EP 40: Leading Authentically After Hard Falls with Dr. Ref Rodriguez

What drives you can make you or break you.

We often look to our values, commitments, and operations as a map to how we do life and work.

But there are things that get in the way of honoring our commitments to ourselves and those we serve - no matter what we have professed as our values and mission.

The messages that tell us we are not enough. We have to do more or get more. We have to over-deliver and never disappoint.

These shame-based messages get in the way of our ability to make our aspired values consistently lived in action.

Shame is insidious, sneaky and can become a powerful driving force in our lives if we do not get clear on what is driving us and why we are making the choices we do day in and day out.

Until you look at your own unique experience of shame and what drives it, shame will continue to chip away at your capacity for courage and convince you to compromise your integrity.

Getting granular about what drives you - and why - can reveal some hard truths and important data that can help you lead yourself and others without dodging the messages of shame.

And that is exactly what my guest today chose to do. After a very public fall - he was forced to look at how he ended up where he did and what needed tending.

Ref Rodriguez is a social entrepreneur who has spent his career starting organizations and programs whose mission is to change the life trajectories of those most affected by educational, economic, and social injustice.

He has served as a classroom teacher, school principal, administrator, university professor, and elected school board member. At 27 he founded a charter middle school in his home community of northeast Los Angeles. He went on to co-found a network of high-performing charter schools serving low-income first-generation college-going students in Los Angeles. He is currently working on a program to significantly improve the educational and life outcomes of Black and Latino males attending California’s community colleges.

 

 

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • How running for office brought up Ref’s long-held feelings of loneliness, shame, and of not being enough
  • How self-doubt and shame led Ref back to old patterns of guarding his authentic self and the impacts that had on his physical and mental health
  • Why a major victory created conflicting feelings of joy and self-doubt
  • How a mistake influenced by feelings of not being enough turned into a very public and agonizing fall, and the healing that has come after it

Learn more about Rebecca:

Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcription:

Refugio Rodriguez: There is that deep connection between how I saw myself and the shame growing up and all of those really, really dark feelings as well as the messages that were coming at me in real time that were validating some of those messages I already had in my head.

Rebecca Ching: What drives you can make you or break you. So it is so important to get clear on what beliefs and concerns inform your drive and motivation. Now, we often look to our values and commitments and operations as a map to how we do life and work, and those are great. In fact, they're essential, but there are things that get in the way of honoring those commitments to ourselves and those we serve no matter what we professed as our values and mission. The messages that tell us we're not enough, we have to do more or get more, or we have to overdeliver and never disappoint. These shame-based messages are played inside our hearts and minds so regularly we do not even recognize them as they, in fact, are meaningful work. They get in the way of our ability to make our aspired values consistently lived in action, and they manipulate genuine generosity and feel connecting our worth to external opinions and accolades, whispering on repeat destructive lies about our worth and value.

I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with leaders whose burdens have inspired their life's work. Our goal is to learn how they've addressed these burdens, how they rise from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.

I suspect we all carry some aspect of the burden of shame. Shoot, billions of dollars are spent speaking to our pain and feelings of "not enough," so we buy a product or service.

00:02:00

Combined with how shame shows up in families, culture, and business, it is fair to say we all carry some shame. Now, the tricky part is knowing the extent we protect from being overwhelmed by these burdens of shame on a daily basis. I say this because shame is insidious, sneaky, and can become a powerful driving force in our lives if we don’t get clear on what is driving us and why we're making the choices we do day in and day out. I think this is especially hard because you have an intellectual understanding of shame. Now, Brené Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or fear of not being worthy of love and belonging. This intellectual understanding of shame can fool you into thinking you have the awareness and tools to actually navigate it, but until you really look at your own unique experience of shame and what drives it, shame will continue to chip away at your capacity for courage and convince you to compromise your integrity. We could also end up defaulting into one of shame's favorite place to hang: grind culture.

We live in a culture that celebrates working more and doing more, and grind culture is the perfect camouflage for the driver of shame, but there is a dark underbelly to this grind. Instead of facing the parts of our story we fear shedding light on, we default to the grind of doing more, being more, having more as a means to hide the parts of ourselves shame has said we need to keep from the world. Let's face it, we're exhausted so doing more does not feel sustainable. Once the numbing grind of hustling can't be kept up, we look for other ways to manage the messages of shame. 

00:03:59

Our worth and meaning then become conflated with ratings and reviews or the approval of others. Now, some of you may puff up and say you don’t care about these things, but I suspect in those quiet places they make everyone feel quite desperate. Getting granular about what drives you and why, can reveal some hard truths and important data that can help you lead yourself and others without dodging the messages of shame. That is exactly what my guest today chose to do after a very public fall. He was forced to look at how he ended up where we did and what needed tending. 

Ref Rodriguez is a social entrepreneur who has spent his career starting organizations and programs whose mission is to change the life trajectories of those most affected by educational, economic, and social injustice. He has served as a classroom teacher, school principal, administrator, university professor, and elected school board member. At the age of 27, he founded a charter middle school in his home community of Northeast LA, and he went on to cofound a network of high-performing charter schools serving low income, first generation college-going students in Los Angeles. Now, he's currently working on a program to significantly improve the educational and life outcomes of Black and Latino males attending California's community colleges.

Listen for how Ref identified the messages he was hearing from others and how they confirmed the "not enough" beliefs he was holding. Notice the impact on Ref when he chose to be who he thought others wanted him to be instead of being authentic, and pay attention to the polarizing emotions Ref felt after an incredible victory. I suspect many of you may relate to this. 

00:06:01

Now, please welcome Dr. Ref Rodriguez to The Unburdened Leader podcast. Ref, I am so glad you're here with me today.

Refugio Rodriguez: Oh, thanks so much, Rebecca. Thanks for inviting me. I always get so much from our conversations, so I hope that in this process, not only will I get something, but your listeners will also get something as well.

Rebecca Ching: I have no doubt that is going to happen. I want to kick off just talking about your background. You have a background in social entrepreneurship with a special focus on supporting Black and Brown leaders in the education space which, as you know, is dear to me because I'm married to a veteran high school teacher. I'm curious, what experiences from your childhood growing up in LA inspired your vision and then eventual decision to cofound the charter school PUC which is called Partnerships to Uplift Communities?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, you know, it's about the story, right? It's about where we come from that leads up to the places where we end up. My parents are immigrants from Mexico, and so they settled in Los Angeles and brought three kids with them. I was the first one born in LA. So LA is the place where my family found opportunity.

Growing up, typical Latinos didn’t have trust of the public school system, not because they thought that it wasn’t good. It was they didn’t know it. They, themselves, were not educated. My parents have a sixth, seventh, and eighth grade education, so they went to where they knew the community and the fellowship which was to the Catholic schools and the Catholic church. 

At any rate, because they had to pay tuition to send us there, I always say that I lost my parents growing up so that we could get a good education. They just worked. My mom was with us at home during the day, but we were at school, then in the evening they would both get up around five o'clock and go to the high rises in the city of Glendale and clean those offices for other people. It was all to get us ahead.

At any rate, that left a big impression on me. This idea that to get an education, to get an opportunity, to feel comfortable and confident in a community you'd have to work two jobs and, in some ways, lose that relationship with your parents. That made a big impact on me, and I just really felt, at the end of the day, kids and parents shouldn’t have to make that choice. Our public schools should be great places where people feel in a community, where students have joyful learning experiences on and on. Well, in LA at the time that I was growing up, we were on year-round. The kids were getting bussed out, kindergarteners were getting bussed out from South Los Angeles to The Valley. They were getting onto busses at 5:30 in the morning to be able to have a seat at a school. And so, we started (and I cofounded) a charter school that eventually grew into what you'd mentioned, partnerships with communities. At the end of the day, it was about serving the community that I lived in, that I grew up in, that I loved so dearly, giving opportunities to families and young people, but it's really important that I think what set us apart was our strong belief that this was not about replacing the public school system, that it wasn’t about competing with the public school system. It was about collaborating. It was about making the entirety of the schools in the community better, and what I also believed (which is very, very controversial in the charter school movement) is I believed that those schools, once they do that, should go away, right? Because there are anchor schools in the community.

Rebecca Ching: Unpack that a little bit more. Say that again. Say that again, because I think that's very fascinating.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, so the charter schools really started to be labs of innovation to help the larger system get better. And so, I firmly believe that that's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to show that it can be done, and then collaborate with the system to be able to do that, and then once the system gets better (the schools in the community) the charter schools should go away. That they're no longer needed. The reason why they were set to be was to innovate, incubate, and spread the ideas. You know, what we did at PUC and what continues to be done there is that there are relationships -- teachers to teachers, principals to principals in those communities to make sure that that's happening, and I will also share with you that in Northeast LA where I started that first school and where I grew up and lived, we eventually started seven schools and two of those seven have now closed because they're no longer needed, because there are spaces in the community where young people can go and have choices that are traditional public schools.

Rebecca Ching: If I'm hearing you correctly, this mindset of the charter schools is to call up and call in the existing school system, to say, "Hey, here's a model." I actually remember a conversation you and I had, maybe seven or eight years ago, when you brought me in to work with your leaders at your schools, and one of the schools was shared with another public high school so you were within that. That's where we held a lot of our meetings, and you were reflecting on how your colleagues in the public school system are like, "How are you getting this done so quickly? How are you able to allocate this?" You were telling them, "Hey, I don’t have to deal with A, B, or C. We can streamline this. There was less of a bureaucracy," and they were taking that and going okay, here's a tangible vision, tangible plan. It's still a behemoth, I mean, LA's the second largest school district in the country, right? But that stuck out in my head. I'm connecting the dots with your vision here of calling up and calling in and saying, "Here's how we can do it," versus, "This is how it's always been done." 

Refugio Rodriguez: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: I get really punchy and stabby when I hear that. So thank you, thank you for sharing that. I can see how that's controversial. How did people respond when you would share your vision? I know there's such -- I mean, again, my husband works in the public school system, and so I've been privy at having worked with your organization and other leaders in all different -- whether it's private school, public, charter, all of the different innovations. It's almost like -- it feels almost like our political party system is --

Refugio Rodriguez: [Laughs] Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: -- very, very entrenched. So I guess you're coming in saying, "We're here to help call up our city as a whole, and we don’t have to be here forever." How did people respond?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, so first of all, folks didn’t believe it. Folks thought, "He's got an ulterior motive," right? That this is about getting in and trenched and then doing away with the system, right?

Rebecca Ching: Oh. Sure.

Refugio Rodriguez: So that's one reaction from folks, because, in all sincerity, to say that is, you know, to say, "Look, there's an expiration date to my work, and if we do this well, that's what we should all be headed towards, right? The expiration date of my work." But then there were folks who really got it, who thought about it and, very much like you just did, connected the dots and said, "You know, we could learn." 

I love the -- quote, and I'm gonna mess it up, here, but a friend of mine, Angela, would always say to me -- she'd say, "You know, Harriet Tubman would say that she could free more slaves if only they knew they were slaves," right? So this idea that people are so entrenched in the system, they don’t even know that there is possibility until they see it in front of them. Yes, let's streamline this. Let's do it. What's best for kids? Because, well, it's always been done this way, and still people get in this cycle of it's either learned helplessness or regrettable frustration.

Rebecca Ching: Oppression. It's oppression. 

Refugio Rodriguez: Oppression, yes, absolutely, and I know we've shared some of the frustrations that Gavin and his colleagues have had in trying to do some things and just trying to -- you know, the great thing about it is that there are people like Gavin in our systems who no matter how frustrated and oppressed they feel will still continue --

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

Refugio Rodriguez: -- to try to do and change things, because it's important.

Rebecca Ching: It comes at a cost, though. It comes at a cost, and that's part of how you and I met, because you wanted to support your principals and your teachers. I appreciate you sharing that background, and I want to fast-forward a little bit and take us back to the moment.

You started this charter school system, and now, you decided to run for office to serve on the Los Angeles Unified School Board. I'm curious, what was the tipping point that led you to this decision, and what did you think that you could bring to the school board that was already not happening?

Refugio Rodriguez: Wow, so I'll tell you my predecessor, the person sitting in the incumbent on the board was completely anti-charter. It was always "no" to any renewals, "no" to any new schools, and, you know, to have someone on the board that was so opposed to it and so on one side of the issue, when they represent different constituencies, different beliefs and choices, all of those things, I just felt like the person wasn't doing the right job, wasn’t doing the job in a way that really was moving us forward, that, in fact, would set us back more than moving us forward.

Rebecca Ching: Mm.

Refugio Rodriguez: I remember talking to colleagues and saying, "We've got to find somebody to run." The truth of the matter is running an election and, for whatever reason, a school board election, in Los Angeles is a very, very difficult thing. I was naïve. I didn’t know. I'm not a politician. My interest was if I get in for a term, let's see what we can do in a term, and that's it. I wasn’t gonna run again nor was I gonna seek higher office. It was mostly about well, we've got to show a different side to this conversation. I didn’t think I was gonna get elected because you don’t usually beat an incumbent, and especially not in the board seat that I represented which was a Gerrymandered seat, it was the Northeast part of Los Angeles connected by a sliver of a community in East Los Angeles to South LA. And so, in Northeast you've got educated, you’ve got more diversity, you’ve got more wealth. In the Southeast, predominantly Latino, very poor, very impacted communities. And so, in fact, that board seat has always been represented by someone who lives in the Northeast. They’ve got more political clout up there. There are more people who vote up there.

So, again, I thought if all I'm gonna do is spend this time campaigning to change the conversation, that's gonna be enough. Then, we had a strategy. We wanted to bring out the Latino vote, and so I spent a lot of time in the Southeast saying, "Don’t let the Northeast choose who represents you. Make sure that you have your voice and power." Low and behold, I got elected which was -- you know, it's sort of what is it, The Candidate, right? You sort of wake up at the end of the movie and it's real. You're like ooh, what do I do now? I just got elected.

So, unfortunately, I wish I could say that I did it because I had a strategy, because I had a vision of what could happen. It really was to change the conversation, and honestly, I think over the time that I was on that board, we did. We were able to start a different conversation and really help people understand and see a bigger picture of what is possible.

Rebecca Ching: Let me ask a clarifying question. You know I've worked in politics, I've worked on campaigns, and so, you said you got into this, you didn’t really think you could win, but you wanted to at least change the conversation, but I'm wondering at what point in that campaign were you like, "Oh, crap. I think we could do this," and when did it start to change for you? From what I know of you, you don’t wing things. You have end game, you know, and your purpose. 

Refugio Rodriguez: That's right. Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: But I also see, too, this was a longshot. I get that you were being realistic with yourself, but at what point were you like I want this? Not I want this, but we can do this?

Refugio Rodriguez: We can do this. Yeah, and if anybody gets it, it's you because you have been in this world -- in both of our worlds in terms of education with your husband and then, of course, in politics and I'll also say in the space of human development. So, you’ve got a tremendous way of seeing things that I certainly connect with.

I'll tell you, so there was a primary and then, of course, there was the general election. In the primary, there were three of us that were vying for the seat -- the incumbent, and then myself, and another gentleman who also lived in the Northeast part of LA, and I came in first in that primary. So we thought, okay, well if at least I come in second -- because we think the incumbent will come in first. He's got the support of the teacher's union, and he's been in the seat, then we've got a shot to really figure things out. It was around that time where we started to see that things were shifting a little bit, that yeah, you know, I think I might actually get in second here, and if we do, then let's give it a real gung-ho at the general. Then, I came in first, and so then it was okay, I see that there is light here and I see that I've got to be very serious about what it is that we're going to start to think about doing, because if we get that seat then we have an opportunity to really do something.

Rebecca Ching: This is probably a little nerdy, but a part of me wants to know if you recall the percentage of people who voted in that district for that primary, and how did that compare to past primaries? Do you have any of that data? I know I didn’t prep you on that, but I'm just geeking out a little bit. 

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, I don’t know the exact numbers, but it's a very low turnout election, that's for sure. I'm saying if it was eight percent of the registered voters, that might be a lot. What did change dramatically is the composition of that eight percent. There were so many more Latinos who voted in Southeast LA than ever before, and so that's really what shifted.

Rebecca Ching: Was it maybe the first election they voted in for some of these folks?

Refugio Rodriguez: For some of them, yeah. One of the things that was really a beautiful thing for me was my mom had just become a citizen, and so for the first time in her life she voted in a US election, and she got to vote for her son. Well, I assume she voted for her son. I don’t know that to be totally true. [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] I think that's a fair assumption there. That's tender. That must have been a proud mom moment. Having worked on campaigns, I know how brutal they can be. They ask so much of the candidate and their loved ones, especially in today's hyper-connected 24-hour news cycle. What impacted campaigning in LA, particularly? I think in this big city where there's just a lot of politics, the stakes are high, what impact did that have on you and your community?

Refugio Rodriguez: So the other thing that is a point here as well, on top of what you just said (that they're just brutal, that there's a lot at stake), is that I was a charter proponent, that I came from the charter movement and I was facing up against someone who always voted "no" on charters. Immediately, the story became the charters versus traditional public schools.

Rebecca Ching: That was such a narrow aspect of what you wanted to bring to the table. Okay.

Refugio Rodriguez: Absolutely, and it was completely -- it actually served as a proxy for what was going down in real life. The school district and some of its leadership felt the more charters that come along, the less resources for their traditional public schools, etcetera, etcetera. So even during debates and other conversations I would have with the news and media, they didn’t care about my conversation around collaboration, coming together, they wanted to feed and fuel the fire on the polarization. 

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

Refugio Rodriguez: They were asking me very targeted questions about my opponent and his stance on not approving any charters, etcetera. And so, it really became a, like I said, a proxy war, and what's so sad about that is that it was all about resources and about the scarcity of resources and fighting for those crumbs rather than really talking about the education of young people, the joyful learning, the support of our teachers, the leadership pipeline. That wasn’t sexy. What was sexy was this combative situation. Also, there was millions of dollars put into that election. The citizens united in all of that -- is it the citizens united? Yes, right? There was outside spending both against me and for me. At that point, it was the most money that had ever come into a school board election in the nation. Eventually, the stakes have gotten even higher and others on that board have actually spent millions more than what they did to me.

Rebecca Ching: Wow, and this is for school board. I mean, it's LA, but I think it's worth noting that (total side bar) there's such an interest in education and the stakes in education -- you're like let's talk about our kids, let's talk about our teachers, let's talk about our communities, but there's such an agenda around education. We see the fruits of that in our culture today by attacking education and trying to -- you know, that's a whole other conversation for sure. But for you, you get these pointed questions, talking about the narrow issue, feeding the polarities which, you know, that's ratings, that sells papers, and you were getting defined. You were getting narrowed down into that.

Bringing it back, what impact did that have on you and those around you?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, so I'll tell you, you know, as a first-time candidate, people prepare for this and there are organizations who prepare candidates, right? In fact, you go, and you usually become a staffer at another elective, and you kind of learn the world. I knew none of that. Then, I had no support. We had no real money so we couldn’t hire a legal team. The people that I had grown up with in the charter movement, I would maybe ask for advice. My colleagues couldn’t talk to me because they were part of a 501(c)(4). So there was sort of a wall, and it was a very lonely experience for being a one-time candidate, first-time candidate. My family and the community rallied for me. Part of the reason why we did win is we had people on the ground, my work and reputation for all of those years, people went out and knocked on doors, God bless them, and so forth.

But I'll tell you, first of all, what you know about me and what the listeners should know is that because of growing up with shame around my being gay and coming to terms with all of that and growing up in a Catholic household as well as Catholic schools -- I went to Catholic schools elementary, middle, high, and college. That repressive approach that I have this sense of shame, I have this sense of not feeling worthy. I have a sense of sometimes being harder on myself than I should which also means I'm a very closed person. I'm a gregarious person by nature. I love being around people, but I'm a guarded person. People say things to me sometimes that really cut deep, which means that I need to feel and do something to overcome what that message sent to me was.

What I want to kind of start going down towards is a little bit about what happened because it ties into being that first candidate and being alone and feeling lonely. Folks told me early on, "Look, you are not going to be considered serious unless you have X number of dollars, unless people really donate to you." I would make the calls, and people that I knew and have known for 10, 20 years will be like, "Well, I'm not sure that I can donate because I'm not really convinced about your candidacy." I'm like, first of all, no one is stepping up to do this. Secondly, you’ve known me or 20 years. You know what I can do, and now I still have to prove myself to you again?

Rebecca Ching: Wow.

Refugio Rodriguez: As I mentioned to you before, hearing those messages was like wow, I thought we had a professional and collegial friendship, and now you're telling me I need to prove myself again? Some of it was race. Some of it was this Latino kid should not -- I wasn’t a kid, but I maybe should not have the seat. He has no experience. Some of it was -- I don’t know, but it cut deep for me, and it led me to make some decisions because I had no one to talk to about these decisions. I had no legal help and support. I couldn’t talk to some of my colleagues because of the firewall that was set up, and that led me down a road that eventually imploded for me. 

But there is that deep connection between how I saw myself from the shame growing up and all of those really, really dark feelings as well as the messages that were coming at me in real time that were validating some of those messages I already had in my head.

Rebecca Ching: I want to hang out here for a moment, because I'm picturing this, and I've seen this with other candidates before, and I've been a part of fundraising and stuff, but I'm thinking you're in this community that you grew up in. You have a large network. There are folks that you knew and had relationships with, partnered with, collaborated with, were supported by, all of that. When it came time for you to say, "Hey, I'm here, and now I'm inviting you to join me on this." That sentence that you said of I still need to prove myself to you. All of a sudden you said this shame that you were holding all came to the surface when folks were like, "I'm not sure about your candidacy. It's not personal, you're great," I suspect they probably said, right? 

Refugio Rodriguez: Yes, absolutely.

Rebecca Ching: "You're amazing. This is just politics. This is just business." But from what I know of you, this is your heart. 

Refugio Rodriguez: Yes.

Rebecca Ching: You put it into it. Then, people say, "Oh, you can't take it personally," which I call BS to. When you care about something, you're all in.

Were there any particular stories from your childhood as you were hearing this again from people, I'm assuming, in positions of power. Money and power go hand in hand.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yes.

Rebecca Ching: As they were saying, "I'm not sure about you," what message, what belief got really loud that maybe you had kept at bay for a while? What came to the surface?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, you're the person I wanted to sit and talk with about this. It is an important thing to put out into the world. I think there are lessons here that should be learned and, certainly, for me to talk about it is an important part of my healing process, but I've never talked about this publicly before. This is the first time, and it's now been four years, three years, four years actually since things got really chaotic in my life. 

To answer your question, growing up knowing there was something different about me that I could not share in my world and repressing that, what I did growing up is rather than being my authentic self, I became someone else. I became the best student. I became the most-liked friend. I became the most helpful person. I worked since I was 14 so that my parents wouldn’t have to pay my high school tuition, so I didn’t ask my parents for money. That's not untypical of working-class Latinos. I became something I wasn’t so that I could get the love from the outside world, because I felt for so long that they wouldn’t love me if they knew this deep secret.

And so, when someone was saying to me, "We need you to prove yourself," again, it went right back to that here I am, showing up authentically to this process, to this point of this campaign. What you want me to do is be someone else. Exactly the same message again.

Rebecca Ching: No, I just wanted to clarify, too. Tell me if I'm connecting these dots correctly to those times where you hadn’t come out that you were gay, you were going to Catholic schools, you were in a family that there were a lot of rules, a lot of shoulds. And so, I'm sensing that the island of Ref and Ref alone started early, and you got off that island, it sounds like, for a while as you came out, came into your own -- really just leaning into all of you. Then, when you show up as all of you and asked for support it was like all of that just came back up. I'm feeling that even in my own heart right now. I suspect a lot of people listening are gonna resonate with that.

With that said then, what did the campaign trail teach you about yourself?

Refugio Rodriguez: One, it immediately taught me that I could go back very quickly into that guarded island, right, which I've fought so much to get away from. I learned over time that I was -- I had wonderful coming out stories. Everybody was just amazing -- my parents, everybody. You know, so I was, yes, leaning into my own, and having success, and being who I am. So one, I learned how quickly I could go back into that island.

If you see photos of me from that campaign, I must have lost in -- 'cause the campaign really started in December and it ended in May, the two elections -- I must have lost, like, 30 pounds in those few months just from going really hard on the campaign, but also not taking care of myself because of that same island. I was really punishing myself in some ways, right? That's the other piece I think I learned is that we can go back, not even playing the tape recorder and the messages, but in the self-harm that we can inflict on ourselves and in that space of pain, feel comfortable. I know this place. I've been here before. 

Rebecca Ching: Yes.

Refugio Rodriguez: It's a lot easier being here than showing up in my true self.

Rebecca Ching: Wow. Yes! That "known," right? The "known" is comfortable. I'm doing air quotes. Even though it's miserable, it's known.

So it brought you back. Your homeostasis, the echoes of those burdens in your storage just whiplashed you back, and so that came to the surface too. Again, we live in a culture (let's just be clear) that celebrates sacrificing yourself for the greater good.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: That is idolized. Like, you just took it for the team, and, I mean, it is sick and insidious. 

I want to take a moment to celebrate election night for you, because you won. I want you to take us back to election night and share with us some memories that stand out to you today. Just that moment where the results came in, you look on the screen, Ref's declared the winner. Take us back to that night.

Refugio Rodriguez: Absolutely. Yeah, it was amazing. It was a Tuesday night, of course. That's when our elections are, and we had the second floor of an older building in Highland Park. It was actually a ballroom, really. It was probably used as a dance ballroom in the '30s and '40s, and I walk into this celebration, and at that point, we had not been declared the winner because we really wouldn’t know of that until the next day, but all of the mail-in ballots had been counted and were put out into the world, and I was so far ahead, that there was no way that I was gonna lose. And so, I walk into the space and everybody's cheering and clapping, and I could see my family, the families I worked with for decades, the community was all there. I started to cry. It was an interesting moment because part of me was in the celebration with all of these people. We had done something bigger than ourselves, and it was we. Then, the other part was a little bit shocking to feel that kind of love when you're actually in a space of pain and thinking that you're unloved. All of a sudden you get into a room where you're just being showered with all of this positive and loving energy, and there is a big shock and a jolt that happens.

There is a photo that, I think, LA times ran as a front-page photo where I'm hugging my aunt. My mom was, actually, in Mexico at the time, so she wasn’t there in person, but she called me during that celebration. I'm hugging my aunt, and I'm fallen onto her, and I'm just sobbing. It was just such a contradictory moment of emotion. It was "we did it" and then it was also "do I deserve this?"

Rebecca Ching: Whoa.

Refugio Rodriguez: Very, very strange. Very strange.

Rebecca Ching: What are you noticing with you right now as you recall that memory and speak to that dichotomy?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, I can feel it. I feel goosebumps, actually, and I feel, again, that energy coming towards me, but then I also know what real pain I was in at that time as well.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

Refugio Rodriguez: And so, I am feeling a little bit of both of that now. Yeah, it's a bittersweet moment.

Rebecca Ching: For sure, and I think a lot of people can relate to (I know I can too) of the world sees one thing, and on the inside is a completely different thing. That almost, at least for me, I know has pushed me into even deeper loneliness and feeling more distance. Again, you're in this extreme angulation, celebration because, I mean, there was a very grassroots community effort that you organized, and people who care about you care about kids, so they were happy. This was a victory. It was not just a win, but it was a win for a community that has been so underrepresented. There were a lot of victories that night.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: I appreciate acknowledging those parts. We're holding that pain for you, and like, do you really know? I think it's amazing, too, that we can still get the thing that we want, and we get there, and there's still that shame lingering that says, "Do you deserve this? Who do you think you are? Are you good enough?" Until you go right to that shame, no matter what external accolades you get, shame hangs on. It's insidious. It's relentless. [Laughs]

Refugio Rodriguez: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: I do want to shift the conversation to more of a tender and very vulnerable and public face down moment. So you said, I think, it was a little over three years ago when it officially happened, that in the middle of serving your term on the LA School Board -- but also, two months into becoming president of the board, I just want to note that you resigned after pleading guilty to a felony count of conspiracy, right? This was, like I said, a very public face down. It's one thing to have it in our own lives, but you had reporters and your community circling around, and I'd love for you to take us back to that moment as you were navigating this very public reckoning.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, so also, to clarify, I want to make sure folks know -- because it ties back to a little bit about what I talked about before, feeling alone, having to prove myself, right, and hearing from folks, "You’ve got to have X number of dollars for people to really support you and take you seriously. I made a huge mistake in that I asked family members to give me contributions that I paid for. It was my money. So that is considered money laundering, and that is considered a conspiracy when you get people to do this. 

And so, the felony, funnily enough, is conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor, because to launder money into a campaign is a misdemeanor, but what became a felony was that I was being charged with that conspiracy. What also needs to be known is that the district attorney's office didn’t want to ask me to step down from the board, but they wanted me off the board, and the way to do that was to charge me with a felony. What was so confusing was that I went to a lawyer immediately after we kind of figured out this was wrong. It was a political lawyer, and the political lawyer said to me, "Go to the city ethics commission. Tell them what happened. Your career is over. You're not gonna get elected ever again, but you've gotten elected (well, this was even before I got elected) and you're doing well, and if you get elected, you'll have a term to do something good, but if you tell them everything, then they're gonna be more lenient on you. We do this stuff all the time. This happens all the time. It's unusual that it's a candidate putting in his own money. Mostly, it's big businesses or developers that are trying to get city council members elected, but you'll get a 50 percent reduction on the fine, and that'll be that." They did also say to me that they will refer to the DA's office, but if anything, it'll be a misdemeanor if they even decide to prosecute.

So we went and we gave the testimony. I gave the testimony, told the story, gave them all the backup information. They sat on it for a couple of years, actually. When I became board president is when they came after me. The DA came after me with the felony as well as other counts, 14 misdemeanor counts, something like that. But here's the thing, what the political lawyer couldn’t wrap his head around is why they were making such a big deal of it, why I was being so treated differently when the history of that ethics commission has never charged anybody 100 percent of the fines. They were gonna charge me 100 percent of the fines, which would have amounted to $300,000.

Rebecca Ching: Ooh.

Refugio Rodriguez: Then, secondly, that it actually went to the DA and the DA decided to endite me. So never in the history has that ever happened, and so they were very confused. Had he as a political lawyer thought that this was a bigger deal than it was, he would have told me to get a criminal lawyer as part of this team. 

Anyways, so that happened, and, again, I did something wrong and you pay for that. That was never an issue for me. It was always why am I being treated so differently? It ties back into the same thing we just talked about -- proving yourself, not feeling worthy, see, this wasn’t supposed to be, imposter syndrome, I'm getting punished, I deserve to be punished. Then, it was so public. Not only were the papers all over it, reporters were outside of my house -- my husband, you know, works in media, and a reporter even came to him at one point and said, "This is a bullshit accusation, isn’t it? This sounds really, really ridiculous that he's being charged for this." People couldn’t wrap their head around why this was being made such a big deal. The mistake that I made at the end of the day with handling all of this was that I was told, "Stay on the board while going through the legal process, because that way you can continue to do the good work that you're doing. You can build more credibility. At that point, if we ever go to trial, maybe people will see the dimension and depth of who you really are.

That was a year of sheer hell. Every Tuesday at the board meetings there would be the same four or five people, not members of my community, not people I represented. They were members of other constituencies that wanted me off the board, who'd call for my resignation, who would say really ugly things to me. The one thing that you should know about me during public comment is I was the only board member ever, of all seven of us, that would sit in a public comment and not get up and go to the bathroom, not read other materials, always look at the individuals that came. They took time out of their day, right?

Rebecca Ching: You humanized the people dehumanizing you.

Refugio Rodriguez: Absolutely.

Rebecca Ching: It sounds like it wasn’t just airing their grievances. They were on a mission, you know. Again, there's a lot of people carrying a lot of pain, and you became the bad.

I want to clarify something really quick, too. So there was the misdemeanor part that this initial attorney said, "Okay, listen. Here's what you need to do. Just go in, own it, and this is what's happened in the history of everyone who's been in this situation before, so here's what to expect, and the worst-case scenario was these things." They were still painful, but there wasn’t the felony piece that was brought in initially, and the felony piece is where everyone started kind of cocking their heads a little bit going, "What's going on here?" 

Refugio Rodriguez: Yes.

Rebecca Ching: It was the same data. There wasn’t anything new. It was the same data. Okay, gotcha.

Refugio Rodriguez: Absolutely. That's exactly right. It was a very confusing situation. I was a first-time candidate. This wasn’t me being malicious in terms of -- there wasn't even that much money at the end of the day, but what I was trying to show was that I had support so that other people could support me. It was this perverse thing going on in my head, right? So, again, I mean, there are rules, there are laws, and I don’t excuse myself from any of that. What was clear from the way that it was approached is that the intent was never looked at. What was the intent here?

And so, people made up the intent. There were public folks who were saying that it was because I wanted to get in to destroy the public-school system. People were making up that I wanted to get in so badly because I wanted to introduce corruption in the procurement process of LAUSD. Here's the thing that people don’t know about the school district, the board members don’t really have a whole lot of power. The thing is, you're only one vote of seven. Then, two, the people who have the power are the leaders in the district. There's where the real corruption happens, when you get ahead of procurement who's doing shady things.

Rebecca Ching: So people in the jobs that work for The Unified, yeah.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, the board members are not getting their friends on the payroll.

Rebecca Ching: You approve the money and you move the money around.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: So I would love for you to share what the new stories missed that you wish they reported?

Refugio Rodriguez: Let's also talk about how lonely, again, it was for me. I could not talk to anybody about this for fear that if we did go to trial people would get called, right? So I couldn't talk to friends. I couldn't talk to my spouse. I couldn’t talk to my family. In fact, my family had gone in front of a grand jury.

Rebecca Ching: Really?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, which I didn’t even know about. They didn’t tell me.

Rebecca Ching: Oh.

Refugio Rodriguez: They were protecting me. I didn’t find out until afterwards, and to this day, nobody has ever talked to me about what actually happened at the grand jury. My mom went to the grand jury. It was so, so lonely, and I couldn’t talk about it, and we didn’t put out any public statement about it, because here's the thing. It was pretty clear. I did something wrong. I admitted to it. I wasn’t gonna try to spin this for some reason. So we remained quiet. That's easy for me to do. I can compartmentalize like the best of them. I've known how to do that my entire life. I am a master at it. It also means that there are times where I feel very alone, and that there are times where I'm in deep pain that people are not aware of.

What I wish that people -- what the stories never talked about was the contributions that I did make as a board member, the fact that I was a very well-liked board member. I helped bring unity to that board during a very political and polarized time. They never talked about that. I was good at my job. I mean, I really was, and I loved being around the community and all the policies that we put on the board for votes came from the community. We didn’t have an agenda. We said we're gonna go and we're gonna listen. We're gonna bring it up from the grass roots, and we did. None of that ever got talked about.

The other piece that I think is you do so much for so many for so long, and you get no credit for it. You only get that negative story. You Google me right now, that's the first thing that pops up. By the way, I've never Googled myself. I've not read the stories or the comments -- my family members certainly were very, very upset about things being said -- and social media, etcetera, but yeah, my humanity was taken away during that process. I wasn’t seen as a human being. I was seen as corrupt. I mean, I didn’t do anything in office, right? A lot of the folks that get into trouble is because they're using their office to get some benefiting gain. This all happened before I got elected. Had the district attorney told me when I got elected, "Hey, we know this stuff. You already admitted to it. Don't take the seat." I would have been, "Yes, no problem." 

Rebecca Ching: Peace out.

Refugio Rodriguez: Peace out. I'm done. They didn’t. They didn’t. It wasn’t until I became board president that, "Oh, he's getting too big for his britches. We better bring him down," right? I think, at the end of the day, that part was missed, that I am a human being. I have a family that loves and cares for me deeply, but that gets hurt when their loved one is being attacked, that I am somebody's son, that I'm somebody's husband, somebody's brother. It's unfortunate. I'm a public figure so you wanted it and you put up with it, but the truth of the matter is nobody could have prepared me for this. I don’t have a thick skin either. I wish that I had. I'm a very sensitive individual. It just hurt really deeply.

You know, Rebecca, I mean, I lost everything because of this. I lost my reputation; my marriage was in shambles. We actually separated. We sold our home to pay for legal fees. I distanced myself from my family because I was so ashamed. You know, in therapy I learned that, basically, I was shedding. All the things that I was were just (you know, like an onion) kind of falling to the wayside. 

Rebecca Ching: The deconstruction process, though, can really be painful. It's a doozy. Oof. 

Refugio Rodriguez: Absolutely. Absolutely. I don’t wish it on anybody. No, not in this public way and in the way that you can't defend yourself.

Rebecca Ching: What did your days look like right after you left the board and the public eye?

Refugio Rodriguez: So I couldn’t work. Here's the other thing, you know, you have a felony on your record. No education organization wants you at this point, right? I couldn’t work. I did some volunteering. I helped in immigration organization with citizenship. I went back to school. I went to live with my parents which, actually -- because I was telling you that we sold our home and we separated, my husband and I -- that was actually the best thing, because in a way, I went back into that cocoon, into that safety net of my parents. I went back to that room that I grew up in, actually. It was good for me. I went to therapy, a lot of therapy which was also very good for me. I still am in therapy. I recommend it.

So two things, I think, again -- the contradictory of I felt free for the first time in my life, no expectations from anyone. I spent my entire professional career being expected of and putting myself in situations where people would expect things from me, so I felt free but then I also felt, again, sort of like so what now?  I'm 48 at this point so I'm not a spring chicken, you know. My reputation is gone. What now? A lot of soul searching. 

Rebecca Ching: You talked about the shame. Is there anything else you had to face in order to heal?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, well, I think, you know, I spent a lot of time asking myself why. Not why did it happen to me, but why did I lead myself to this?

Rebecca Ching: Huh.

Refugio Rodriguez: The self-sabotage, right?

Rebecca Ching: Can I just pause you right there? I love that, because there are the folks that say, "Why did this happen to me?" then, there's the folks that say, "Why did I make the choices, why did I do the things that got me here?" Those are the folks that really move to deeper healing. That's powerful. I think that's an important distinction versus why me that's hard to heal in that space, but okay, there's an ownership of okay, why did I do what I did? There's a compassion even in that question, a courageous, curiosity in that so I just wanted to acknowledge that.

Refugio Rodriguez: Oh, wow. I appreciate that. I never even thought about it in that way, but it really was in my thinking about it and my healing process, the truth of the matter is I wasn’t happy with myself. Even though I had accomplished so many things, I still wasn’t happy. It was because I went back into that imposter syndrome. I went back into that person that people wanted to see rather than actually who I am. I think that's what led me to be sort of like look, the universe is telling me you can't be this person for other people anymore. You need to go be yourself.

Rebecca Ching: It was unsustainable.

Refugio Rodriguez: Absolutely unsustainable. We're gonna knock you on your butt to make sure you know that you're on the wrong path.

Rebecca Ching: So as you were working through those questions of why did I do what I did that got me here, what came from that discovery and that curiosity?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, so, let's go back to that I still had a lot of unresolved feelings about who I am, about who I have to hide myself to be, about that shame, again, that we've been talking about, that I was still carrying a lot of that. I was still trying to be someone that people would like rather than someone -- and the funny thing is I'm a very likeable person, right? But I'd also felt like I better do these big things so that people will like me. So I was still carrying a lot of that.

I used to have a speech that I would give at graduations every so often, one in my repertoire, but it was always something to the effect of are you the person that would make your five-year-old self proud? People loved hearing it. I loved saying it. The truth of the matter was I wasn’t that person. I was just saying those words. My five-year-old self, of all that I had accomplished, of all the awards on walls, of all the acclimations, of all the people who were good to me and I was still not the person that would make my five-year-old self proud. There was still self-loathing. There was still hatred for myself.

Rebecca Ching: How are you feeling towards yourself today?

Refugio Rodriguez: Not only going through this, but also going through COVID and losing several family members --

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, you had a lot of loss.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, I just lost my college roommate over the weekend.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, I'm sorry, Ref.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, it's just been -- but those two things coming together have really made me understand what is really important. This is gonna sound really cliché, right? Family's important. Of course, family's important, but I'm important. I can't help and serve others if I am not healthy, if I am not good to myself, right? The other great thing is I don’t need things. I don’t need a fancy car, and I don’t need a big house, and I don’t need -- you realize that you don’t need all of these things and that there are -- you know, I don’t even need the titles. I was chasing titles for so long in my professional career. I don’t need that either. I will tell you, also, my world of friends has gotten very small.

Rebecca Ching: It's tightened up.

Refugio Rodriguez: Very tight. Very tight.

Rebecca Ching: I get that, I get that.

Refugio Rodriguez: There's only a few people that I trust that -- how do you say it? I don’t know if you say it or Brené says it, but who has the privilege? I only give the privilege of my time and my energy to certain people now.

Rebecca Ching: Who has earned the right to hear that story?

Refugio Rodriguez: Who's earned the right, that's exactly what it was.

Rebecca Ching: That's one of Brené's really important questions.

How has your definition of success changed after all you've been through both personally and professionally? I know you've touched on that a little bit. You were just touching on that, but I want to ask that more intentionally, particularly about success.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, so I always thought success was about accomplishments, right?

Rebecca Ching: Uh-huh. What else is it?

Refugio Rodriguez: How many letters after my name, how many zeros in my paycheck, right? What's so funny is that I've said this to leaders when I mentor them, when I pluck them and try to develop them as leaders, I always say to them, "The only thing that matters is the relationships that you have with the individuals that you serve." That's what success really is, and you know what's so sad about it is, I'd said it so often, but I wasn’t practicing it in terms of what I really believed. For me, it was the zeros in the paycheck, the titles after my name, the awards and the celebrations. Now, it all comes back down to what success really is. It's about these moments, you and I sharing this hour together in this conversation, that's success to me.

Rebecca Ching: With you, with you on this. So you mentioned five-year-old Ref, and I'm wondering if you could go back and talk to younger Ref, what would you want him to know?

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, so we both celebrated a milestone year this year, we're 50, right? 

Rebecca Ching: We are! 

Refugio Rodriguez: And looking fabulous! I had the best compliment the other day. Somebody carded me and she's like, "You are not this old!"

Rebecca Ching: Shut up! Nice!

Refugio Rodriguez: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: I know, Ilaugh when I get carded [Laughs]

Refugio Rodriguez: It made my day. I was like, "I know you're just saying that." She goes, "No, really!" You know, "Wow!" It was the best thing. 

Researchers say that our cells regenerate every seven to ten years, right? So I am a different person. I am not that person anymore, and here's the thing. What I would say to my five-year-old self is I am going to get up tomorrow and try to make you proud for all that you've given me. For the joy that he brought to others, I want to make him proud, and, you know what, five-year-old Ref? You don’t have baggage anymore. The bags are gone. It's a process. I'm not saying that everyday I'm perfect at it, but I am intentional about it, and I don’t feel the weight of the world on my shoulders anymore. I would tell that five-year-old little man, "Don't take on others' pain because in doing so you are losing yourself." 

Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh. Taking on other people's pain causes us to lose ourselves. Yeah, I'm just sitting with that deep truth there. Yeah, that's a powerful shift that you are enough. How does younger Ref feel about you today if you were to check in right now?

Refugio Rodriguez: Well, I'd hope he'd say that he is proud of me most days, that I am still a work in progress, you know?

Rebecca Ching: He's a wise one. [Laughs]

Refugio Rodriguez: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: You're a work in progress.

Refugio Rodriguez: I'm a work in progress. You know, my nieces said this to me, a couple of them, as I was going through some dark times years ago, and I would text one of them just to kind of check in, and they would always remind me that I've done so much for so many, now do something for myself.

Rebecca Ching: Are you getting push back on that, because everyone's used to Ref doing for everyone else. Then, you're like no. You're setting boundaries.

Refugio Rodriguez: Boundaries.

Rebecca Ching: I'm assuming that's the case, because if you're shifting that and you're setting boundaries, you're not hustling, you're not overly accessible. Yeah.

Refugio Rodriguez: Yeah, that's -- yes. I'm at a job. I won't tell you publicly what job I'm doing currently, but we can talk about that offline. I'm in a job where I'm good at what I'm doing, where people appreciate me, where they don’t know my background or reputation. They get the Ref who shows up. That expectation of the Ref who did all those things. That, to me, is so liberating and fun. I'm having fun.

Rebecca Ching: You're having fun, and you mentioned we're both -- our birthdays are days apart.

Refugio Rodriguez: That’s right. That's exactly right.

Rebecca Ching: So we're literally almost exactly the same age, but, you know, you're talking about some of this beautiful tenderness. Are there any other parts that still feel tender or hold fears about being loved and being enough?

Refugio Rodriguez: That's why five-year-old Ref says I'm a work in progress. I think this is the life lesson. It's sort of like pain, isolation, lack of self-worth, those are feelings and places that I know well and can get back to very quickly. And so, I need to (every day, that's the work in progress) to stay away from that.

Rebecca Ching: Got it. Keeping a short list of that homeostasis, that pull to go back to that. We live in a world that there's billions of dollars spent on those messages for us to believe we're not enough, so it's hard in Western culture too, and you're in LA. I appreciate you saying that.

What are you comfortable sharing about what you're working on today and what surprises you about this current path you're on?

Refugio Rodriguez: I will share that I am incubating a project that is focused on Black and Latino males in community college. Staying true to the work that I love and the people that I have served. Black and Latino males, through the works in higher education, they spend years in community college and do not get out with a certification or job prospects. So interrupting the school to prison pipeline is part of this work. I've been incubating it for the last year and a half. We're hoping to launch in the spring of 2022. I may do it with my current employer as a project within the work that I'm doing or I may decide (you know, the social entrepreneur in me, right?) to start a new organization that focuses its work here.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, you can't shake that, Ref. That's a part of your DNA.

Refugio Rodriguez: [Laughs] I know, it is in my DNA.

Rebecca Ching: Are there any surprises about this current path that you're on?

Refugio Rodriguez: You know, I thought for a while, especially immediately, that I wanted to get away from all of this, get away from education, get way from service. Put me in a for-profit organization so that I can be part of the grind, right? No. My heart and my leanings and inclinations are (girl scouts say it the best) leave it better than you found it. That's my charge in life. That's our charge in life.

Rebecca Ching: Saying all of that, is this how you thought your life would turn out?

Refugio Rodriguez: No, but the truth of the matter is it all happens for a reason, and I have enough distance from it now that I see that it was a very good thing. Yeah, because God knows where I would be if -- God knows if things had worked out differently and I was good at this job, somebody might say to me go run for state senator assembly, I 'd say okay, and then I'd be truly unhappy, truly, truly unhappy with the biggest smile and the biggest laugh, faking it every day. I'm glad I'm not there.

Rebecca Ching: You're not faking it every day anymore?

Refugio Rodriguez: No.

Rebecca Ching: How does that feel?

Refugio Rodriguez: New. [Laughs] It feels really new, different, uncomfortable at times. Not gonna say it's easy, but it's the right thing. It's the absolutely right thing to do.

Rebecca Ching: Ref, I hope that you come back when you can publicly share all the juicy good things that you're working on and tell us what you're learning not only about your meaningful work, but about yourself. This has been a joy and an honor. Thank you for taking the time to share your story publicly. I know there's a lot of trust there and a big risk, but I know that many people are gonna benefit from hearing from you and your journey and your learning, so thank you for being with us today.

Refugio Rodriguez: Thank you so much for having me, and there is absolutely no one else in the world that I would have wanted to do this with. I'm just so proud of you and what you're doing. Let's hope that this helps at least one person. 

Rebecca Ching: No doubt that it will.

Refugio Rodriguez: I'm sure it will. [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: No doubt that it will. Thank you, Ref. 

Refugio Rodriguez: Thank you, my friend. Take care of yourself.

Rebecca Ching: A meaningful life is one driven by impact, not accolades. Now, sure, acknowledgement and awards are fun and even honorable, but if we're driven by the shame and, therefore, external rewards, the impact we desire to make is shallow and often fleeting. It can be tricky, because we often conflate external rewards with impact, but sustained impact is not always Instagramable or fits into a catchy sound byte. Again, we're exhausted, so doing more does not feel sustainable. Our worth and meaning has become conflated with ratings and reviews and yes, winning. 

Ref shared with us how his striving to do more, be more, have more, prove more left him feeling exhausted, lost, and devastated after a hard and very public fall. He gave us such a beautiful window into the anatomy of how he realized the "not enough" messages of shame were driving him. Even as he was making a powerful impact, he could not sustain it because of the crushing shame he was holding. So I ask you, what drives you in your work in life? Like really, what drives you? What shows up when you have a setback or fall? What keeps you going when you experience a hard learning that takes you out? The more you avoid facing and talking about the messages of shame you hold, the more the lies will lead you. As Brené Brown has so expertly taught us, no one is immune to shame. An Unburdened Leader does the work to identify the burdens of shame we hold so we're clear in what drives us, and so we can live our values consistently, and so we're confident in the truth. Our worth never depreciates. 

Leading is hard. Leading is also often controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and action.

Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small. Now, leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights. It is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up. Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is actionable and aligned. When the stakes are high, and you don’t want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader coaching is for you and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than the status quo. 

To start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me, go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can't wait to hear from you!

Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, ways to sign up for the weekly Unburdened email, and other resources along with ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com.

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