Founder and CEO of Sage House, entrepreneur, and author, Erica Williams Simon, chatted with host Michael Redd about betting on yourself as a way of life, taking a leap of faith early in her career, and why developing a “sixth sense” is so important for finding your calling.
“The contingency plan is you, and needs to be one tied to who you are.”– Erica Williams Simon
The social critic, media personality, and reformed Washington politico has been a lifelong civil and human rights activist. Through her company, Sage House, Erica helps people and brands “uncover wisdom for living and working in a modern world.”
Her recent book You Deserve the Truth (Simon & Schuster), is described as, “Part memoir, part blueprint [to help] a diverse young generation of dreamers and doers understand the power of story: how to see it, understand it and master it for better lives – and a better world.”
The former Head of Creator’s Lab for Snapchat is also a popular moderator and interviewer, host of the popular podcast The Call with Erica, and creator and host of the Rosario Dawson produced digital talk show The Assembly.
She has been featured on The Today Show, O Magazine, and The Washington Post and is a frequent TV commentator.
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In this episode Michael and Erica talked about:
- Why she quit a career in politics – with no backup plan – to follow her true voice
- The importance of vision, wonder, and curiosity on her journey
- How her father’s last words guide her life’s calling
- The power of self-actualization and her definition of success
- Why the older you get, the smarter your parents’ wisdom becomes
- And creating new paradigms for betting on yourself
Michael Redd: Your story, it's the epitome I think of betting on yourself. And I had the privilege of reading your book and really studying your background and your history. And it's really fascinating to me. And I think a lot of people will be so helped in making that choice of betting on themselves. So your resume is unbelievable. It's incredible. I understand that you were on Today's Show, you were in Forbes, you were in Time. You're an entrepreneur, you're an author, you're a host, you're an advisor, you're a consultant. You're a communication trainer. You're a media maker. You founded your own company, EWS Strategies. There's a lot to you.
Erica Williams Simon: Yeah.
Michael Redd: So I want to start with this question in essence, because I think it epitomizes the book, and even your journey, even as a young girl, what does it mean to you, Erica, to bet on yourself?
Erica Williams Simon: That's a great question. And you know what, it's funny as you were listing all of those things and titles and accolades and accomplishments, I always say that the true way to define me and describe me is Tom and Debbie's daughter. That is who I am at my core is I'm a preacher's kid who grew up in an environment that prioritize sacred spaces and conversations about the big issues and questions of life. And that's what drives me. That's kind of this thread throughout all of those seemingly disparate endeavors and projects and industries, it's that I'm always looking to create the space for those important conversations.
Erica Williams Simon: And so to answer your question betting on myself meant, and has always meant believing in that calling. Believing that what I feel inside of me, what I'm driven to do in the world is the right thing to do, regardless of how it looks or how difficult it might seem, or even if it sounds crazy to someone else. I stay really, really in tune with what that small voice inside of me is encouraging me to do and I bet on that every time. Over any other voice, over all the loud voices of the world, that's the voice that I trust most.
Michael Redd: Yeah. I, knowing you for the last year and spending time with you by phone, we were introduced by Mike Stud at Snapchat. And I picked up that whole aura about you from the time we met and your life, your life work demonstrates that this lady has taken many chances on herself over the years. Is there a pivotal moment in your life that, hey, I took a major risk on my life?
Erica Williams Simon: Yeah, it's funny. I was just about, I was writing something this morning that said, I realized that this betting on yourself is a way of life. So I've done it over and over and over again. And I think that's what you have to do if you truly believe in yourself and your calling and your vision. But I think the most significant one was the first time that I kind of through away what was expected of me and just jumped into the unknown. And that was actually the pivotal moment and the anchor of my book, You Deserve the Truth, which is when I was in my late 20s. I'm an OG, old millennial now. But when I was a young millennial in my 20s, I had built up this career in politics that looked absolutely amazing. It looked like a dream career. Yes, partially due to my grit and talent and all that stuff. But I also say, so much it has to do with being at the right place at the right time and serendipity and all of that.
Erica Williams Simon: So all those things combined, had given me this great career where I was, I jokingly called myself a millennial evangelist in the politics world. My job was basically to advocate for young people to have a voice and a seat at the table as major decisions were being made around healthcare and the economy and education, climate change, and all these issues. And that role, I was running the youth advocacy arm at the nation's largest think tank, working with Bill Clinton's chief of staff, going to the White House during the Obama years and all this fun flashy stuff.
Erica Williams Simon: And on paper, it looked great. And there were absolute highs of that work, where I felt like I'm really making a difference, but I'd hit this point around 27, 28, when I said, okay, this is great. And you kind of have two options here. You can keep going down this political track. And there's a couple of paths that that leads to, right? You either run an organization or because I'd done a lot of media work at that time. You could become a pundit. You could be a lobbyist. There was that lane, which seemed very natural because I was born and raised in the DC area. And so that was home for me. Or you can listen to this voice inside of you that keeps saying, but Erica, you don't actually like politics. I love changing the world. I love social impact. I love cause work. I love all of that stuff, but the actual box and industry of politics, I hate.
Erica Williams Simon: And so there was that voice. There was the voice that was saying, what about all the other big questions and the soulful spiritual work that you know you want to do and have always wanted to do your whole life. How does that fit into this lane? The voice that said, even though you wrecked up all these awards, in Washington, they pay you with awards and titles, not in dollars. And so you're still, even though you have this flashy life on Instagram, you're actually really still financially unstable and insecure. How do you reconcile that with what you want to do? There were all these questions in my mind and I didn't know the answers, but something in me, I woke up one morning and I had just gotten married, came back from my honeymoon and was like, no, I don't want to do this anymore. I want to live more authentically. And so I say, I had my Jerry Maguire eat, pray, love moment. And I just, I quit.
Erica Williams Simon: And I always tell people, you don't have to do it as dramatically as I did. You don't have to abruptly leave your life with no plan. But it was this moment when I just said, no, I don't want to do this anymore. I know that I will figure it out. And as a person of faith, I said, God's got me. That was what I kept saying to myself every day after I quit my job and really didn't have another... I didn't have a plan B, I didn't have anything already set up, no resources to fall back on. I just knew that I had a gift and a calling and a mission. And those things combined with bravery would lead me to a new life and a new career.
Michael Redd: I think you said something very powerful on contingency plans and it's hard to be a hybrid, right? Wanting to hold onto the old, but yet experienced the new things. And a lot of people sometimes struggle with having a contingency plan just in case it doesn't work out. It sounds to me and you just said it, I think, and just to be redundant, that you had no contingency plan, it was a clean break from a former life, a former identity into this new life and uncertainty. And I think our culture, and we've talked about this before that our culture really, really leans on certainty.
Erica Williams Simon: Yeah. Which is a myth anyway, nothing is certain. Right. Tomorrow is not promised as we're seeing during the pandemic. This economy is not certain, our political structure, nothing actually is certain. And yet we crave it so much. And so one thing I've learned, when you talk about not having a contingency plan and this really ties nicely into the theme of betting on yourself is I wasn't worried about what I would do if I failed, but I made sure I knew who I would be if I failed. And I think there's a difference. So when you talk about having a contingency plan, no, I didn't have a plan B that was laid out in terms of next steps and activities. But my contingency plan was me. I knew that if everything failed, the kind of person that I was would be willing to do whatever it took, would be industrious and creative and persistent and diligent. That I would not give up hope, that I would figure out something to do. The contingency plan is you.
Erica Williams Simon: And so I'm not encouraging people to kind of jump with no thought of failure because failure is always an option. It is. And in fact, in many cases is a likely scenario, but the contingency plan needs to be one that is tied to who you are. Right. How do you deal with uncertainty? What do you do when the floor falls out from beneath you? Do you drop, or do you fly? These are the kinds of things that you need to be aware of and think of, and be able to plan for. Not necessarily the systems and structures and steps that you'll take, if something doesn't work.
Michael Redd: Wow. You said something again that I think is so important about the fear of failure, right? There's an illegitimate perspective of failure and that grips us from ever, ever jumping off the cliff of opportunity. Explain that a little bit. That was good.
Erica Williams Simon: I mean, failure is a scary thing. Embedded in it is all sorts of fears. There's fear of embarrassment. Sometimes there's... And let me also be clear. It's not all in your head. There are legitimate fears. Failure does bring, or can bring, especially depending on where you are in the socioeconomic system, culturally like failure brings with it, very real consequences and repercussions. So they're not all imaginary, but I think what our minds have done is even with the real consequences we have made up in our heads, what those consequences mean, how meaningful they are. We think that if we fail economically, then there's some kind of implication for the rest of our lives, rather than seeing it as, you know what, yes, this hurts. This was a bad thing. This knock me out for a minute, but I can recover. Right.
Erica Williams Simon: We see fear of embarrassment as being the end or be all rather than, you know what, that was uncomfortable. And it may take me a minute to shake that off, but I can shake it off. And so if we really focus on, think about the worst case scenario and then imagine, and what next. In nearly every worst case scenario, there is a next. You have the choice to wake up another day and determine what happens after. And so failure is something it's... Fear is a very natural human instinct. So I'm not one of the people that's telling everyone to be fearless, but be brave. Brave is kind of is doing something anyway, in the face of that fear. You should be able to look failure in the eye and say, you know what, I'm a little afraid here, but I'm pushing past it because I know that my destiny or my vision, the new reality for me is on the other side of that.
Michael Redd: That leads me into another question that I didn't even have written down actually about vision. How important is vision in the journey towards purpose existence? How critical was that for you going forward?
Erica Williams Simon: Vision is so, so important. You have to exist in another world almost, where when you close your eyes what you see is different from the reality around you. You have to be able to taste and feel literally your new future, your new life, what is possible because that vision is what will carry you through the reality around you that doesn't look the way you want it to look in the moment and then in the present. That vision is kind of your guiding light in the midst of what may seem like darkness around you and whatever that darkness is. If it's a career you don't like, if it's a relationship, that isn't serving you, whatever it is, that vision, even in thinking about the country and the world, right? If you get bogged down in looking at the reality, it can weigh you down and render you immobile.
Erica Williams Simon: But if you have that vision of a brighter future, that's what drives you and that's what keeps you in the day-to-day through the hardships, through the fears, through the struggle, through the failure. Even as a kid, I was all I lived in my imagination. It was just my nature. To this day, I'm a daydreamer. I see things before they happen and not in a spooky way. I just, I see it and I believe it, and I'm going to keep believing it until it happens. And if it hasn't happened yet that doesn't really shatter my faith. It just makes me feel like, all right, I'm still alive. So there's still time. And so I encourage people to just stay in that space of imagination, stay in that space of truly trying to see what you can't see with your natural eyes.
Michael Redd: I think you mentioned in your book, the constant state of wonder and curiosity that we can live and experience esoteric moments all the time in our lives. Let me ask you a question within your journey, was there an inspiration of that or someone that you can glean from, that you gleaned from?
Erica Williams Simon: Let see. So many people. I talk about him quite a bit in the book and really all the time, which is my father. He certainly was like the guiding force in my life. He started our church in our basement when I was nine months old. And I just watched him throughout his life, which unfortunately ended when he was 42 years old. He had a cardiac failure in the pulpit while preaching on a Sunday morning. And so that was a turning point in my life obviously, but his legacy is one of boldness, of betting on himself, of believing and having faith so strong that it could overcome obstacles. And so those are the shoulders I stand on. And so I always think about that and him and his life and story and work.
Erica Williams Simon: But then I also look at, you know, I heard Issa Rae say once, and I'm paraphrasing, but that we always tend to look at people who are far, far, far ahead of us for inspiration, rather than looking at the people who are around us, who are doing amazing, wonderful things. And so I also try to look at my peers. I see my peers who are doing brilliant things who come from similar backgrounds or find themselves in similar situations and overcome every day. And they inspire me as well.
Michael Redd: You're speaking about your father, when I read that in the book, I was literally blown away by the story. Me and you had that in common where we're PKs and our fathers have passed away. And we've had incredible dialogue about the church and the Body of Christ and things of that nature. But there was something that I underlined in the book that was really, really touching to my heart, and that was new life. Explain to the listeners about what new life means to you.
Erica Williams Simon: So new life, those were actually my father's last words. He was preaching a sermon based out of the book of Matthew and the story of pouring new wine, how you don't pour new wine into old wineskins. Right. This idea that fresh insight, fresh anointing, the desire for a fresh life, whatever it is, you don't pour it into an old structure. You have to change the entire thing. And as he was preaching that he said new life, new life, and then clutched his chest and fell to the ground. And those words were emblazoned in my brain for very obvious reasons. But I didn't really understand the application of that until I got a little bit older and realized how much of what he was talking about, the potential that we have, the God-given potential that we have to create anew, to begin again. To discard the old when it's not serving us, when it doesn't function, when it can't hold our new vision, our new dreams, our new identity. That we have the God-given right to discard that and begin again and start fresh.
Erica Williams Simon: That has driven everything I've done. Even back in my politics and social justice work, I believed strongly that people deserved even out of their government, out of the systems and structures that have built our society, I believe strongly that people have the right to a new life, to one that is better than the one they were born into. And it's guided what I do now, even outside of that, encouraging and helping and supporting other people, helping businesses, helping anyone who has a new vision for something better, figure out how to get there. Because again, I believe it is part of who we are as humans.
Michael Redd: You mentioned earlier about being versus doing. And a lot of times our identity is attached to what we do compared to just being affirmed of who we are.
Erica Williams Simon: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Michael Redd: And let me ask you this question, how important is identity to you?
Erica Williams Simon: It's so important and how you define identity. What that identity is, is what is the important part, not the labels of it. We focus so much on what we do because that's the easy stuff to see it. You're told that from the time you're born, you are told the superficial stuff. You're told the labels, you're told what boxes you are supposed to check where you fit. You're told what you're good at, and therefore those become your skills, and then those become your jobs. And that's how you identify yourself in the world. All of that stuff is easy to see. Who you actually are, requires some stillness. It requires some self-interrogation. It requires you asking yourself some important questions and observing yourself and shutting out other voices who are trying to tell you who you are.
Erica Williams Simon: And I realized that until you have a good sense of that, you're not going to have the life you want, right? You can absolutely accomplish things. Let me be clear. I know a lot of people who are successful and have no sense of self. You can do a lot of things, but that kind of deeper anchoring and contentment in life, I don't think it comes unless you really fully know who you are, because then you can stand up against again, every other message that is trying to tell you otherwise. I know that I'm not who the media says I am as a woman, as a black woman, as a Christian, as all of these labels. I know what those things mean to me, and therefore I get to choose how I show up in the world.
Michael Redd: That's incredible. And it's so true because we're so programmed to plagiarize. If I can just be like that person, if I can be like that person. And I think you're breaking the mold and trailblazing for your generation in saying, you have permission to be authentically you. Now that takes time of discovery, but the world has never seen a you before. Right?
Erica Williams Simon: Right. Right. It's so funny. We were watching, my husband and I were watching the Michael Jordan documentary that so many sports fans right now are watching, or have been watching. And there was one moment that struck me. So you know all the commercials and the whole be like Mike, be like Mike, be like Mike, which to your point, we're all trying to be like someone else. But when there was a conversation about gambling and an interviewer asked him just point blank, "Did you do this? Or where are you gambling?" He, without missing a beat said, "No, I bet on myself."
Erica Williams Simon: And I thought the irony of the whole world trying to be like someone who is actually really just committed to being like themselves. He was committed to being himself. Same thing with Oprah, same thing with all these celebrities that folks admire and want to be like, they all say very clearly the reason I've was able to achieve what I achieved is because I was committed to being no one, but me and I believed deeply in who I was, my gifts and talents. So to me, that's the irony, but also the lesson.
Michael Redd: And that bleeds into a thought that you had in the book, which is fascinating. I want you to share your thoughts on self-actualization. That was a powerful thought in the book about fully presenting to the world, the potential that's pulling in you.
Erica Williams Simon: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, again, we believe so much of what others tell us about ourselves, even if we don't realize it. The whole premise of the book is that we're like fish in water when it comes to the landscape of stories. We are all swimming in narratives every day, telling us how to behave and what we should do and who we should be and how to look and all of these things. And when you go through the process to really uncover who you, as an individual were created to be, the fun and the freedom is then figuring out how you want to present that and how you then make sure that your actions, your behavior, your life lines up, is in alignment with that, right? That is the act and the process of self-actualization. It's aligning what you say, and do with who you now know to be.
Erica Williams Simon: And it's a good feeling. It doesn't mean that every... Let's be clear, the life that we keep talking about in abstract terms is not perfect. No life is, you have ups, you have downs. You have good days, you have bad days. You make mistakes, you trip, you fail. All those things still happen. But what we're talking about is in some way is the same way I talk about faith, right? Good things happen to you, bad things happen to you. That doesn't change, but it's this deeper foundation where you can go to bed at night knowing, okay, all that happened, but I stayed true to who I am. I have an anchor knowing these core truths about me and about what I believe to be true.
Michael Redd: What is the meaning of success to you then? I guess that answer kind of ties into this question. What is the meaning of success to you?
Erica Williams Simon: Success to me is living a life where I feel as if I'm fully answering the call on my life, whatever that looks like, where I am at any given moment, able to say, I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing. It's not really tied to outcomes anymore for me. I do believe that when you answer the call on your life, when you're doing what you're supposed to do, I think you get rewarded with the outcomes that you desire, but the outcomes are not the goal. The goal is the work. The goal is the positioning. And the goal is the attitude of willingness and surrender to do whatever it is I'm supposed to do to fulfill my purpose.
Erica Williams Simon: And for those listening, some of the stuff's, it sounds very abstract until you go through and do that work for yourself. These big words, these ideas of purpose and calling and actualization. I mean, on a practical day-to-day basis, what that means is I wake up and the work that I'm doing, whether that's speaking or training or creating content, whatever it is, I know it's aligned with my purpose, my mission and my identity. That's what we're talking about. That's what success looks like for me. And then hopefully that results in certain things. There's places I want to travel and things I want to do and a certain lifestyle that I want to live. When I have children, I want to be able to stay home with them, all sorts of fun things that I want. But if those things don't happen, I will still go to my grave knowing that I have been a success if I'm aligned
Michael Redd: With that, do you have any regrets?
Erica Williams Simon: I mean, a lot of people say I don't ever have regrets. Heck yeah, I got regrets, but there are regrets in the sense that there are things I wish I had listened to or paid attention to sooner. You get stuff when you get stuff, that's just the journey of life. Right. But some of the things I hear myself saying now, I'm like, man, my parents were trying to tell me that when I was like 12. And that's the interesting thing about life. There's nothing new under the sun. We live in an entirely new context, with technology and our political environment. I mean, truly the world has never seen what we are living through right now-
Michael Redd: Correct.
Erica Williams Simon: ... on so many fronts and yet, yet, and still there is some principles of life, there's some principles of humanity, there's some principles how to live that you find don't really change. That stayed true throughout generation. And every generation has to learn those lessons and principles in their own way. And so I've gone through my own journey, of course, and at every step, what I've learned, I can take with me. So I don't regret working in politics. I don't regret the actions, but I wish that my mindset, I wish that I adapted this mindset so much sooner only because it would've saved me stress. I don't know that it would have changed outcomes, but it certainly would have saved me stress and anxiety and worry and all of those feelings we have in our 20s when we're trying to figure things out.
Michael Redd: I totally agree with you. It's just part of the journey. It really is. If you break it down without condemning yourself, it's really just part of the journey. And I think we haven't been programmed to enjoy the scenic route of life.
Erica Williams Simon: That's a good way to say it.
Michael Redd: It's really a scenic perspective. And I think you answered it perfectly. I think the older I get the smarter my parents are.
Erica Williams Simon: Yes. Yep. I know.
Michael Redd: It just is. And talk about what are you doing now, to give back these principles and this thought pattern of success and believing in yourself and authenticity, what are you doing now to kind of give back to the next generation?
Erica Williams Simon: So I do a lot of mentoring. Most of my work professionally is in front of audiences and crowds. And so what I love about mentoring is that it allows me to develop relationships one-on-one or in very intimate settings. So I do that quite a bit and just try to develop relationships with young people and not just, and I think this is something I would encourage my peers to do, not just the young people that look like stars. That was something I did early on, right, early on when you want to mentor and give back, you look in the room of young people and you see the one who, wow, she's got it, she's got whatever that is. Or, wow, she's a straight A student. I want to invest in her. And the older I've gotten, the more I'm like, no.
Erica Williams Simon: I mean, yes, they should be invested into, but what about that kid who's struggling right now and may not, who you, first of all, you have no idea what they're going to turn out to be. You have no idea, but even if somebody I've mentored does not turn out to be the world's measure of success, aren't they worth my love? Aren't they worth my investment? Aren't they worth the time? So that's one thing that I try to really be diligent about doing is identifying people that I feel called to mentor, regardless of what their "profile looks like." And then I also still do a lot of activism work. I'm on the board of colorofchange.org which does a lot of racial justice work, particularly around criminal justice, economic injustice. So that's a huge, huge part of my life as well.
Michael Redd: So what's next for you with everything that you have going on now, what's next for you in this new reality, right? I mean, you've talked about this over the last few months and last week or so about the new reality right now with this pandemic. What is next for you or what's on the horizon for you?
Erica Williams Simon: You know, I don't like to say, some people say crisis creates opportunity and I know what is meant by that, but I know it can also sound a little crass at times. So I like to say that crisis creates space and you can use that space, however you like. I think I've never seen and we were just talking about this on the phone the other day, I've never seen more space in my lifetime for the exact questions that I strive to ask and answer, who are we, how do we want to live? What is the meaning of life? What is purpose? How do I write my story? How do I make change in the world?
Erica Williams Simon: Those are the questions that drive my work. And so I'm really interested now, I always have been, but I think there's, again, more space and opportunity now to create content around some of those questions to elevate exactly like you're doing on this podcast, to elevate the voices of people who think deeply about that, whose lives are a testament to the journey. So I know that the next couple of months I'll be launching some new content. I'm working on a new book that's kind of demystifying faith for our generation and what that means. So that's really the lane that I want to stay in. I still, of course, do all my consulting and narrative strategy and all of that fun stuff. And that'll always be there. But I think the new content is really going to be helping people design better lives coming out of this moment.
Michael Redd: Yeah. One of the things I was drawn to was the way your mind thinks, and you are a deep thinker. Talk to the listeners a little bit about Sage House.
Erica Williams Simon: Yes. So Sage House is, I'm so excited about Sage Houses, which again, like everything else we've had to rethink and process now in the midst of the pandemic. So Sage House is a company that is focused on creating, like I said earlier, sacred spaces for these big picture conversations. And so there's a content component. And then down the line, once we're all allowed out of our homes, we'll be in an in-person component. And truly the vision is actually to have physical spaces in cities across the country that are, I don't want to call them churches because they're not churches.
Michael Redd: Sure.
Erica Williams Simon: There's still a need for traditional churches and houses of worship, but there's also a need, I think for spaces in our community where you can come and in different formats, have these exact type of conversations and build community and come together and ask these big questions and be vulnerable and transparent. And my vision is to create those kinds of spaces. So we'll start with content and then eventually we're going to have literal physical gatherings where people can come and do what I think a portion of what church was meant to do. Church's meant to do many, many, many things, right? It is house of worship. It is community. It is teaching and learning and all those things. But the one portion that I want to pull out and make accessible to more people is those important conversations. So we're in the process of building that and figuring out what that looks like for the next year.
Michael Redd: That is incredible. I know you call it a Sage House, but I think it's a safe house for people to come and hypothesize and to be curious, and to ask questions. And what you're presenting, which I love so much and you know this, is just a fresh paradigm, fresh methodology of how to galvanize communities.
Erica Williams Simon: It is. It is. And I mean, and to go back to our beginning conversation and the theme of this podcast creating new paradigms is betting on yourself. It's betting on the vision that you have. Of course, there's some data you can pull and some research and anecdotes and I have a sense that there is a need for this. I've heard from people even like you, right, that this resonates, but at the end of the day, if it's never been done and you're trying to do it, you're betting on yourself and hoping that it works and then it resonates.
Michael Redd: Yeah. Distinction and difference makes history, right? And that's the road that you're trending on. I'll almost end with this in a sense, where, what would you tell your 16-year-old self at this point?
Erica Williams Simon: I would tell my 16-year-old self to really spend time even more than you're already are, spend time by yourself and listening and learning how to cultivate your voice. Some people will say, it's your conscience, your inner voice, the voice of God, whatever language you put to it, but really, really developing that sixth sense because that's what's going to guide you through life more than the voices of your friends and all the books you read. My goodness, I was a bookaholic then, I still am. But even with all the smart content and all the books, like I said at the beginning, that voice inside is going to be the strongest one and the one that will lead you in the right paths.
Erica Williams Simon: I would tell myself that, and then I would tell myself, relax a bit. I was very type A, I wanted to be the perfect everything, the perfect daughter, the perfect choir member, the perfect student. And I would just tell myself to relax and have more fun because like you said, life is about taking the scenic route and you really, really want to enjoy the ride.
Michael Redd: I lied. I have one more question. I'm sorry.
Erica Williams Simon: Okay. Go for it.
Michael Redd: What would you tell the person who was 40+, who feels like life may be have passed me by, or maybe too late for me, or I don't have the inner drive of a Erica? How do you encourage them?
Erica Williams Simon: First of all, you don't need my drive. You need whatever your drive is, whatever that looks like. But if you are alive, if you are breathing, you have the chance and the opportunity to do something different, new. It doesn't have to be big. If there's something big on the inside of you, great. But it could also be small. The goal is meaning, is making meaning. And if you have another day, you have an opportunity to make meaning. And so first, stop comparing yourself to others. Your meaning doesn't have to look like anyone else's. It just has to be right for you.
Erica Williams Simon: The second, stop worrying about age. I've I felt that actually surprisingly enough, even though yes, I'm only in my early 30s, I definitely felt that coming out of the millennial civic engagement world where the prize, my identity in that world was that I was young, you're the young person at the table. So when I hit 30, I'm like, Oh, I'm not the youngest person at the table anymore. And I felt uncomfortable about that, which is so silly to feel old at 30, but that's what our society does to us. So I encourage you to block out those messages, block out those narratives. And just again, remember that you have the same day, you have the same 24 hours that I do. And as the meme says, and we both have the same 24 hours that Beyonce does so we can do anything.
Michael Redd: You said a great point, like we're so landmark-driven or milestone-driven. I have to have a wedding at a certain age. I have to have a kid at a certain age. I have to have this at a certain age. Right? And that kind of grip us.
Erica Williams Simon: Yeah. It's a very Western mindset. I can't remember who I heard say this, but it changed the way I thought. It said that in America we are a football culture and in the game of football, you measure, so I've been told. I don't do football, I'm a basketball fan. But I've been sold that the way you measure progress, right, is by forward motion. And that anytime you step back, it's a loss. But that the rest of the world actually pays attention to soccer. And in soccer, you actually kick the ball back in order to go forward. So it's not as obsessed with this constant forward motion, right? That taking a ball back is actually often a setup for the longer game. So I try to get out of that Western mindset and remind myself that the entire world doesn't think this way. And I don't have to think this way just because culture says it doesn't make it true. I'm not defined by milestones. I'm not defined by age or by these abstract markers of success.
Michael Redd: Wow. Thank you so much, Erica, for just the time of day and the wisdom. I really believe it's going to help a lot of people who are listening to this podcast and it's all about betting on yourself. And I think Erica did an incredible job today and with her life being an example of that. So thank you, Erica, for your time of day.
Erica Williams Simon: Thank you so much. This was a great conversation.
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