EP 50: Embracing the Hot Mess: A Special Anniversary Episode with Alison Cook, PhD

Uncategorized Apr 08, 2022

You carry life's burdens with you every day. Some days, they might feel heavy enough to break you.

But they also have the power to inspire you.

Your burdens are those difficult life experiences you’ve had. Our past pains can be the source of many of our recurring struggles. And they can also motivate us to do good in the world.

Coming to terms with our burdens–how they inspire us and how they continue to cause us pain–is a key step for allowing ourselves to be known and loved as we are.

Without recognizing our burdens, we can’t make ourselves open to intimate connections. 

This is the work of a lifetime.

Self-discovery takes time, and it doesn’t necessarily get any easier with age. But one way we can enhance the process is to listen to others tell their stories and share their burdens. 

And that’s been the goal of this podcast from Day 1. Today, I’m proud to be sharing our 50th episode with you.

My guest, Alison Cook, is a longterm friend and colleague and she’s interviewing me about the origin story of this podcast along with connecting the dots of my story that informs my work today.

Alison Cook, PhD is a counselor, speaker, and the author of two books, including her new book, The Best of You (coming September 2022) and Boundaries for Your Soul. For 20 years, Alison has helped women, ministry leaders, couples, and families learn how to heal painful emotions, develop confidence from the inside out, forge healthy relationships, and fully live out their God-given potential.



Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • Why starting a podcast felt like breaking the rules personally and professionally
  • How The Unburdened Leader is informed by IFS principles as well as a lifelong interest in the influence of people’s pain in their life’s work
  • How ambition got tangled with power and a need for control while working on the Hill
  • Why parenting led to a process of self-healing and a shifting definition of success

Learn more about Alison Cook, PhD:

Learn more about Rebecca:



Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:

[Inspirational Intro Music]

Rebecca Ching: You carry life’s burdens with you everyday. They might feel heavy enough to break you, but they also have the power to inspire you. Your burdens are those difficult life experiences I know you've had because I’ve had them too, and our past pains motivate us to do good in the world, and they're also the source of many of our reoccurring struggles.

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.

We try to make sense of these experiences. We learn who they’ve made us and help us form a vision of who we want to become, and the more we learn to recognize these burdens, the more we’re able to use them, even heal them, rather than allowing our burdens to control us. Coming to terms with our burdens, how they inspire us, and how they continue to cause us pain is a key step for allowing ourselves to be known and loved as we are. Without recognizing our burdens, we can’t make ourselves open to intimate connections, and this is the work of a lifetime. Self-discovery takes time, and it doesn't necessarily get any easier with age, but one way we can enhance the process is to listen to others tell their stories and share their burdens, and that’s been the goal of this podcast from day one.

Today, I am proud to be sharing our 50th episode with you. For this episode, I handed over the host mic to my longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Alison Cook who’s also a former Unburdened Leader guest. Now, Alison and I met when we both worked on Capitol Hill. After leaving The Hill, both of us eventually ended up studying to be therapists, and we reunited at an Internal Family Systems conference where we were both speaking. 


Now, Alison is a counselor, speaker, and the co-author of Boundaries For Your Soul and her new book, The Best of You is coming out this fall. Now, Alison has known me for almost half my life which is just trippy to think about and even say out loud, and we thought she would be the perfect guest host to interview me about the origin story of this podcast along with connecting the dots of my story that informs my work today. 

So going back a few years when I saw Tara and Sean McMullin launch Yellowhouse Media, I knew I wanted to work with them to help me figure out the wide, wide world of podcasting and put together a show that was actually worth listening to while also supporting my professional goals. With their skill, support, and guidance, The Unburdened Leader was created and the first episodes dropped almost two years ago. In that time, I connected with over 50 leaders in a multitude of industries and professions learning about how the burdens they carry inspire their life’s work and how they still threaten to take them out, and how they continue to rise from them. 

The commitment to start this podcast has evolved to so much more than just interviewing people which I absolutely love. An unexpected result of the commitment to creating this show has turned into an exercise (no surprise) in working with the echoes of my own burdens while I simultaneously explore the burdens that inspire the life’s work of my guests. The practice of creating this podcast helps me increase my capacity for vulnerability (which is still very much a work in progress) while helping me work through topics I deeply, deeply care about. Showing up to something day in and day out changes you, and it’s hard to see those little changes without some reflection and, yes, even a little celebration. Part of the celebration involves an immense amount of gratitude to everyone at the Yellowhouse Media team and to all of you who have listened faithfully over the last two years.


As you listen to Alison interview me, listen to my reflections on how starting this podcast felt like it was breaking a lot of rules from my family of origin and, also, my psychotherapist training, notice the impact of repeated muggings and what they had on my perception of control, and pay attention to what I did when I realized I did not like who I was becoming after following my dreams to work in Washington DC. Now, I’ll let Dr. Alison Cook take the reins.

You're in for a treat today. I am here with my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Alison Cook, and I am giving her the microphone today. For The Unburdened Leader’s 50th episode, Alison is going to interview me today. So, Alison, welcome as The Unburdened Leader host today. [Laughs]

Alison Cook: Well, what a treat. I am thrilled. I’m so excited to dig into some of these questions that I have for you. 

Rebecca Ching: I cannot wait. So, all right, roles have been reversed.

Alison Cook: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: Interview is all yours. [Laughs]

Alison Cook: All right, well, the first question I want to ask you is I want you to walk us through the creation of this podcast. Why did you choose to create it in this way?

Rebecca Ching: Well, I mean, Alison, you've known me -- I think we’re at over 25 years, but I think, to me, it just felt a very natural way of creating and of getting important content out there that was a good fit for me and a good fit for my life, and it’s kind of fun, even though it seems like everyone has a podcast, the statistics show that it’s still fairly new in the world of all the ways that people consume content, and so, it feels cool to be in on something in a new-ish way, and there’s just so many fun things to do with it. 


So that’s, like, the macro view of it, and I think the other view is I wanted to connect with people in a deeper way and in a more public way, and podcasting was just a no-brainer to do that.

Alison Cook: There’s so much. I remember you telling me, “I think I’m gonna start a podcast,” and I just thought of course, yes, you should start a podcast.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Alison Cook: And specifically you because it brings together -- which I really want to dig into today -- so many different parts of you that I know from so many different parts of your life, but I’m curious, before we get into that, how was it when it first started to go live? Were there fears that you had or was it just kind of like well, this feels natural, this is what I should be doing?

Rebecca Ching: Okay, it felt natural when I was doing everything my producers wanted me to do and I was doing all the backend, and then when it was going live, I felt like a lot of these different parts of me were super vulnerable. Like, I was breaking rules, I was breaking a lot of rules in my family of origin, I was breaking rules -- and you're also a trained psychotherapist -- I was breaking rules there. I was really integrating all aspects of my loves and my interests and who I am in one place, and my system wasn't 100% on board with that, and the interesting thing is, is when the intro to the podcast dropped, I immediately did get some feedback from a family member that was kind of like, “Who do you think you are,” you know? “You're sitting there helping everyone do these things, and you're just a hot mess.” ‘Cause, I mean, just to be transparent, things are messy and complicated in my family of origin. I’ve had to set some hard boundaries, and the griefs and differences, and it’s not the way it should be, but it’s the way it needs to be, and there was this sense of I was stepping out and not staying quiet anymore, and that was breaking a rule. 


Then I had immediate backlash, but there, also, was this part that hadn’t felt more alive than I did in a long time. It just felt true just to kind of say, “Here I am. Let’s do something.” It really wasn’t about me, but it was about expressing something that had been brewing in me for a while that I’d been exhiling. 

Alison Cook: So the breaking of the rules, it sounds like, was around staying silent.

Rebecca Ching: Sure.

Alison Cook: And the courage was, “No, I want to use my voice.” Is that -- 

Rebecca Ching: Part of it, yeah. I mean, I think I’m hard pressed to find anyone who’s in any kind of helping profession or leadership position who has a part of them that says, “Who do you think you are to really help people, to lead people, to do this,” right? There is this message that you kind of have to have all your shit together to be able to do something of significance which, of course, you and I call bullshit to all the time, but there were parts of me that were like oh no [Laughs] and that were put in the spotlight here, and it actually was a really healing thing for me to do. And so, it was easier to stay silent and stay off the radar than to bring attention to, “Hey, I’m just gonna do life the way that I know that I’m called and led and made to do it.” Again, this is something you and I work on with people all the time is this anticipatory backlash, and sometimes we hold back on doing our life’s work because of those fears and concerns, so there’s something about just creating in this way, in this very public way. I’ve always been creating behind the scenes. I’ve been the wingperson. I’ve been the behind-closed-doors person in my professional career. Now, in high school, I was captain of the cheerleading squad and like go team, but, again, still go team, right?

Alison Cook: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: But this was something that I was like owning things I believed in and I felt were important to bring a spotlight to and wasn't staying silent anymore. So yeah, there’s a combination of silence and authenticity there.


Alison Cook: And even in our training as therapists, right, we’re trained to listen, to behind the scenes, to not be seen, to not be visible. So to take that and turn the table around and go public, even just that layer, I would imagine would create -- so what’s interesting, though, is this whole podcast explores the burdens leaders carry, right? I mean, that is --

Rebecca Ching: Yeah. Yeah.

Alison Cook: -- the whole gist of the podcast. So, I mean, ironically, I do think art tends to imitate life.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, hello. Yeah.

Alison Cook: And that’s what you're describing. So walk me through the process of deciding to focus on exploring these burdens. I’m sure in your mind you were thinking oh, this is exactly what I’m gonna go through. I’m gonna have to deal with some of my own burdens, but some part of you knew that this is what you wanted to explore on this podcast.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, absolutely. You and I both are trained in a methodology called Internal Family Systems, and this methodology along with Brené Brown’s research and in my foundational training and systems theory, really form how I see the world, how I do life, how I parent, how I do relationships, and so, I knew I wanted to bring in some aspect of this incredible methodology as kind of a general focus, but not in a this is how you do IFS way. I wanted it to be like an influence. Just more of what does it mean to live it and just talk it and live it? So we’re all wounded healers, and, whether it’s in my job working in DC or in corporate advertising in New York or international youth work, but even as a young kid when I’d watch different leaders, I was fascinated by politics and power and communication early on, and to see how often people’s pain informed their life’s work for better or for worse, and how if it was for worse, the damage that could be done to themselves and all those around them, or how for better, people’s meaningful work led to healing and making a big difference in the world for better but also healing themselves.


So there was something about how these burdens we carry -- and that’s a term that’s really unique to Internal Family Systems. Then, we had this unburdening process. We carry these burdens, and if we live a burdened life, we lead that way, we love that way, we work that way, but if we unburden, right, then our system can integrate and we can lead and live in a more aligned life. And so, there’s something about the unburdened leader. What does it mean to move towards that, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m gonna be an unburdened leader when I breathe my last breath. There’s no such thing as a 100% unburdened leader, but I think that the leaders that know their burdens and are working on unburdening, those are the ones that are making the kind of impact that excites me, and the ones that aren’t aware of that or deny it are the scariest ones.

Alison Cook: Right, exactly, which is so interesting about your process, right, because you said you were super excited but then once it started to feel more vulnerable about going live, it’s not that you didn't feel those things, it’s not that you didn't feel the vulnerability, that you didn't feel some of the imposter syndrome, all of the things that you mentioned, that you could name it which meant you could cure for yourself, get the help you need, and that’s what allowed you to keep leading, right? That’s healthy leadership. That’s unburdened leadership. It’s not that you don't have the burdens, it’s that you become aware of them, you can name them, you can see them, and you can get yourself the care that you need so that, for example, if you haven't done that work, if you haven't learned to name those burdens, you might have been tempted to pull the plug on the podcast or act out of those burdens instead of going oh, I see what’s happening here. I can get the help that I need. I can care for myself in this way and bring even more to the table as a result of this awareness.


Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and let me be clear, I was dragging my feet until my podcast was put -- it dropped two months later then it was supposed to, and I wasn't consciously aware I was dragging my feet. I was like, you know, this pandemic, and there’s a lot going on. Finally we’re like we’re shipping it. Yeah, I think there’s something to be said that our burdens and our vulnerabilities are what make us human, and there’s still this message that oh, if you're feeling that discomfort or that doubt or that distress, that means you're doing something wrong or you are wrong and you're not in the right place, and I really just feel like it’s so essential. That’s part of these conversations is to really integrate the mindset work that so many people do in leadership with true mental health and normalize being human as leaders and not this “that’s for home and this is for work” stuff, because that’s what would lead people to face-down moments in my clinical work because they were cutting off parts of their life. For me, yeah, there’s nothing ever comfortable about vulnerability. I say this all the time, this is the crux of Brené Brown’s research, right? It’s not something you master or overcome; it’s how do we increase our capacity for discomfort? The more burdens we carry and the less aware that we are of them, it’s gonna impact them and get more and more, what we call in the IFS world, protected. Brené calls it armor. There’s all these different ways -- defended or resistance, whatever you call it. If we’re shutting down versus feeling through it, which is never graceful -- when this was going on, I’m remembering I Voxer-ed you, I messaged another friend, I was pacing the house, I was watching a little extra Netflix. 


Just the intro of a podcast that not many people know yet is going out there. It wasn't like it was this huge following either, but it was something my system wasn't 100% on board with, and they were thinking it was unsafe and dangerous. So yeah, I think if we don't pay attention and normalize when we do something new, there’s always gonna be a level of discomfort and vulnerability no matter what our skillset is ‘cause our brains are like, “Shut this shit down. This is new and dangerous,” and how we work through it is how much do we own and do the work with our burdens to release them and care for them.

Alison Cook: It takes a lot of work and a lot of nuance. I’m so curious ‘cause I want to keep going, here, to get to the rest of it, but it begs the question which requires so much self-awareness and so much internal work as a leader, as a human, of when is your system telling you it’s dangerous because it is dangerous, and, just as you’re saying, when is vulnerability because you're actually doing something brave, right?

Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm. I love that question. Mm.

Alison Cook: It takes discernment. Yeah, how do you know when oh, my system is pushing back at me because this is actually not something that I should be doing that’s good for me, that’s healthy for me, that’s safe, whatever, or my system is pushing back at me because this is actually gonna require a lot of courage?

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, this is a conversation I have with a lot of leaders and my clinical clients and friends like you too. There is this difference between on a path because it’s so aligned even if it’s terrifying, right -- so my values which are connection and freedom, and I love connecting with people, and I was connecting to parts of my story and interests in ways of expressing, and then the freedom to have conversations that felt taboo or awkward and uncomfortable and to get information out about that felt important. 


If something is literally endangered or my system is interpreting that, I would not have been able to follow through with it. My system would have shut it down. I mean, if there’s not enough critical consensus internally, we get shut down, right? That’s data too. It’s not a fault, it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s just data if I can’t move forward with something, and our nervous systems do what they do to keep us safe, but they don't always have the most up-to-date information. So, for me, that vulnerability and that courage piece, that we can’t have courage without fear, and so, when people are like, “Let’s kill the fear and cure the fear,” that drives me crazy,  but we have to lead the fear. And so, I think the values piece -- I’ve got to do this even if I fail, and it’s gonna suck if I do, and to know that my worth and my safety aren’t on the table, that’s, again, to me, where I’m like this is what being alive is about, this is what it means to really step into -- and even a small little thing like this podcast, but it’s a beautiful metaphor for so many other things that we step into something and just live and follow these curiosities and these interests even if we get pushback, backlash. I say this all the time, but it’s amazing what we do to avoid being misunderstood. I’m still unpacking that for myself, like, oh, my gosh, I shut that down in myself or I self-edited. 

And so, for me, especially working with those who are healing and recovering from trauma, who have had their power taken away from them, to me, it’s just an important mandate to not shrink from my own power and to really lean into what that means. That means focusing and facing a lot of the bogue BS messages we’ve internalized. As someone who identifies as a female, there’s a lot just around that too.


So yeah, I think that’s kinda where I say where I’m in vulnerability and it’s terrifying but still feels like there’s a piece in there, but if it’s someone that really feels dangerous to my system, I can’t move forward and it shuts down.

Alison Cook: So you and I met in our early-20s, mid-20s?

Rebecca Ching: I don’t know.

Alison Cook: I don't know. Way back a long time ago. We were both working in Washington DC on Capitol Hill. You had studied journalism, you were working in politics. I think, then, you went on to do advertising in New York City. I mean, this is all very different from this work that, then, you moved into as a therapist.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Alison Cook: So you’ve taken a very different path than I think I would have thought you would have when we first met because you were really -- I mean, we were very different back then.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Alison Cook: I was very much like, “No, this is not my world,” and you were like, “I love this world!” I mean, you were shining. You know, shining, from my perception. I mean, you tell me, but it seemed to me that this was work that you really love, so I would not have said at that time, “Oh, yeah, of course, you're gonna leave and go off and do this other really more behind-the-scenes kind of work that we do as therapists. So walk us through some of what the no’s you had to say that led to what you're doing today. You had to walk away from some pretty powerful things and some things you were really good at to get to what you’re really good at today. So walk me through that a little bit.

Rebecca Ching: You know, I think about graduating college, I drove out to Washington DC the day after I graduated college. I already had a job on Capitol Hill which was kind of a big deal, and I was wide-eyed, naive, go-team, but I have these parts of me -- and, you know, we’re both Enneagram Threes -- like, very ambitious, and ambition is something that, I think, gets poo-pooed and shamed, especially in women. You and I both share a faith and in certain circles that’s like ooh, that’s unattractive, you know? 


And so, when people say, “Oh, Rebecca, she’s ambitious,” that was kind of seen as a negative. I didn’t know not how to be, and so, I can say this now, that my ambition with work was my drug of choice. So I’ve never done drugs. That was something that was used and abused in my family, but my drug of working and finding my identity and the adrenaline and just seeing power -- I would watch movies as a kid and dissect strategies, and I was fascinated by those things, and I loved the grunt work of it, the door-to-door, get-out-the-vote stuff or hanging fliers or setting up before rallies. I volunteered at all these different levels of government in college, and I truly just loved it all.

And so, I think getting in there I was just very excited, but I can see now that my ambition, though, was not necessarily just about the greater good; it was about winning, it was about advancing things that I thought the more power I had, the more healing I would have, you know? I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, right? At the same time, I met the most amazing friends. I still am connected with people from that day and have so many lessons from working in the office I did and my old boss -- there’s still lessons that I take from that day. But I started losing my joy and my spark, and politics is not sexy. It’s surface. It’s a grind. It’s long-game. It’s tedious. It’s complicated. It’s full of compromise.

Alison Cook: Were you aware of that at the time?

Rebecca Ching: No! No, I would see my former boss talk to the quote-unquote “enemy,” and I’d be like, “What are you doing!” I just think of my poor colleagues at the time, you know? 


I was so hot-headed, and it was still pretty rigid. It was very polarized in my mind, and I think it started eating away at me, and after four years I lost my compass, and I was losing my compass. I think the beginning of that shift was an experience you and I went through. It was a Friday night and we were on The Hill. We were walking to grab some dinner. Dinner at nine-o-clock, right? ‘Cause that’s just what we did as we worked ‘til that late on a Friday. You and I both were mugged, and it was a pretty physical mugging, and I ended up in the hospital ‘cause I see them jump you first, and I watch this going okay, if I’m gonna go, I’m not gonna go just watching this, so I jumped on the guy who jumped on you, and then I, you know, got all tangled and they just wanted our backpacks. I remember hearing you say, “Rebecca, just give it to him.” I’m like, “Oh, okay, they wanted our backpacks? They didn't want to hurt us and our bodies.”

Alison Cook: We didn’t know. It wasn't clear. Yeah, I know, you --

Rebecca Ching: Honestly, that was kinda the beginning of the end. There was something that shifted for me, and then six weeks later I was mugged again [Laughs] right in front of my house. To me, it’s not about the mugging, it was about the control, and I was worshiping -- I was trying to find control. Control the narrative, control the messaging, more power meant more control which was a myth. 

Alison Cook: Yeah, I want to pause here for a second ‘cause this is the piece that I remember vividly. Obviously, I was a part of that first mugging, and then I remember you telling me -- I mean, you had these crazy back-to-back, really scary situations, and so, that connection -- it sounds like what you're saying is -- I mean, obviously, that’s just terrifying in and of itself, but it also tapped something in you, a part of you that was starting to recognize this ambition that I have, this longing that I have to be a part of something, I think it was genuine. You wanted to change the world, and that was beautiful. That’s a beautiful part of you. That ambitious part of you, that principle, I would never have said it was rigid. I saw it as just you were passionate, right? 


And so, some of this you were already beginning to internally -- maybe this wasn't the best outlet for that, and then something happened with these muggings that shifted even more. Something in you was like I need to take all of this energy, all this passion, all this fire in a different direction. This isn't serving me. This isn't serving the world. How did that link come, and I know hindsight’s 20/20. I don't know if in the moment it was as clear to you.

Rebecca Ching: Well, I think I was worshiping power in my resume, and I was losing sight of other things. 

Alison Cook: Got it.

Rebecca Ching: Then the cracks were there, and then they started to widen. It’s like, you know, I say I literally needed a gun to my head to re-think -- to realize how little control I had over things and what really needed attention in my life. That’s when I went to therapy for the first time was after you and I were mugged. I had started before you and I were mugged, and I remember going into therapy on crutches ‘cause I had bashed my knee struggling with one of the muggers, and my therapist smiled and said, “Oh, it’s good to see you leaning on something.” I will never forget I was so frickin’ pissed at her when she said that. I wanted to take my -- but I think that’s the thing, I was my own god. I’ve got it. I’ve got it. I don’t need anyone. I don't need anything. I grew up on a healthy dose of those ‘80s movies that were so toxic and wrong, but the female was the one who worked her way to the top, and she worked late hours but maybe dated the shitty guy, but she was sacrificing a lot, and she didn't care. Or there was she was the mean one but was successful. She had the title and the power and the money, but she was a hot mess on the inside. 


And so, I started to realize crap, this is what I came here for. I still, to this day, believe in the process even as jacked up as it’s gotten. You know that about me. I do, and I believe it’s so important to be civically engaged, and I hate when people check out and tap out of it, and I feel like it’s such a big value of mine, but my reasonings in I was trying to heal the burdens I was carrying through my work in the ways I was focusing. Like, if I get the next title, I get the next promotion, I get the next raise, I’ll feel better? No. No, so I was feeling worse. The more success I had, I was feeling worse.

Alison Cook: Which is an amazing insight to have at a young age. It’s quite amazing, and I also want to just -- for those who are listening who are younger than you and me, this was before people just -- therapy wasn't nearly as prevalent as it is now. Would you agree with that?

Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.

Alison Cook: I mean, I wanted to be a therapist and I had never been to therapy. I didn't know anybody who had been to therapy at that point.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Alison Cook: You know what I mean? It was still somewhat new as a common thing that people did, so that’s interesting. I didn't actually know that you had gone to therapy after that mugging. And so, here’s a question for you. What do you think the stakes for you would have been, personally, if you had stayed on that path, if you hadn’t taken that right turn?

Rebecca Ching: I think I would have gotten everything I wanted, and I would have been miserable, and I don’t know. I would have gotten even darker than maybe some things that I’ve been through, you know, just in my own healing process or I wouldn't have, and I would have taken that as a sign of, like, a complete value-judgment on who I was as a human. Again, my worthiness was so externalized, and it conflated with this amazing and exciting and important process that I believe in. 


Again, as corrupt and complicated and flawed as it is, and I acknowledge all of that, that there was something that feels clear to me on that, but it was hustling. It was just trying to hustle my way to feel better and to figure out who I was. Again, you try and get parented by your work, and it’s not a good choice. [Laughs] Again, meaningful work I do think is important to our wellbeing, but there was a hunger about it, and I think it’s in Phillippians, right, there’s this scripture about selfish ambition, and I remember reading that at the time going, “I think?” This is after the muggings or a couple of the muggings ’cause I went through 3 within 18 months. It took that much for me to go okay, I get it, and just kind of thinking this selfish ambition, and okay, what’s the difference between a healthy ambition where I’m caring for myself and caring for others and not seeing people as something to achieve or a means to an end. It’s taken me a long time to really -- and I still have echoes of that in me. When I get tired or anxious and lose my focus, that stuff comes out which is not fun, doesn't feel good. It doesn't feel good to have that reflected back. So, yeah.

Alison Cook: Still, I just take my hat off to you at a young age making a pretty major life decision to move away from working in this glamorous -- the power centers of the world, you know?

Rebecca Ching: Well, I went from DC to New York, so… to go work in advertising. I was making, at the time, more money than I ever had, and then, that was a whole shift because I wasn't choosing who I was working for. I had accounts I was assigned to. That didn't last long. I loved living in New York and made some dear friends there and had a cool flat there. 


Oh, my gosh, there were so many amazing things about New York, for me. It was a pitstop, though, and there is something to say oh, I’m stepping out of this epicenter to be in the -- there’s some weird kind of thing that I had to let go of, of, like, I want to be the first one to know about these things before everyone else. That made me a better person. It’s gross, right? I say that now and I’m cringing. It’s gossipy, you know? That access to power can burn you if you don’t know who you are and how to lead that, if you're not anchored in that. Thank god I just had great mentors, I had great people of just different walks of life, even on The Hill and in New York who could speak into my life and I’m like ooh, who do I want to be? I didn't like who I was becoming so I said no to who I was becoming.

Alison Cook: You were unburdening before you even know what that word meant.

Rebecca Ching: Right, but I needed three muggings for me to really dig in, though. I mean, I was holding on. We were vacationing, and the third mugging happened when I was with a family member in Colorado. I ended up working for a nonprofit, The International Youth Organization, and they’re based in Colorado, so I went and built a vacation around it, and so -- this is gross, y’all so don't hold this against me. I’m just owning this, but I was so obsessed with my career and my resume that I talked to homeless people, and it’s like aren’t you worried -- we were just meeting different people on the streets just connecting with folks. There’s a lot of unhoused and underhoused in Colorado because of the weather. And I’d be like, you know, “Aren’t you worried about your resume or having a 401K?” I would say such asshole things. I cringe, and I just want to say this so I’m on the record to never lose touch with that, but it was this moment where my career, my ambitions, what was on a piece of paper was more important than a human in front of me, but I was still trying to understand. I’ve always been fascinated with people, but it was lost. It was very lost.


Alison Cook: Well, we’re gonna get to this, but I want to ask you what you would say to this younger 25-year-old you now because I see a powerhouse who, granted, might have been a little misguided, but wow, we’ll come back to that. I want to just come back to what you're doing now, this podcast. It feels, to me, as I watch you do this, doing such a beautiful job of bringing so many different voices to the table, bringing back, reaching into that political realm that I saw you thrive in, bringing that therapy lens that has become this huge part of who you are, it feels full circle. You're just bringing together so many parts of you. What parts of you, before you started the podcast, were kind of taking a backseat? I always feel like they just kind of murmur, “When do I get to?” What were you aware of that was having to take maybe too much of a backseat before you, then, came into this podcast and kind of began to bring all these threads together?

Rebecca Ching: Well, I think early on -- I mean, I got my undergrad in public relations and advertising, right? So I knew early on how to be. I could morph to different groups that I was in, and I have always been in very unique groups that wouldn't all necessarily be together. [Laughs] But I’d have different groups or circles I would run in, and the parts of me that really cared about politics -- and politics is a complicated topic or you say the word activism or social justice in some circles. I had no idea that was like a dirty word in some circles. It’s so weird. And so, things that I cared about, I felt like they were either forboden or they were just one way that was okay to do them. And so, I kind of held back because I wanted to protect my belonging, but really, I was just fitting in.


Again, there’s something beautiful about the work you and I are trained in where, you know, when people come and work with us, it’s not about us, right? If we interject, it’s usually with the intention of helping somebody else. So there was almost this wall, like, I’m gonna just fade. This is not about me; it’s all about the client which is absolutely important, but I did that so much in all areas of my life that I started losing kind of who I was, and --

Alison Cook: It was too much of a --

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

Alison Cook: It’s almost like you went -- it was too extreme. You went from being this ambitious, all about my resume to I’m gonna make it all about the other person.

Rebecca Ching: Well, I don't know if the ambition ever went away. 

Alison Cook: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: I mean, anyone who knows me in any of the seasons would say, “No, Rebecca, I would go for it, and so, go for it hard.” I had a private group practice for nine years with an interdisciplinary team, it was an amazing learning experience too. It was very ambitious, but so is my competition or comparison on who I should be. So I think there’s just a lot of -- like all of us, I knew who I should be. I breathed in all the who I should be. I breathed in all the shoulds on who I was supposed to be at the expense of, really, me being myself. And so, I had to discover that and the cool thing about the methodologies I’m trained in -- and when I started training in Brené Brown’s work, coming up on ten years now since I first trained with her and her team, that was the beginning of, like, oh, crap, who am I, and I can't do this work if I’m not doing it myself, right? There’s certain methodologies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and certain things we can do, and we can still just be a hot mess on the inside, and we can still deliver some decent work, but some of these things we had to be able to -- the parallel process. 


So that started to really -- Brené’s writing about authenticity, and I was like oh, oh. Then getting a feeling, like, catching this feeling of oh, is that what it feels like? Then my system was like, “We want more of that,” and this is where healing is, is if you can discover that. So I get really excited about helping others discover that, and then the more that I leaned into that, the less the world I created was fitting well, and there was other things I was wanting to do. 

Alison Cook: Got it. So less of an over-correction and more of a coming to wholeness of all of who you are. So it’s like you started to develop this other part of you that’s very genuine which is how do I move into authenticity and helping others to become authentic, that was this next sort of season. I always say to you as your friend, there’s a lot of -- in IFS we call it multifaceted. Everybody’s multifaceted, but there’s a lot of complexity to you. You're not one thing. None of us is. There are so many different parts of you. There’s a tenderness. There’s a compassion. There’s an empathy. There’s a I want to empower others. Then, there’s this ambitious part of you. It sounds to me, as I listen to you, like it took a lot of these different key moments and milestones to help -- it’s almost like -- I picture a pinball with a ball. You had to kind of ping against all these different things to finally get at no, no, no, this is all of who I am. 

Rebecca Ching: Well, as I was thinking about it, I think becoming a parent, getting married to an amazing -- I’m very, very, very grateful for who I get to do life with and partner with, but becoming a mom, I think that really cracked me open too. 


So we had the muggings, right, and then the work burnout and some of the things I was seeing, but it just felt like whether it’s my passion about what it means to be engaged civically or how we show up in our faith and live our values and what that means -- a lot of the circles I was in, there was one way to do that, to be civic enough or Christian enough, which is all bullshit. I’m so over so many of the institutions. I’m not over my faith, but so over so much of, you know, the Christian nationalism and how much that impacted me too and how that jacked with my head for a while. 

Becoming a mom, especially my first born daughter and then three years into her life getting diagnosed on the autism spectrum and having to go okay, how do we want to raise her, and what’s the culture that we want to raise her in? We had to do a lot of editing in our life, and that was hard. We had to be very clear -- our daughter is not broken, never was broken, doesn't need to be fixed, and how do we help her -- I knew if she was confident and she could communicate, the world will be her oyster. Already, at thirteen I’m like okay, I’m feeling -- we’re getting there. And so, that became a force, but as the parallel process of that, I had to address those younger parts of me that never got that kind of love and care with intention, and that we’re still needing that. So while I was caring for my daughter and parenting her, I ended up doing that to myself, and some things just didn't fit anymore.

Alison Cook: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: It took me a while. Sometimes we hold onto things longer than need be because we think we should or we’re afraid of what’s on the other side, and I think there were some things like that. So I wanted to make some transitions, and I did in the last couple years. And so, I think parenthood did that for me too.


Alison Cook: How do you view success now?

Rebecca Ching: I am not successful if things are not well with my family, my closest friends, and my own wellbeing. So all those things are my metrics. Success is about my connection, my family, my community, and I never want my work and my family to be on the opposite side. I had to make a decision a few years ago that my family and my passion for working are not ever gonna work against each other. They're on the same team, and so, that’s success, when they're working well together and it’s not a number or dollar sign or a title anymore is what I thought. It’s increasing my capacity for joy, it’s having quality friends, it’s being able to give back and have an impact that’s bigger than me. It’s bigger and smaller. It’s hard to explain. it’s also not something that the world may see. Most of the things that I really value are not Instagrammable, you know? I feel like I’m one of the wealthiest people in the world just with the people I have in my life and the gift of health. Yeah, but I’m not chasing it anymore. I’m ambitious. I have desires and dreams, but also, my worth and value aren’t tied up with success too. 

Alison Cook: What would that young 20-something girl think of that definition of success?

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] I think she’d be really pissed at me and annoyed and roll her eyes. She’d be like, “Oh, my gosh, you're such an old fart. Okay, whatever. Move aside. Move aside. You know, whatever, you know?” But I think she’d side-eye it a little bit. I think that younger me would side-eye it and see the love that’s happening in my family, and if she could see some of these incredible conversations I’m having with leaders or the healing work my clinical clients are doing or just the conversations I have with neighbors or people in my community and go, “Oh, maybe that’s what I’ve been longing for. It’s not the paycheck or the title or the power.”


Alison Cook: She might be a little, at the very least, curious.

Rebecca Ching: She’d be curious, but seriously like whatever. Like, okay, sounds good. I just didn't get it, you know, because, again, there was just a lot of hurt in my story growing up in a family where abuse and divorce and just a lot of volatility around, that’s just not even an option. And so, yeah.

Alison Cook: What would you want to say to her?

Rebecca Ching: Mm. [Laughs] If she’d listen, [Laughs] if she’d listen [Laughs] I’d probably sit next to her and just say, obviously, that she is enough and be really picky who she gives her heart to ‘cause it’s a special heart, and that she doesn’t have anything to prove, but she’s got a lot to learn, and so,  just to keep putting in the reps of trying to be a good human and master the skills, and just to pay attention to her competition ‘cause sometimes that can take her off the path that she’s on that she really wants. I’ve always played competitive sports, but sometimes I would get so competitive but fused with this sense of justice that it was a little intense. [Laughs] It still comes out sometimes. So yeah, if she’d listen, I would just let her know to pace herself, be careful with her heart, and be picky about who she’s with, and that work doesn’t define her.

Alison Cook: I think she is listening.

Rebecca Ching: Ah.


Alison Cook: She’s there with you. I see that.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alison Cook: She has fire, and she’s still there. To me, it seems like she has learned to trust you, that you're not gonna try to quench her fire, you just want her to harness it effectively, beautifully, authentically, and even more powerfully than what she could possibly see.

Rebecca Ching: I hope so. I hope so. I think she doesn’t want me to give up doing new things. She doesn't like to settle. She gets irritated if she feels like I’m settling, so sometimes we have to negotiate that I’m not settling, I’m just having a slow roll, but she carried a little extra hubris that she needed to release. [Laughs] But I think there’s something about the 20s, right? I mean, a humble 20-something? I don't know. [Laughs ] I don't know. It’s a beautiful part of -- it’s a right of passage, you know? I get it. I dig it.

Alison Cook: One of the things you’re doing, what you're bringing into this world with unburdened leaders is we see leaders leading out of their 20-year-old selves still, sometimes out of their 16-year-old selves, [Laughs] and that’s exactly what you're all about is let’s not shame those parts of us, but let’s help them unburden those heavy weights so that we can lead out of our best selves, so that we can lead out of our full, whole, healed selves as best we can.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and that whole healed stuff still is hot and messy, and that perfection and tidy is overrated. Embrace the hot mess, and that’s where you're gonna find all the joy. The love, the belonging, and the coolest, most meaningful work is in the mess. That’s what I’d tell her too.

Alison Cook: I love it. I love that. All right, so can I ask you some quickfire questions?

Rebecca Ching: Absolutely!

Alison Cook: [Laughs] Is this your first time having these asked of you? 

Rebecca Ching: Yes, it is. Okay, this will be fun.

Alison Cook: All right, what are you reading right now?


Rebecca Ching: Every month on the Potentia email newsletter we have to choose a book, and I realize I’ve been reading -- I don't know if you're familiar with Cleo Wade? She’s a poet, and she’s got a book called Heart Talk, and she’s amazing, and she does this really cool lettering. I'm showing it to Alison right now, but y’all just need to pick this up. She just wrote: “The best thing about your life is that it’s constantly in a state of design. This means you have, at all times, the power to redesign it, make moves, allow shifts, smile more, do more, do less, say no, say yes. Just remember, when it comes to your life, you are not only the artist, but the masterpiece as well.”

Alison Cook: Woo!

Rebecca Ching: I know! I know. So, going back, yeah, it’s just really speaking to my heart right now, Cleo Wade’s work.

Alison Cook: Beautiful. All right, what song are you playing on repeat?

Rebecca Ching: Oh, Leon Bridges’ “River.” He’s coming to San Diego this summer, and when I’m writing -- I’ve had to do a lot of podcasting and other kind of copywriting lately, and he’s on this playlist, and I’m so excited to see him in person this summer.

Alison Cook: Very cool. All right, what’s the best TV show or movie you've seen recently.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] This is gonna probably be apropos, but my husband and I are watching the latest season of Billions, and I so love that show. I mean, it’s horrible to watch billionaires and political people and all of their brokenness and their egos and their humanity, and there’s this character on there that’s an MD psychiatrist but works to help people in this hedge fund keep their A-game on. But there’s a lot of nuanced writing and cool things happening, and so, I just love the writing and I love the actors on the show. So Billions is fresh right now. 

Alison Cook: I have to check it out. All right, favorite ‘80s movie. [Laughs]


Rebecca Ching: I mean, as problematic as I’m seeing it now, just about anything John Hughes shaped me. Anything that Molly Ringwald was in with John Hughes like Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink. I mean, Ducky. It’s so good, and ‘80s horror movies. I don't like horror movies now, but Nightmare on Elm Street, kind of cheesy horror where you just are scared ‘cause the suspense. Like, when Freddy Kruger’s tongue comes out of the phone and you're just like ahhh, and everyone screamed, you know?  

Alison Cook: What is your mantra right now?

Rebecca Ching: Oh, I’ve got a couple. I mean, what I say out loud is, “It’s hard to be human,” when I’m working on my perfectionist protectors to relax. This is leaning into that. Then when I’m stepping in my vulnerability I’m always like, “We’ve got this. We’ve got this,” or, “Game on!” I think, too, one thing I’m leaning into is a quote from my dear colleague and friend, Natalie Guttierrez. She wrote, “Embrace what they taught you to hate,” and I think that’s something I’ve been working on as I just continue to work on healing and connecting with those parts of me that I was taught to hate, and yeah, I just think that’s one of the most beautiful, tender mantras too. 

Alison Cook: Wow, that’s beautiful. What is an unpopular opinion you hold?

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] I don't know if this is unpopular now, but every vote matters. Like, vote! It matters. It may not feel like it matters, but vote. Voting is a big freakin' deal. It’s one of the biggest deals right now, and there’s a lot of things that are a big deal, but yeah, I’m less invested in how you vote. I mean, I’m invested in that, but I want you to vote, and I want to make sure to protect that everyone has the opportunity to do so. So I don't know if it’s unpopular, but maybe controversial. [Laughs]

Alison Cook: Who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?


Rebecca Ching: I think there’s older versions of myself, I think, reflecting back and seeing how far I’ve come and where I don't want to go back. I think friends like you, Alison. I think good friends and my family, and I’ve referenced faith, and I know this is complicated, but the God that I’m getting to know right now is really invested in my brokenness and in my complexity and befriending all of me and not power over me. Believe it or not, too, my Sunday school ‘cause it’s a hot mess of really diverse different people. Not diverse racially as much as it is theologically, socially, politically, economically very different, and being in that space and kind of rubbing up against folks who don't think just like me but still sharing a lot of love is always a refining place for me.

Alison Cook: That’s a brave place. Beautiful, I love it. Thank you!

Rebecca Ching: Thank you so much for taking over the mic today, Alison, and helping me celebrate this 50th episode of The Unburdened Leader. Thank you so much for your time, and I’m excited to have you back on, because you have a book coming out in the fall, so I’d love for you to come back on and talk about your book, and we can get back to the old way of hosting, [Laughs] and I can interview you about that if that’s cool with you.

Alison Cook: I’d love it.

Rebecca Ching: Thank you.

Alison Cook: Thank you.

Rebecca Ching: Thank you so much for today, and thank you so much for your friendship. I really appreciate you.

Alison Cook: Oh, thanks. This podcast is awesome. I love it.

Rebecca Ching: Thanks, friend. When you come to terms with the burdens you carry, you find what fuels your best work and your biggest roadblocks. The ever-evolving map of influences that guide us offers us important data, so the more we’re aware of the burdens we carry, we can make decisions with intention instead of just reacting to what’s happening around us and inside of us. 


It took some deep soul-searching and some life-threatening experiences to bring my own awarenesses of how the burdens I was carrying stopped inspiring me and instead kept weighing me down. I so, so appreciate my dear friend Alison leading this conversation as we reflected on a season that led to some big trajectory shifts in my life. I want the shifts to continue with intention and compassion. I don't want to live a life where I literally need life and death situations to help me seek changes that I need to make. 

So as you listened to this episode today, what rules need to be broken so you can truly be seen and feel connected to your life, your work, and those around you? Do you know how the burdens you’re carrying are informing your life’s work? What are you showing up to everyday, and how is it impacting you for better or for worse? Now, there are plenty out there saying we need to forget the past and let it go and kill our fear and shame, but when you exile your burdens instead of befriending them, and learning from them you only add to the weight of what you're carrying, and the more you learn to recognize these burdens, the more you're able to use them, even heal them, rather than allowing your burdens to control you. This is the work of an unburdened leader.

[Inspirational Music Interlude]


Leading is hard, and leading is also, often, controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, your boundaries. Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence and clarity and calm. You don’t mind making the hard risk, 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 both 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 special 50th episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can sign up for the weekly Unburdened Leader email, find this episode, show notes, and free resources along with ways to work with me, at www.rebeccaching.com.


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