EP 312: Surfing The Ebbs & Flows with The Change Agency Founder Valerie Black

Dec 8, 2020 | Mindset & Identity, Podcast

In This Episode:

  • How coach & strategist Valerie Black led herself through a year of ups & downs
  • The practices she uses to find her center and stay present—so she doesn’t end up “future-tripping”
  • What she did to hold boundaries around her work as clients started to come back
  • The question she’s asking to find direction for the next phase of her work

I used to live in Astoria, Oregon.

That’s where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean—the northwest corner of the state and the home of the Tribes of the Chinookan people.

Every day, I’d walk along the river several times and just watch the water flow.

Because we were so close to the mouth, the river actually experienced considerable tides. Throughout the day, the height of the river might change anywhere from 6-10 feet.

Not only did the level of the water change dramatically throughout the day, it would appear that the flow of the river reversed.

When the tide was out, the river flowed as you would expect—toward the ocean.

When the tide was coming in, it looked like the river flowed backwards toward Portland.

It was wild.

Of course, under the surface of the rising tide, the Columbia River continued its journey toward the Pacific. The river never actually changed course—just the water on the surface.

Life and work can create a similar illusion.

It can feel like half of the time we’re moving forward…

…and half of the time we’re being pushed backwards by forces outside of our control.

But under the surface, we’re still growing, adapting, emerging. We’re continuing our journey.

When you’re building a business, you’ll inevitably experience ups and downs, ebbs and flows.

When things are bad, it can feel like every success you’ve ever experienced is being washed away by failure.

But, of course, the truth is that we’re always learning and moving forward.

As we continue our series on leading yourself and examining the practices that small business owners used to navigate this wild year, I’m thrilled to introduce you to coach and founder of The Change Agency, Valerie Black.

I met Valerie at this time last year and was immediately struck by her mix of gentleness and tenacity. She is both strategic and intuitive, open-hearted and strong-willed—not that any of those things are mutually exclusive, of course!

Valerie has had a year of ebbs and flows, as she put it.

And I wanted to capture her story and learn more about the self-care practices that saw her through this year.

Now, let’s find out what works for Valerie Black!

Valerie Black: When the clients started coming back I already had these strong practices of ebb and flow of understanding that there's going to be a tide that comes back and there's going to be a tide that goes away and I get more filled up from the self-care work I do because I know it serves not just me but also my clients.

Tara McMullin: I used to live in Astoria, Oregon. That's where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. The northwest corner of the state and the home of the Chinookan people. Every day I'd walk along the river several times and just watch the water flow. Because we were so close to the mouth, the river actually experienced considerable tides.

Throughout the day the height of the river might change anywhere from six to 10 feet. Not only did the level of the water change dramatically throughout the day it would appear that the flow of the river reversed. When the tide was out the river flowed as you would expect, toward the ocean. When the tide was coming in it looked like the river flowed backward toward Portland. It was wild.

Of course, under the surface of the rising tide, the Columbia River continued its journey toward the pacific. The river never actually changed course, just the water on the very surface. Life and work can create a similar illusion. It can feel like half of the time we're moving forward and half of the time we're being pushed backward by forces outside of our control.

But under the surface, we're still growing, adapting, emerging. We're continuing our journey. I'm Tara McMullin and this is What Works. The show that takes you behind the scenes to explore how small business owners build stronger businesses.

When you're building a business you'll inevitably experience ups and downs, ebbs and flows. When things are bad it can feel like every success you've ever experienced is being washed away by failure. But of course, the truth is that we're always learning and moving forward. And as we continue our series on leading yourself and examining the practices that small business owners use to navigate this wild year, I'm thrilled to introduce you to the coach and founder of The Change Agency, Valerie Black.

I met Valerie at this time last year and was immediately struck by her mix of gentleness and tenacity. She is both strategic and intuitive. Openhearted and strong-willed not that any of those things are mutually exclusive of course. Valerie has had a year of ebbs and flows as she put it and I wanted to capture her story and learn more about the self-care practices that saw her through this year. Now, let's find out what works for Valerie Black.

Valerie Black, welcome to What Works. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Valerie Black: It's so great to be here Tara.

Tara McMullin: I am really excited about this conversation. I am excited for everyone to hear your story and as always, I am excited to get inside your head because I love the way you think and I love the way you process things and I think it's going to be a real blessing for people who are listening to this episode.

So, kind of the way I've kicked off every interview in this series is to ask people to take me back to the beginning of the year. What were your plans and what were your goals back in January?

Valerie Black: Yeah, I did some looking in my calendar even for this conversation because so many years have happened inside this year and so many of my friends are saying that this has been just years worth of a lifetime. So I went back and I realized, so end of 2019 I was in break-up land with some of my recent relationships.

I had gotten really sick at the end of November and I had been through this interesting process of trying to figure out if I wanted to work for someone else's company. I'd just finished my MBA in the summer, my executive MBA and I was really trying to figure out, do I re-launch the Change Agency or what do I do?

And I went through this big clearing. That's why I mentioned the break-ups and the sickness because I was at this fallow ground where it was like you could plant anything and I started really sitting with please, please, please use me well. Which has kind of been my prayer since I went through my divorce a couple of years ago and just really wanting the universe to use my skills and use my talents well.

And these really clear pictures started coming in about what I wanted to create and I was getting super excited about this new horizon line for the business and I'd been doing a lot of work that I knew I wanted to keep doing but I was getting this big vision of this community that I wanted to build.

It was this multi-tiered business plan and it really started the foundation of it was the one on one coaching that I was doing and then I was going to build this community layer and this teaching layer in addition to the thought leadership that I was already doing in burn out and working with hospitals and clinics around supporting doctors and medical teams with their health.

So everything looked really exciting at the end of 2019 and I was super, duper thrilled to start 2020.

Tara McMullin: We're laughing because we know how this goes.

Valerie Black: Exactly.

Tara McMullin: This is a terrible story. No, it's a great story. It's just been a year. So as you are alluding to, everything changed come March and April. What happened with your business when the shit hit the fan?

Valerie Black: What was happening in that first quarter was really exciting. Not only had I gotten all of the clients that I needed to hit my financial goals but they were amazing clients and I was having a sensation of up-leveling and the way I built the financial model was I'd have new clients every three months.

So we're ready to start the new quarter, I had some people signed up for the second quarter of the year which was starting in April, and then, of course, COVID happened. So Saturday, March 7th was the time around when Seattle started going into quarantine. So that's where I live and it was one of the first major cities if you remember that started going down into lockdown.

By the first week of April, I had received many calls and emails canceling contracts and I remember one of those days that week I lost $20,000 in revenue that was anticipated for that quarter and this year of blossoming and growth and emergence, it just completely crumbled. There was that series of events where friends start getting laid off and my housemate needed to work from home so all of a sudden this space that we had that we loved and loved sharing together turned into a very small cavern that neither of us could leave.

And although we handled it really well, I started waking up every morning honestly furious. Like why did you take this away from me? And all of us trying not to take it too personally because it's not personal but also it feels personal and just really, really struggling with this sense of claustrophobia and not being able to give my gifts and my ego was just rocked.

Because one of the things that gives me a sense of purpose and grounding is my work and being connected to people and getting to contribute to people and having that taken away, I just felt so bereft.

Tara McMullin: I can certainly relate to you said your ego was rocked and I appreciate that you used also the word claustrophobia because I think that's a very evocative term that feels very relevant in the situation. I would love for you to give voice to what was going through your head. You've described the emotion of it really well but what were some of the thoughts that you were having at that time?

Valerie Black: Yeah. Well, I'm also a metacognition geek and that's a lot of the work that I do with my clients. So I was watching myself. I've had a meditation practice for over 20 years and I was watching myself with that witness consciousness and one of the things I was telling clients and friends and we were telling each other because I have an amazing reflective community that contributes to me and helps me stay on my path is that we were saying let yourself have your grief.

Let yourself be bereft. Let yourself be humbled. It makes me a little verklempt talking about it today because I've had a recent humbling again actually in the past week and there's this cut to the bone kind of feeling that we have, right? And it's so vitally important to stay with that because there's real wisdom there and I am not someone who typically goes to anger but I was experiencing so much anger.

And I was also just aching for the people on the front lines. I have a lot of experience in healthcare and I knew that this industry that was already experiencing really high levels of burnout was going to be just under siege, right? So my thinking was how do I help? How do I figure out how I can use myself well and also honestly, Tara, how do I make sure I'm well resourced?

Because I'm a leader in my community and I need to make sure that I'm doing my homework every day. So I really boosted my self-care practices. My housemate and I have this wonderful saying that she came up with that I'm sure listeners will maybe have some feels about but she said, "Any coping mechanism is a good coping mechanism."

So we had this rule around our house where if you eat chocolate chip cookies for lunch it's okay. It's a good coping mechanism. If you need to stay in the bath for two hours, it's all right. She's a social worker and we have a shared deep understanding of what it takes for people to cope and heal and we knew that we would be in coping for a really, really long time. So we tried to normalize that which I'm still working on.

Tara McMullin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I want to talk more about how you resourced yourself and some of those care practices but first there was something that you said about knowing that you needed to sit with, stick with, be in the grief and the humbling and it made me think how easy it is to practice avoidance and to not just use coping mechanisms but to actively try and block those feelings or to escape from those feelings.

And I'm curious how you avoid avoiding. What is it that you are looking for or trying to lean into so that you don't avoid the discomfort when you need to sit with it?

Valerie Black: Yeah, that's such a good question. I want to humbly just say this has been a two-decade long practice for me and that the avoidance is a very effective and important coping skill at times.

One of the things I've really been working on in the past many years is facing my fear and really examining it and holding it and it's a part of my self-compassion practice, it's a part of my meditation practice and there's this witness conciousing that I'm very, very interested in strengthening.

Because it is the resilience that helps us to see beyond our own small selves right? Into the bigger self. So pain is often the way in, is often a route and humbling is often a route and it doesn't have to be, but man I'll tell you it's a hack. It's a big hack because what we're being given then is this opportunity to be stripped of the excess, be stripped of the presentation.

Stripped of the sense of impressing others and as a recovering perfectionist and achiever I have a lot of desire to be oriented toward those things and so for me, this is a big teacher I've been trying to sit at the feet of and one of the ways that I do it is in my morning practice I hold myself tenderly like a friend would hold me and I'll give you a really concrete example.

When I wake up, often I have really intense anxious thoughts. They're like to-do lists and ideas and there's this very big energy. It's fiery and I wake up fast and bright and totally ready to go. There are benefits to that and I used a lot of those in my younger years but now I'm realizing there's some punishing aspects of that and there's some urgency that is not helpful and the urgency is coming from this voice in me that's sort of tyrannical and is results-oriented.

So I've been sitting with myself in the mornings and saying, "Good morning sweetheart. Hi, I'm here with you, good morning." And really listening to my thoughts and watching them go like a ticker tape across my mind and going, "Yep we're just going to watch. None of these you have to do right now. None of this we have to write down, we don't have to jump out of bed and figure it all out."

And then if I have that sense of urgency I'll start to just drop into a meditation or a gratitude practice. Gratitude is a really good route in for me where I'll start to say, "Hey what is one or two things?" And I'll touch them on my knuckles and be like, "Okay for each knuckle on your fingers you've got to figure out one little piece of gratitude."

And I'll go through this little practice to pull myself into the day in a more process-oriented, sweet way and it takes myself out of that urgent place.

Tara McMullin: That's beautiful, thank you for sharing that. Okay, let's talk about coping mechanisms too because I love this idea that every coping mechanism is a good coping mechanism. What are some of your favorite go-to coping mechanisms that maybe don't necessarily look healthy on the outside but are things that make you feel good and make you feel like yeah I'm getting through this and it's going to be okay on the other side?

Valerie Black: Well, it was true about 10 years ago that I was not someone who could sit on the couch. I was just not someone who could sit still and just letting myself be physically a bump on a log kind of thing. I can still hear my mother's voice in my head, "What are you doing today? What are you doing today?" Just allowing myself to physically be still and restful.

I know that doesn't sound very outrageous but it's a big deal for me and not punishing myself while I'm sitting there and just being. And letting myself read YA novels or just fun escapism. Things that I cannot prove will serve the bottom line of my business or my life. You know?

Tara McMullin: Yes.

Valerie Black: Podcasts that are not about my business. Like I love This American Life. I love those deep reporting that are just interesting that I won't necessarily use or harvest in any way. Things that are pointless are things I've been trying to let myself have. Dance, I love dancing and I've been trying to just let myself be more playful again even though I don't feel playful. This year I haven't felt very playful. I've felt very serious.

I think one more thing I was just thinking of is being in the kitchen with food and letting myself have this very succulent, sensual, pleasureful experience like buying my favorite cheese and then my favorite bread and my favorite olives and the expense of it seems gratuitous, the calories of it seem gratuitous and sitting with it and being with it in a way that's like we're on a date, this baguette and I. So things like that, that really are pretty simple but can give you this depth if you let yourself have it.

Tara McMullin: It seems like a theme with all of those things is presence as well. Like those are things that help you maybe drop into that moment instead of spiraling into unknown futures.

Valerie Black: Yeah. I think you're absolutely right. Like my proclivity is to into future tripping and catastrophizing and I'm a planner and a strategist and that's what I help other people do so it's a very slippery slope, right? Because I think that I'm doing vital important research and work on behalf of them and myself and really it's future tripping and it's neurotic thought and your right, a lot of my coping mechanisms come down to slowing myself way down and this year I've been really playing with the thought that a mutual friend and colleague of ours gave me which is really about speed is potentially causing more harm. So how can I slow myself down to cause less harm both to myself and others?

Tara McMullin: Yeah, I love that. Okay, let's get back to the business piece. I could talk about coping mechanisms [crosstalk 00:18:55] and self-care all day and we will definitely get back to that but let's reorient in the year.

So it's April, your contracts have been canceled. You're coaching clients that you had lined up have gone away. What kind of action did you take then in quarter two and beyond to get things back on track and get you to a place where you felt like, all right, business is happening again?

Valerie Black: Yeah. I mean this is the great frenetic scramble that we were all doing. I was really grateful to be part of the network at the time and to be a part of our mastermind and for listeners, I'm talking about the masterminds that Tara runs and the What Works network and the really smart people who are in that network trying to figure out how do we do this well?

How do we not be tone deaf? How do we share what we want to share? And God we were all making it up, right? So a few things that I can look back at now that I did, I mean one of them was I applied for some of those funds for businesses. I applied for unemployment and I applied for food stamps and there were some really, really hard days there.

I went back to school to get my MBA. This is my fifth business and I am a very self-reliant person and I never thought I would be looking at an empty bank account and I was really freaked out and the food stamps moment was a particularly low moment and I just felt this deep humility and awareness of my own privilege that was just so overwhelming.

In addition to getting in touch with our community, I got in touch with my other communities and tried to find work. I was talking to companies I'd worked for before and I was learning that all the budgets were frozen and that no one was hiring executives. So I wasn't able to go back into the workforce because everyone's budgets were frozen.

And nobody wanted executives right now. Executive salaries are being cut, budgets were being cut and no one was getting bonuses so it was really apparent that I was going to be doing some free work to serve my community which I really wanted to do and I got to do some free workshops for different communities and that was awesome.

And my prayer again came back to this use me well, use me well and I started looking really close in at my community and at the people that I love and trying to figure out where do people need support because the best thing for my mental health is to be helping others and that lifts me up and also makes me have to be more rigorous about my practices for myself.

And when I looked around I really saw my best friend was going through a divorce and she's got two little kids at home and my family in Denver was just struggling with little ones and a pregnancy and my mom being older and everyone was doing pretty well but they could use some bolstering.

So I started thinking, how do I get out there? And how do I help them? We weren't flying at the time and I started hatching this wild plan which I had no business hatching because I'd never done anything like this before but a couple of weird things came together and one of them was I learned that there were these rooftop tents and I knew that all of the campsites were closed still but if I got this rooftop tent I could just pull my car over and pop the top and sleep on forestry service roads that were still open.

And then I started thinking I could cook all of my own food, and I can do this trek across the country and I don't have to contact anything except for gas stations. So maybe I could drive from Seattle to Denver and then Denver to Chicago and I could enter people's bubbles safely having quarantined on the road and doing whatever additional quarantine that they wanted.

Then I could show up for them and be the extra pair of hands they needed. I could take them on hikes, I could bring my paddleboards and my car with me and I could take them out in the water and I could help expand people's possibilities.

So ultimately that's what I did and it was amazing. It was amazing. There were so many anecdotes of that, that were amazing but I'll give you one quick one which was I had no idea how to build a fire before this trip and one of my partners showed me how to build a fire and how to cook on the fire.

So as I camped across the country I rebuilt fires for myself and cooked for myself and it was just this surge of self-reliance and new skill-building and opening up my horizons that I needed. And I left and did a four-day drive across the country and when I got to Denver I had four new client contracts waiting for me in my inbox.

People who were either coming back or who were ready to get back to work from a previous contract we had done or who had heard about me from a friend of a friend. So by early June, I was back in business.

Tara McMullin: That's amazing. You are so wonderful.

Valerie Black: It felt magical. It felt like a reward for getting myself unstuck. It felt like a reward for looking up past my own grief to help other people with theirs and it continued to just be this unspooling of magic all summer long and I was gone for almost three months.

Tara McMullin: Amazing. You'll hear how Valerie's morning practice along with other self-care rituals helped her to navigate the ebbs and flows of the year. But first a word from our What Works partners.

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I also wanted to let you know that I've opened up a few openings for one on one coaching and strategy clients for next year. I've been helping experienced small business owners like you make their businesses stronger for over 10 years. That means we create plans that are ambitious and reasonable.

We build systems that are effective and sustainable and we plan for both growth and rest. And we address the underlying beliefs, assumptions, and habits that can become obstacles on the way to becoming a stronger CEO. If you're looking to shift your relationship to your business so you have a stronger foundation for growth or scale, if you're leveling up your business operation so it's easy to run while making you more money, or if you're stepping out in new ways with your thought leadership or signature process I'd like to help.

Together we can work to rethink how you approach your work, the structure of your business, and the way you lead. We can put systems and processes into place that support how you want to interact with your business. We can identify blind spots and growth opportunities. Find a sense of groundedness and support and assess and improve the nuts and bolts of your business model, organizational structure, and finances.

During six months together we'll audit and assess your current business model, marketing strategy, operations, and financials. We'll meet for monthly 60 minute one-on-one coaching and strategy sessions. You'll mastermind with my other one-on-one coaching clients and we'll work together via Slack so that you have unlimited access to feedback and support ask you need it as well as weekly priority check-ins and access to other business owners navigating similar experiences.

Plus we'll review your progress monthly to spot patterns and identify what's working and we'll complete our coaching with a debrief of what you've worked through and what your next steps are for 2021 and beyond. To find out more about working with me in 2021 go to explorewhatworks.com/Tara. That's explorewhatworks.com/Tara.

You know a question that had not occurred to me earlier that now I'm really curious about is so you had such a reversal of fortune obviously when lockdowns started and everyone panicked and this is another complete reversal of fortune in just thinking that you were starting from square one in many ways and in many ways you were not.

But I guess the question I'm trying to form in my head is around how you managed yourself getting back to work? Because I would think that you expended a lot of energy coaching yourself, leading yourself through the downturn and the panic and the grief of that.

And I think sometimes getting back to "normal" getting back to work, in general, is another need to expend energy that you may not have I guess. I'm curious how you worked through that.

Valerie Black: So there are a couple of things that I think are in the background that I want to bring to the foreground. Which are that I have a really strong and full morning practice that I do every day and it includes a menu of things I take from journaling, yoga, meditation, prayer, affirmations and it usually takes me between 90 minutes and two hours.

I am so lucky to have the time to do this practice but I'll also say I've been cultivating this practice again for about 20 years. So I started teaching yoga and meditation 20 years go and it was really abundantly clear that if you don't have your own practice you can't support other people's practices.

And as we were going from 2019 to 2020 I was making this really strong commitment to re-engaging my creative work and my creative practice in the morning and I was calling it Create AM in my calendar and I was blocking this time to just be with my longings and my curiosities and I took on a practice really rigorously before COVID hit for that practice in the morning and it included oracle and tarot cards and this observance of moon cycles.

And it was an observance of the ebbs and flows and the times of the day and the times of my own energy. So I was really looking at when am I hyper-functional and when am I needing to be refilled? And watching the cycles. So when the clients started coming back I already had these strong practices of ebb and flow of understanding that there's going to be a tide that comes back and there's going to be a tide that goes away and I'll also say, and I teach this absolutely to a lot of my clients who are also coaches, which is I get more filled up from the self-care work I do because I know it serves not just me but also my clients.

And so it has this double payoff that quite pleases the achiever in me, like if you can get a double bottom line return on your investment kind of thing. So I'll admit to that being a boost to all these practices, right? So when these clients came back and some of them who had canceled their contracts came back in, some new ones came in and I decided to consolidate all of my workdays down to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so I could travel and serve the people I had in my family and friends who I had planned on serving the other four days of the week.

And I'm really, really lucky that I've created a practice, or maybe the word luck is not the right word. I have really, particularly, intentionally cultivated a practice where I get to work with people who I deeply admire and who are very talented. So the work I do always fills me up. It doesn't mean that it's not tiring or strenuous but when I got to get back to work I felt so grateful and that also filled me up.

And I also didn't take more than I could handle. So I kept myself at a really diminished client load because I knew by then in June which was still kind of early in our COVID understanding, but I knew by then personally that I needed to be very process-oriented this year and not results-oriented. So I pulled everything back to those morning practices and to my meditation practice and I got really strict with myself in a loving way about how much I would need to do in order to be able to show up for other people.

Tara McMullin: That is really remarkable. The idea that you know I think our natural inclination when things go from bad or empty to being full or good again it's like well I better take advantage of this or I better bend over backward because who knows when my fortune's going to swing the other way again.

That's the natural inclination that is typically how we respond in those situations. So immediately when you said, "Well I only was working Monday through Wednesday and I didn't take on more than I could handle." It's like whoa that is some serious restraint. Some serious self-knowledge, some serious boundary setting, and not something that comes naturally to most people.

So I just wanted to kind of call that out. I don't know if you have anything more to add to that.

Valerie Black: I promise you it did not come naturally to me either. I promise you. In 2010, I built a school for coaches and in certifying hundreds of coaches and then hundreds of healthcare practitioners in this methodology for how to use coaching in medicine I got really rigorous with myself about what boundaries look like, what enough looks like, and if you're going to teach burnout, not teach people how to be burnt out but teach people how to recover from burn out you can't be faking it.

You've got to be really at the core of meaning, of purpose, and why we're here on this planet and what we can let ourselves get up to and what we can't. You know I was already spiritual but I've become deeply rooted in my spiritual practice in this way of the ego will tell me over and over again, "Val take on more, do more. Doesn't that look shiny over there? Go over there."

And I'll have to stay in my roots and go, but why? What are we satisfying by doing that? And believe me, Tara I have bought so many courses this year and I mean there are ways that I have let myself have access. Things I can't actually deliver on or complete but I've made sure there aren't people on the other end that I'm going to hurt if I don't do that and that is a practice of maturity your right and a practice of mastery.

But I've let myself do stupid things like buy way too many books and way too many online courses that I'm never going to finish and I just kind of know that that's how my desire to have more is going to express itself. Right? Because I have to have a little bit of a steam valve, you know? But I'm not going to do that with people and I'm not going to do that with commitments and that is because I've learned really by making lots of mistakes.

And by getting to be with people while they mend and repair the mistakes they've made in over committing and in not right-sizing their expectations of themselves or the systems that they participate in because this is not something that we invented. This is a part of a sick system that we all buy into that says your productivity and your worth are connected and that's an illness I think we're all recovering from and COVID has put it front and center for us.

Tara McMullin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Absolutely. I love that you used the word satisfy. At one point you said, "What am I satisfying by chasing this thing or chasing that thing?" And just earlier this week I listened to Jonathan Van Ness interview Adrienne Maree Brown who wrote Emergent Strategy.

Valerie Black: Oh yes.

Tara McMullin: Yeah, and it was a great conversation and one of the questions that she posed in that conversation that's really stuck with me is am I satisfiable? What does it look like to me to be satisfied? Can I be satisfied with the expectations that I have now? With the desire that I have now? And that question just bowled me over and you echoing it bowls me over too.

And I'm curious how you define satisfaction or enoughness for yourself because this is a question I find so challenging when it comes to my own practice and my own leadership.

Valerie Black: I love that you mentioned Adrienne Maree Brown because I was trying to figure out how much of my own pleasure practices I wanted to bring in and she's the author of Pleasure Activism and there's this concept that I'm really interested in around... That I've been courting for a while because a lot of my pleasure and satisfaction used to come from achievement and especially achievement that was recognized externally.

And I have really been trying to figure out who the hell I've been trying to please all that time and my divorce was a major dismantling of my identity around looking good and doing it right and there was a huge ego death that happened during that time and I know I'm not unique in that but divorce in our culture does that to people and I took the ride.

I paid for the damn ticket and I took the ride and I did everything I could to really learn from that experience and one of the things I found that was so rewarding was pleasure is not waiting for me to find it out there. It's really self-generated and in my meditation practice and in my yoga practice, in my stretch of my hamstring and my forward fold and my breath and the ways that the muscles start to shift and then my body asks for me to sway to the right, and then my ribcage wants me to rotate, that's a language that I spoke in my first several years of yoga practice as an achievement, as a shape as a thing to look good.

And then I began to speak this internal language of what is it to be in this body and what is it to have this particular flavor and taste and it's not out there. Pleasure and joy is here and the question I asked myself during my divorce, a time when I was deeply depressed was what does make me happy? And I was trying to figure it out, I was trying to rediscover it because I'd lost the pulse of it.

And that is a question that I come back to over and over again, is it this tea or is this tea right now that makes me happy? And even happy is a trap because I think pleasure or sensation or presence that you pointed out earlier, the thing that I can be with now that's going to lead me back to myself in a way that's so much more powerful than an external result.

But it's quieter and that's the thing that's tricky. It's much less. It doesn't give you the same kind of like it's not a fast drug, it's a slow drug you know? And it's not going to give you this sense of satisfaction like a snap and a wand. It's going to give you this current of slow burn.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. That's beautiful. Okay as we start to wrap up slowly though, slowly we're going to wrap up you have a lot of options for moving forward from where you're at right now which is a pretty amazing place. You have a lot of ideas for moving forward from here. How are you personally weighing the possibilities that are in front of you?

Valerie Black: I used to believe in this idea of a calling that was both external and internal but it was like it happened and you sort of answered the call. I first went into my first profession when I was 10 and I felt this really powerful call to be an actress. My sense now is this sense of where does my good skillfulness meet the needs of the world? And I'm currently deep in that inquiry and one of the things that keeps coming up over and over again is my skills for facilitation. My skills for coaching coaches.

My skills for being in this process, this creative process of generation and birth and birthing, and how the metaphors even are changing. Like I love business, I'm fascinated by business models but the businesses that I'm really intrigued by now are more feminine in their design. Like sort of sacred feminine in their design. They're cyclical they're not the metaphors of war and conquering and hierarchy. They're the metaphor of circles and birthing and cycles.

So how do I take all of those abstract things and my experience with business and my love of supporting people and pull it into a new form? And to be concrete about it, I'm thinking again like I was at the end of the year last year that it's probably a community. That it's probably helping other thought leaders and teachers and coaches bring their voices to the world.

I do believe even when it sounds woo in my own head that we are at a turning point in our society and that the world is begging for the people who can build a new future to come forward and I'm testing my own strength to see can I be rigorously honest with people and tell them what I'm about and bring that voice forward?

And I'm scared too and I also keep thinking of that Anais Nin quote that as your courage expands your life expands, your world expands and I keep trying to figure out how do I keep leaning toward that? Little things like a newsletter that I'm finally going to get out. I want to share about how I made my book on Patreon and teach people how that process went and be really honest about the ways that it was small and unsuccessful and also expansive and beautiful and deeply creative and nurturing.

I want to get really real with people this next year and continue because I don't feel like my clients would ever say that I'm not really real with them but it's layered right? And it's that onion of even more truth.

Tara McMullin: Valerie, what are you excited about right now?

Valerie Black: You know I'm excited about getting that darn newsletter in a real form where it's going out every week and I've decided the name of it is Fierce and Tender for Those Who Want to Heal the World.

Tara McMullin: I love it.

Valerie Black: Because that's how I've been feeling is this veracity and this fire and also this water and tenderness and sweetness and I think we need both as we're going to go out and make this better.

Tara McMullin: Absolutely. Valerie Black, thank you so much for sharing your reflections on this last year and your coping mechanisms and your self-care practices, and just everything that's going on inside of your head. I really, really appreciate it and I know our listeners do too.

Valerie Black: Thanks so much. It was a real pleasure.

Tara McMullin: There's a psychological phenomenon called the end of history illusion. It describes our tendency to underestimate how much our circumstances can and will change in the future even though we can look back and see how much things have changed in the past.

I try to remind myself of this anytime I'm feeling stuck or stagnant. I think about how much I've grown in the last 12 years since I became a business owner and remind myself that if I just repeat that same kind of growth over the next 12 years I'll be in an extraordinary place by the time I'm 50.

Things have changed before and they'll change again. I'm creating that growth every single day even if I can't perceive it in the moment. What I love about Valerie's story is how she doesn't seem to suffer this end of history illusion. Her witness consciousness helps her see that for every time the tide flows out it will come back in again. With that mind, she can lead herself through every ebb and flow. Find out more about Valerie Black at valerieeblack.com.

Next week you'll hear from Alethea Fitzpatrick the founder of Co-Creating Inclusion. It's a check-in of sorts. I interviewed Alethea last year as she moved from consultant to consultancy and this conversation documents how she navigated personal challenges and major professional and business growth over the course of 2020.

Now if you want to take an intentional and gentle look back at this year with me find me on Instagram where I'm sharing a reflection question every day of December and leading a conversation about what worked, what didn't work, and how we've grown over the course of this unusual year. Find me at Tara_McMullin.

What Works is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Sean McMullin. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt. Our production assistants are Kristen Runvik and Lou Glazer. Find more episodes of What Works at explorewhatworks.com

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