Carmen Westbrook: “Be very aware of your own capacity”

Be very aware of your own capacity. We are each given a certain amount of energy each day. Be consciously aware of what you have, and do not overfill your own plate. Be constantly adjusting to what you have. We want to always be in a position where we support others from our overflow, and […]

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Be very aware of your own capacity. We are each given a certain amount of energy each day. Be consciously aware of what you have, and do not overfill your own plate. Be constantly adjusting to what you have. We want to always be in a position where we support others from our overflow, and not let our own well run dry.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carmen Westbrook.

Carmen is the CEO and co-founder of Aina Giving, the premiere leadership development company nurturing mother leadership. As a diplomat, military spouse, six-year stay at home mom, marathoner, and entrepreneur, Carmen knows the ins and outs of leading a balanced, fulfilled life while also accomplishing the goals and dreams life has handed our way. Carmen is trained as a co-active leadership coach and developer, and has trained governments, international aid organizations, and mothers worldwide, and is currently planning to move to her fifth continent (Africa!) with her husband of 17 years, three wonderful children, and one fluffy dog.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Yes! I started my journey as a military spouse and nonprofit manager in North Carolina. After only a few years of moving up those ranks, I found myself pregnant — and realized that the next step in my career path was as a full-time mother. And THAT was a leadership experience, let me tell you. After working in that field 24/7 for roughly six years, I moved on to government contractor, leadership trainer, and executive coach. I now combine all of these skillsets by training mothers, government leaders, and vulnerable populations in leadership and community development.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am such a book person! I love this question. One of the most influential books I’ve read is “Learned Optimism.” My mother gave it to me when I was about 16 or 17, and it has had a tremendous impact on my life — the author, Martin Seligman, is one of the founders in this field of using our brains in service to our selves, and that book is a pioneering book on how to use brain tools like visualization and neuro-linguistic programming to move our thoughts from pessimism to optimism. Having moved eight times in the past seventeen years and been through five deployments with my husband, I have used those tools to continually find the positive in the situations that life hands to me — and bloom wherever I am planted.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Absolutely. There’s something important to remember, which is that the spread of fear and violence can be modeled as a disease — there is some pioneering work being done on this with nonprofits in Chicago. So it’s good to remember that we always have the choice to opt out of the spread and be in charge of what is going on in our own lives and our own brains. And here are a few perspectives that counteract that — kind of like an antidote to that spread of fear.

First, coronavirus has, for the first time in history, focused the whole global community on one single issue. I work with people on five continents around the world, and I have never before been able to form communities within online meetings as quickly as I can now. We are all united in our common experience with coronavirus — and common experiences are one of the foundational tools in stepping beyond our differences and moving into a place of common humanity. This is an incredible boon that we are already experiencing from the covid experience.

Second — as I said in my book, every “life fire” that we are asked to walk through always has a gift at the end. This is something that I have experienced personally in my own life, and also with the lives of all of my coaching clients and the leaders that we train. We are being constantly asked to grow in our lives — constantly handed bigger or smaller fires to walk through. Corona has been a bigger fire for some. And, at the end of every fire, there is always a gift. One of the examples that I can point to here is that of my daughter being sexually abused by one of her babysitters as a little girl. This was an extremely hard situation for us (that’s an understatement), and could be viewed as “too big to deal with” and perhaps even dream-ending for some. Yet, like Malalala, my daughter has walked through that fire and come to the other side of it — and is now on a mission to end sexual abuse. I call that quite a gift. I think that corona gives this opportunity to all of us.

Third — The quarantine and self isolation experience have highlighted just how important mental health is to each and every one of us — something that coaches and leadership developers have been trying to highlight for years. Our mental health is at the foundation of all of our well being, and we have largely ignored it in the past few decades. This time of being alone and slowing down has forced us to look at this now and address it in a more meaningful way. Growth, often, is put off until we really hit rock bottom — coronavirus has given us this opportunity to examine our own growth before we get to the end of our lines. Such a gift. We are seeing this now in the calls to a wider response team in America — that we need to be able to call mental health professionals, social workers, and community organizers as well as emergency responders when a situation might arise.

Fourth — Appreciation for families, schoolteachers, and the often quiet, foundational workers in society has never been higher. There has been a growing disparity in wealth for the past few decades; seeing this value has an immense impact on the psyche of all of us as we move forward and see how we can rearrange systems to work better together.

Fifth — What an incredible appreciation of our global society! We have talked about globalization and it’s effects for years…and yet for so long, we have been happy to say “that’s happening over there, it has no impact on me and so I don’t have to take responsibility for it.” The classic example that I like to use here is the ebola crisis — ebola was a horrifying disease, and yet we did a fraction of the response to it as we’ve done to corona, because it only affected a small part of our globe. The understanding that has come from corona — that whatever happens “over there” also affects me right here — is indispensable as we are moving forward and making continually global decisions.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

First — turn off the news. Truly. This constant news cycle is one of the most destructive things we have invented for our mental health. Turn it off. Choose to read or talk with a friend about news for perhaps 15 minutes a day. And then let it go and get on with your own daily business for the rest of the day.

Second — Be very aware of your own capacity. We are each given a certain amount of energy each day. Be consciously aware of what you have, and do not overfill your own plate. Be constantly adjusting to what you have. We want to always be in a position where we support others from our overflow, and not let our own well run dry.

Third — Find outside resources. We are not alone!! Many coaches are offering more pro bono work right now, and there are group coaching sessions that are popping up all over the internet right now. Reach out and bring your friend into those groups with you, so that you do not need to provide the support alone.

Fourth — Find an effective way to refill your own tanks without food. Food is the source that many of us turn to for our energy needs, and while it is ONE of the sources, it can become incredibly destructive and anxiety-producing if it’s the only one. Take baths with epsom salts at night. Go for long walks in nature. Play with your dog. Listen to wonderful music. Find what works for you, and expand your repertoire.

Fifth — Be kind to yourself. We are not able to be everything for everyone, and often people that are anxious feel like it is their responsibility to save the world, because no one else is managing it. I promise you — we savers are out there. I often need to let situations and people go, understanding that someone else will take over where I left off, because the world is truly full of amazing, helpful, wonderful people. Be kind, and trust in others.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

I would point people to coaches — the International Coaching Federation has a coach matchup program. Also group coaching — my company, Aina Giving, does quite a bit of that. NLP, or neuro linguistic programming, is an incredible tool that people can google and start working on themselves to help adjust their own brain patterns away from anxiety and towards peace. Meditation and prayer — I love Oprah’s stuff here — are also some of the best, longest-standing resources for reducing anxiety.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Be the kind of woman that, when your feet hit the floor each morning, the devil says ‘Oh Crap, she’s up!’” Ha! I love that one, partially because I love being reminded of how strong I am, and partially because humor is so effective at bouncing us out of stuck places. I have that one on my desk and look at it every day, and it reminds me that moving that ball forward daily in the right direction is a superpower indeed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could start a movement, it would be for mothers to be valued and paid for their contributions to society. If every mother realized that she was actually the most influential leader on earth, and that what she was doing was changing the world — and then she started getting paid for this work…I’d grab my margarita and start rocking on that front porch swing with the victory sign behind me. Somewhere, this year, the next president or prime minister of some country has been born. That future leader is currently learning their leadership lessons from their mother. How are we doing with supporting those mother leadership developers, my friends? I think it’s time we all started seeing how influential mothers and the mothering profession actually is to our society.

What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?

You can follow us on all of the platforms @ainagiving, and learn more about our programs and get involved world-change retreats at

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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