bed late. It’s all that energy. I was like, “I need to make sure that this is the feeling that I strive for.” Rather than looking for the right opportunities, I look for that feeling. I've been fortunate that all the things that I've chosen to do, although not the most popular choices and I got a lot of peer pressure and opinions from well-meaning people that were like, “Is that where you want to spend your time and energy? You deserve more.” I'm like, “I don't know. It doesn't feel that great to do it that way so I'm going to go there.” It has been wonderful.

I love that you are able to listen to yourself. I don't know if your mom designed the experience to be that way, but to learn that about yourself at such an early age, which is like, “This is the environment or the type of work that I thrive in the conditions, which is I'm working with people,” doing things together versus you're sitting alone in a room working on PR, makes me also think of something. Part of the reason why I started my business is I want everybody at our client companies to be able to find that feeling at work because I do think work needs to be more than just a paycheck. I also recognize that to a certain degree, it is a privilege that you and I and other people get to chase the experience, that feeling of being alive and not going for a paycheck. I want to acknowledge that we're aware.

Let's talk about this a little bit. Why do you say that?

My mind is already hopping for it. There are many other statements related to this, but let's hit with this one, which is the minimum wagers might have to be working multiple jobs to be able to make ends meet. I don't know if they necessarily have the mental space to be able to think, “What is it about working at this fast food place that fulfills me, whereas I just got to make rent?” Do you see where I'm going with this thought? I wish that was not the case. I wish where we could have a conversation and help them find aspects of their work that they would love. There's a thing to talk about creating living wages in this country and across the world.

I get that piece and by no means is what I'm about to say diminishing whatsoever the struggle that some people have. I don't want to diminish at all. Part of what we were talking about is my tendency when I was young was not to chase the money. I've done some work around that. My mom was very free with money. My dad was frugal. There are a lot of clashes. I was like, “Don't even worry about the money because it's going to create an argument.”

The more mature I became and one of the things that helped me a lot as an entrepreneur was I started exploring some of the beliefs I had about money. I do think that there are individuals for doing all sorts of jobs, whether they're compensated in the ways of our society that are highly compensated or not highly compensated who can be equally joyful, fulfilled, and happy. I don't think it has to do with the amount because I know plenty of people who have millions who have access to many privileges with the money that they earn who are miserable.

It’s not the money. I know people who don't have a lot of money in tangible form but are incredibly fulfilled, satisfied, joyful, and happy to live their lives. We come from countries where we see the range sometimes from one street to the next. I've never been to the Philippines, but I imagine. What do you what do you think about that?

I don't know if you know this. The Philippines was under Spanish rule for such a long time. We only gained our independence much later than a lot of other countries. We're still within our first 200 years of being independent. That shapes the way we run the country or the country is run. There are still definitely some colonial vestiges of that. When I think of what I am able to do in relation to that, I'll be honest, a lot of me felt a lot of guilt having started my business here because when I first moved here, I moved here to do my Master's degree. My family prioritizes education. They said, “Go now before you get married because once you get married, it’s going to be a lot harder.”

While I joke on them, I did a second Master's degree and got married. I did that. I moved here. That wasn't the East Coast. I went to Cornell and I moved out here to the Bay Area to start doing work. My plan was always to go back to the Philippines, but then I met my super wonderful husband and he said, “I want to stay here in the Bay Area.” He told me this early on when we first started dating. It was something I was very conscious of.

Since then, I have started a business. Whatever work I can, like our back office work, we do send it to the Philippines. I do try to create jobs there because I feel guilty that I didn't create all these jobs over there and that I created some of them here. When it comes to closing the gap in countries like the Philippines, I do think the concepts of small and medium businesses play a huge role. They can change generations in terms of what is possible there.

NQS | Outsider
Outsider: The concept of small and medium businesses plays a huge role. They can change generations in terms of what is possible.

First of all, I'm sure that many people are grateful not only because you've created the opportunities, but because of the person you are, the opportunities that you create, or the work that you allow people to step into would be fulfilling. Another piece that we can't take for granted is the culture of the organization or the culture of the leadership that you're going to be working with or the partnerships that you're establishing that say a lot about the experience of it. We can make a lot of money and be miserable. We can make a lot of money and work in an amazing culture with amazing people and be over the moon or vice versa.

They feel very seen and heard. With each of my people, whether they're here in the Philippines, we think the time to get to know them and say, “What are your personal aspirations? What are the things that bring you to life?” We have changed people's roles. They still feed the business needs but it's feeding their souls also, not just in a paycheck. That's what I want to make possible for companies over and over again.

Let me ask you this. When Barb and I chatted initially, it was a thought that came up. I don't know if I shared this with her, but what I get from what you're saying and what she explained to me is that you are looking to scale what you're doing, scale giving opportunities here, opportunities in the Philippines, and otherwise, working with more organizations. I've had the opposite intention. Maybe it is intentional now that I think about it more clearly, but I have not wanted to, and it doesn't sound weird to say, be the star of my show.

I have had some contracts and support people to take care of some of the things that require some expertise but the financial stuff, bookkeeping, CPA, and all that stuff. When I about entrepreneurship, I have no desire to think of hiring a staff, having more offices, or hiring other coaches or speakers. In fact, sometimes I even think, “Am I really a CEO? Is the CEO of one legit?” It's that a thing? What are your thoughts?

The path that you chose for yourself is the right path because I've had other people come to me and also ask me. They say, “I want to put up my own consulting business.” I asked them, “Do you want to build a business that is about scale and reach, or do you want to build something that is very focused on what you do exceptionally well as an individual expert and just sell them?”

“I don't believe anything here. Whatever you say is an expression of your individuality.”

That's a very different kind of motion and thinking. To answer your question of, “Can you be a CEO of one?” let's break this down a little bit here, which is what does a CEO do?

It depends. Managing all aspects of an organization, being the representative and the face of the organization out in the public, and ensuring the financial and fiscal decisions are made.

They set the strategy. They make critical decisions that will affect the future of the company. If there are investors, they're the ones liaising with them. If you think about your role, you are the CEO of one, are you not doing those things?

Most of them have no investors.

Not all companies have investors.

I'm doing all those things.

That answers your own question then.

If my brothers are reading this, Nenuca said yes.

I am validating her response.

It is something when I've talked to people who want to start their own businesses, I hear that conversation a lot. I've been very, I don't want to say intentional because it's not like we're saying earlier, these are doors and windows that are opening. If an opportunity came up and seemed curious enough for me to pursue doing something to scale it, I wouldn't say, “I'm not doing it.” It’s not intentional, but I've been following my energy. My energy has not pulled me in the direction that shows that working with and hiring more people etc., is in the cards or something that I'm wishing for.

Listen to that because it is serious. To build something like this takes a lot of energy. I'm not saying that it's more work necessary because you could be working a ton of hours, but it's a different type of work. You have to ask yourself, “Is this what will bring me to life?”

That's everything. That's if you choose to have plants or not. You and I both enjoy plants, but they do take something. They require some energy, creativity, and nurturing. It takes something. It's not for everybody to have them. Although I'm very fulfilled by the ones I've had. I've been working in a botanical garden here. What do you want to talk about? Is there something that you came on with that you thought, “This would be an interesting topic?” I'm curious about what you see.

I did have a question because I was thinking about an interaction that I had. I don't know if I'm going to be making life hard for us by asking this question out loud because then we will both have to answer it. Here's a little bit of a story. I was in a workshop. I was participating as I always loved to grow myself. The speaker had us do an exercise with pairs and then have a large readout.

I understand why he did this. He very purposely said, “First group, go.” He didn't tell the group what they were supposed to read out or how they were supposed to read it out. They started going and talking about whatever it was. At the end, he said, “I'm glad that you did that. You showed up as you were and said what you wanted to say. You didn't ask clarifying questions. You didn't ask for instructions. You didn't apologize. You just went for it.”

He was saying, “That's what I want everybody to do as leaders.” It got me thinking. I said, “To a certain extent, I believe in that self-confidence.” At the same time, it had me thinking that it's not everybody can go into any space and say, “I'm going to show up how I am and not have to think about who's in the room and understand the implicit rules of the game.” I said that they didn't even quite understand what I meant. Maybe I didn't explain myself very well. My point was that sometimes you have to know the rules of the game. Sometimes your survival depends on it to understand.

That had me thinking, which is, “When was the last time that you felt like an outsider?” I was thinking about your experience being the middle guy having moved again and again where you always come in as an outsider and then you have to find a way to understand the lay of the land and then start integrating yourself, but at the same time, there's this freshness that comes with being from the outside.

I'll connect this to another story. I had dinner with another client who would move jobs. She's now leading a different organization. She was saying, “I know I have a window of time until I stop seeing all these things that could be better about the organization and start seeing things the way everybody else sees them.” That's why this whole concept of being an outsider is both disadvantageous but also an advantage for us. The reason why I said, “This will get us in trouble,” I don't even know the answer for myself, but now I'm curious. When was the last time you felt like an outsider?

NQS | Outsider
Outsider: This whole concept of being an outsider is both a disadvantage and an advantage.

I'll say whatever the first thing that comes to my mind, and then we can unpack it or move in a different thing. I facilitate conversations, workshops, and that sort of thing regularly. As I've started my own journey, my own business, I've started to create my style. I don't think I would hope that anyone who interacts with me both personally and professionally would see there's a throughline and how I communicate, the closeness, and the informal get polished way, which I like to have conversations. It is very similar to what we're doing now.

I facilitated a workshop where there were a few moments where I realized that this organization has a specific style in which they express themselves. In my perception, as I was trying to engage in some playful ways with them, I didn't want to share this in any way that they're judging this, but it seemed much more conceptual, intellectual language, not very open and vulnerable.

Sometimes I don't like the word vulnerable for the connotation it has. I'm not asking people to cry about their grandmother. It was a virtual session. Sometimes, they can be, but I noticed the playfulness that I was hoping to infuse and the interactions were having took a lot more effort. It had me in my head a couple of times like, “Am I too playful for this group? It feels like I'm having to work a little bit more on this than I typically do.”

That was one time. There was a short period of time when I was like, “I'm here. This is how I do. We're going to make it work.” Some people warmed up to the idea and I think people were okay with it. I did feel sometime during those few moments in the session that I was like, “Maybe my style of play might be a little different thing, doesn't fit, premature, or something.” That was probably the outsider experience that I got.

I love your answer because I was not necessarily looking for one mega moment in your life like, “I just moved to this city and I felt this,” because it's true. You can't feel that in those many moments. As a consultant, it is important that you pick up what you're trying to read as many queues as possible to understand what are the rules of the game here so you can figure it out. I'm sure it felt longer than it probably did in reality. If I’m longer to you, then it wasn't the reality that you felt there was a little bit of mismatch because I'm sure you were able to read them because of the fact that you were singing, “Maybe I am being a little bit too playful.” It means you're paying attention to the views that they were putting out and then you start to adjust to that.

Some of it opens things up. I'll give this example. I love improvisation. I have taken some courses in improv and belong to an organization that uses applied improvisation techniques. That's been my jam. I’m playing a little bit with that. There's a moment like many and this workshop where there was most some silence. I asked a question or I asked some prompt was given and there were 5, 7, 9, or 11 seconds of silence, which, if online, looking at their screen to those who are having video on takes very long.

It feels like an eternity.

That happened a couple of times throughout this 90-minute session, but towards the end here, as I was warming up to the idea like, “I'm going to be Valerie anyways,” I stopped and said, “What's happening now that everyone seems quiet? What are you thinking? I would love to hear what's going on in your mind during the silence.” One person was like, “I've talked enough. I want to give other people a chance.” I'm like, “How many people think that?” A few people raise their hands.

“Who else?” There are other people who haven't raised their hands. “What else are you thinking?” Somebody was like, “I hope she doesn't call on me. I don't have anything to say.” I'm like, “How many people think like that?” A few people raise their hands. I can't remember what the other options were. It was that I think the moment where it became okay to be however everybody was and say the thing that people were thinking and feeling out loud created a level of psychological safety that perhaps led up to this session wasn't as evident.

That was like, “This was worth it.” That was the moment where I was like the outsider thing was like, “This is the space that I like to explore with people like what's happening now,” which is why shows like this work for me because I pay attention to how it's going and I'm like, “I've been talking a long time in four different topics and everything seems to have a lot in common. She has great energy. She smiled.” In my head, I'm multiprocessing all this stuff that we're doing. That's what makes this approach work. The outsider thing, although it does happen in moments for sure, I love that it doesn't take me out of the game.

One of the things that an outsider can do that benefits the group is to ask questions because when you're feeling like an outsider, you can have a couple of reactions. You can retreat or feel small because like, “I don't belong. I don't know what is happening now, so I'm going to either barrel through with what my plan was or try to shrink back and not do anything,” or you can be like, “I'm going to ask questions that I can understand what more is here.”

One of the things that an outsider can do that actually benefits the group is to ask questions.

I love the example that you use because had you been somebody who was not experienced, that silence could be nerve-wracking because of all the stories we can tell our heads like, “The participants are hating this. They think I’m crap or not good at my job,” then you're like, “I will adjust.” It takes somebody with confidence. That's what I mean by when you're an outsider, if you approach with curiosity and ask questions, people are more likely not willing to answer and they like talking about it.

It is surprisingly delightful because now that you know me talking about this experience probably came up with an example of your own. I'm curious for you. I'm going to add a little layer to this.

You are very chef and you're like, “What other ingredients can I add?”

As an improviser, you say, “Yes, and.” Think about when you have been an outsider. Talk about the emotions that you felt at that time.

Maybe there's one mega moment now that I'm thinking because you're asking about the emotions. It was probably the first time I started working in the US because I moved here as an adult. I already had an established career before I moved here. There’s something I think about moving here when you are older or changing locations for somebody who's moved around a lot. When you're older, sometimes it can be a little bit harder because you're more set in the ways that you were working.

When I first started working here, I remember I felt like an outsider. That's part of why I wanted to move back to the Philippines. I was like, “I don't think I understand the US work culture that much. I didn't understand a lot of the references my colleagues were making. I didn't understand their jokes, especially when they talked about football.” I have zero idea what terms they are saying, but everybody seems to get them. It happened and the team that I was on was the only person who was not from here.

I will never forget that experience because that made me realize that I didn't want other people to feel that way. Whenever they started a new job, I wanted them to be able to strive to be themselves. There is a bit of adaptation that needs to happen, but to a certain extent, you want this new organism coming from the outside to bring something. Back then, I felt a ton of shame. I felt like a failure. I felt lonely. Contrast that nowadays when I'm in other situations. I'll use my other examples of when I did feel like an outsider.

I serve on this commission for the city of Sunnyvale, which is where I live in the city here in Bay Area. I serve on the commission for human relations and equities. Our role is to advise the city council on issues as they pertain so we can create a thriving city. I know nothing about local government. I also didn't grow up here. There is so much I need to learn about how the city runs. I did a program for that. I remember sitting in our last commission meeting and I'm thinking about it because I have one from 7:00 to 10:00.

It is always good like the last time when there were many languages I was being used and I remember thinking, “These are all English words. Individually, I understand that. When put together, I do not understand the statement that they are making.” How they run their meetings is very intentional and they follow a specific structure. I get why. It is so that people can follow along because they can always understand, but it is a very specific way of running a public commission meeting versus how you and I might run a meeting in corporate.

I remember thinking, “I am not just thinking about the ideas I want to put it forward. I'm trying to understand what is allowed.” It's like you're doing multiprocessing, but instead of feeling threatened or afraid, I was more curious because one asked me to be on the council because I was chosen to be at the council because of the expertise that I was doing. I already knew that one way or another, I had some seat around the table. Now, I needed to figure out what was going to be on the table. That permission to be there then made me feel confident enough to say, “There are things here I don't know. I'm going to learn them while we're doing this.” That’s a very different kind of experience.

What it shows at least from me is self-awareness of being able to have language for what you saw was missing in the experiences. You also had some maturity between experiences. Therefore, some wisdom that was able to at least help you see that the self-awareness that you now had, you didn't have to react to it. Now, you could respond more mindfully, asking more questions, or being more intentional about how you observe and all those things. Welcome to aging. This is how it looks.

I will take it. Also, something that helped with that is I have other commission members. This is their first time serving in a commission. We're outsiders together. That also helps versus when you're the only outsider and nobody else can understand that experience versus this where you're like, “Let's see what we are doing. The city council or staff are going to guide us, but we will figure things out.” We're definitely feeling a little bit like aliens in the system.

I'll say one quick thing and I'd like to start thinking about how we end this conversation and continue it. I was invited to be a part of the board at my church. It's a very small church. This is a few years ago. I remember three years before that, I was invited. I was like, “I'm not interested in being on board. I'm doing so many other things.” Personally, being on the board, I haven't been drawn to that particular experience.

Whatever it was the second time around the year later, they asked again and I felt compelled because this is such a lovely community and people have been kind. I see where everything is moving. I thought, “Maybe there's something I could offer.” When I went to the first couple of meetings and we met once a month and everybody knew this was public, I was bored. You can already hear a theme. Boredom does not sit with me very well.

There was a structure and the way the meeting was run. There were minutes and Robert's Rules of Order. I was like, “Seriously? We're four people. Why are we doing all this?” After the first couple of meetings where I'd had that feeling, I approached the president of the board and told her. I said, “I'm not feeling it. I'm not sure maybe it's a good fit for me or not, but I don't know anybody in the group. For me, not having relatedness makes this a little more difficult.”

“Do you mind if we took some time during the meeting to build some relatedness and do some activities or something?” She's like, “I would love it. That's not my thing, but go for it.” For the next few meetings, at the top of the meeting, I got 10 or 15 minutes or something to do relatedness activity. This is during the pandemic. Everything was virtual. It made such a difference because now I like them. It has been two and a half years. We have to deal with some things that are challenging. I remember feeling empowered enough to, like what you're saying about this other experience with the council, ask for what I needed because now I was more conscious rather than checking out and writing it off made such a difference.

I love that you asked for what you wanted and needed and that also benefited everybody else in the group. They may not even know that they wanted it, but because somebody gave voice to it and said, “Let's make this happen,” everybody else got the benefit of that. I love that. I’m glad you're not bored now.

I’m not. I’m too stimulated. This has been cool. As we wrap up this conversation, we can absolutely continue to connect beyond this, but I like to shift to what was this experience like compared to what you came into thinking it was going to be to now. What comes up for you?

 I'll be honest, I came in with no expectations other than I was going to have an interesting conversation with an interesting person. I love meeting people without specific end games in mind because you never know what possibilities will show up. For me, that's when I think of networking. I try to think of it that way because networking, the traditional way kills my soul because it's the race for the business cards and it's not about getting to know people. This confirmed that approaching conversations and the possibility do it this way is the right way. I have learned so much about you. I am so intrigued. You can bet I'm going to keep googling you.

We should exchange emails and phone numbers. You did have a slight unfair advantage because you watch other episodes.

Was I not supposed to?

No, there's no rules. I do think that may have influenced also your unconscious expectation that this would be an interesting conversation versus having somebody say, “You should meet at Starbucks,” and you have no clue who that person is.

I would be like that person if that person was telling me, “Go meet the stranger.” “Here's my location in case you don't hear from me in an hour and a half.”

First of all, you are delightful. We do have many things in common. Barb was right on the money when she thought that would be a good connection for us to have. It's been a relief to have a conversation when I didn't have to pull the conversation forward. Clearly, this is my show. I'm hosting it. I probably have inserted more and guided more if you're talking percentage-wise of the time, but I do feel comfortable that I could not talk and you would say something that would be as compelling for us to discuss where there are times when I'm very mindful of that airtime in this instance because it's a show. It might be a little different than I would if I were in a workshop. I feel compelled to keep the conversation moving forward, but you've made that easy.

I love that that gives you a little bit of lift because then you're not always thinking, “What's next for this conversation?” You can be present. You deserve that too.

I don't even take notes, which I like to take notes so I can follow up on the thing. I'm like, “I don't know.” I think I started a couple of words like Arroz a la Cubana, Better Organization by Design, changes how you think as a leader, and chasing experiences. That's it, no contacts, nothing else, so you see a piece of my mind.

That's almost like a list when you wake up and when you're sleeping, “I want to remember my dream,” and you write it down real fast. It's almost like that if you look and say, “What was my dream?”

This has been such a pleasure and we absolutely will exchange information. One of the things I hadn't told you is I am also looking at wrapping up this experience for the show. It's been a few years and it's been a lovely journey. I also feel called to do something else in a different way and form. I'm not even sure yet what that's going to be, but this has already been painted for me that this is a door that's already starting to close.

It felt right to have a one-on-one conversation to prove that it is quite easy to have a meaningful conversation with someone whom we've never met. This was an opportunity to confirm and reaffirm that not only for those who are reading but also for myself. That's the experiment that you've been secretly participating in. It’s the big reveal. We'll see what happens afterward. I don't even know exactly what the next move is, but this I thought would be a meaningful way to start bringing some honorable closure to the experience. Thank you so much for playing along. This is awesome.

You are welcome. I realized the symbolism here bringing back to the beginning where we walk through that door together. I didn't realize walking through a door with you in this part of your show. Here we are. I'm glad to have been the person that walked through it with you.

I am too. I couldn't have chosen a better person. I didn't choose. I just said yes. Thank you so much. We will be in touch. For the rest of you who've been reading this episode, thank you so much. I hope that nothing else gave you a sense of fun, some ideas, some challenging beliefs, perhaps challenging your beliefs and shifting the perspectives as we mentioned. Please do not forget to subscribe, like, favorite us, bookmark, or whatever it is that it takes so that you don't miss any other episodes. You never know how many there will be after this. This might be one of the final ones. Stay tuned and have a wonderful rest of the day. Thank you.

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