Carmen Westbrook: “Get straight with yourself before you deliver”

If I could start one thing, it would be to pay mothers for the incredibly valuable service that they give to humanity. We so devalue the mother job, and we have so forgotten that without mothers, our species would literally not continue. Mothers are the peacemakers of our time, in that they sacrifice their own […]

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If I could start one thing, it would be to pay mothers for the incredibly valuable service that they give to humanity. We so devalue the mother job, and we have so forgotten that without mothers, our species would literally not continue. Mothers are the peacemakers of our time, in that they sacrifice their own wants (who really actually wants elephant belly in this world? NO ONE) and desires for the sake of society. We have to start valuing the incredible service that mothers have given throughout the ages, and stop punishing them for “gaps in their resume” (no stay-at-home mom ever would call those years a gap in experience). I’d like to see mothers get the payment, gratitude, and respect for what they do.


As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Carmen Westbrook.

Carmen is the CEO and co-founder of Aina Giving, a socially responsible servant leadership development firm. 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 tell us the story of how you grew up?

Absolutely! One of the frames that I put around my childhood is “The Tale of Two Cities” — as a child of divorce, I was raised in two extremely different socio-economic groups, my biological father being a doctor and incredibly wealthy (to my childhood eyes), and my mother being a single mom going through graduate school and us living on peanuts. From an early age, I was able to see just how much socio-economic status is a paradigm that is put around each one of us, and see the injustice of how people treated me differently when I was in the two different worlds — even though I was the same person. And, maybe because my mom then became a research chemistry professor and married another chemistry professor when I was ten, I started to have both the feelings around it — those feelings of injustice and motivation to help it grow into something different — and also the scientific observer status around it — it really is a fascinating question. That has definitely formed a big part of my life journey!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I guess I’ve had a bit of the “outsider” status my whole life — as a pretty liberal democrat, I fell in love with and married a man in the military — a community that tends to be much more conservative. Being really different from many of the people around me in my ideology and political position allowed me to learn how to set that aside and love people so much for the amazing that is who they are on the inside. One of my best friends and I just had a discussion about abortion the other day, with us being on completely oppposite sides of the issue. How much does that matter in our love for each other? Not one bit. Just made an interesting conversation where I think we both grew. And isn’t that kind of the point? This almost mandate in my adult life of learning the skillset of building bridges has helped immensely not only in my diplomatic life, but also in my own chosen career path and what we train others on as well.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Oh, there are so, so many interesting stories I don’t know if I can choose one as a favorite! I would say that one of the interesting things that happened was my family’s response to my book when it came out. I, unfortunately, didn’t prepare some of them for the hardest content for me to write about (I and my daughter’s childhood sexual abuse), and some of my family members lashed out and blamed me for it, and also started trolling me online. It was a good lesson for me to a) talk with people ahead of time, even when it’s really hard, b) realize that nothing is going to be perfect, and c) understand even more just how hard it is for people to speak up about abuse when they don’t have a support structure around them. I am so fortunate that I have an amazing mother that talks with me about everything, and really accepts all of the parts of me. Having even one person in our lives that does that can be the difference between speaking up and staying silent.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have made so, so many mistakes!! I am seriously still making them every day, and attempting to laugh and celebrate them! I think one of the best ones I made was attempting to design my own logo. I would just like to say — I draw in stick figures, people. Artistic design is not really my thing. And yet I had this mentality that I would (and should) do it all! I wish I could insert a picture here of that logo — whoa, bananas. Still makes me smile, and I still keep it in my photo folder so I can not only laugh at my own ridiculous, but I can also remember just how much it takes a team to make a movement happen. I am so immensely grateful for my team — and also for the fact that all of my kiddos have learned artistic sense and ability during their time in Italian school!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think that one of the people that has blessed me the most is my daughter. Evalani, our little steel butterfly, has been so incredibly patient with me through all of my mistakes, has taught me the lessons of infinite love and forgiveness, and has also shown me how powerful it is to be the maiden. I am so grateful to her for showing me that, in our weakness we can be the strongest out in the world. Still a lesson that I am trying to learn from her — she is most definitely one of my greatest teachers.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

I think the best advice I could give is to start. Just…start. It’s going to be embarrassingly imperfect. You might make a ton of pivots along the way. And if you want to start a movement, start something that is truly new and so good for this world, and be beholden to no outside interests (read: investors), you’re going to need to throw your shame and blame out the window, and embrace “imperfection.” Those of us that have been called to make a great impact on this world (and I believe that’s all of us, actually) simply need to start — and find a community of love, support, and helping hands. If you don’t have that in your community, come join ours — we’ll love on you a bit as you make amazing happen. Because I, for one, know how hard it is to keep running that race and persevere through all of the wild imperfections.

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

Love. I think that’s the main thing that drives me. Just…love. I love all of the people in my sphere so, so much. I see the awesome that they are creating in their lives every day, and I want to pour some water and sunlight and a bit of good dirt on that so it can grow even stronger. Because whatever we spend our time focusing on and nourishing, it will grow. So I want to nourish the good. And for me, the people that do that the best and the most in this world are mothers. And I think they are so overlooked for all of the value that they are actually giving society. It’s known just how invaluable the mother voice is in decision-making and peace talks, and we just tend to dismiss it nowadays. Mothers are fantastic at finding the good and focusing on that (born of necessity with toddlers). It’s time for us to recognize and thank them for this incredibly hard work.

Can you share with our readers a few of your most important tips about how to be an effective and empowering speaker? Can you please share some examples or stories?

Get straight with yourself before you deliver. It’s really hard, and it’s really important. And if that getting straight with yourself is simply acknowledging how you are feeling in the moment and bringing that into the speech, do it. Some of my most powerful speeches have been where I begin with “Frankly, I am exhausted/angry/disgusted right now…” Being authentic, bringing my own emotions into it, showing that I don’t judge myself for those emotions and that they can actually give me the strength to keep going — that is a powerful truth right there, and makes every speech more powerful. The best speeches take people through a story, and the best stories include real emotions. We have to be straight with our own emotions first, before we can bring any of our selves to the table and empower others.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Ok, so I took a public speaking course in university and I thought I would completely ace it because I had no fear around it. WRONG! My first speech I got up in the front of the room and my voice shook all over the place and every person in the room looked at me like I was nuts. I, of course, called my mother afterwards to commiserate, and she basically told me to just keep getting out there and doing it. It has taken me years and years to develop my own voice, and it’s still changing. I personally hope it never stops growing into something new.

The best advice, I think, is to think about what you really want to convey from your heart, and why that is important to you. When I am really clear on my why I go out with a much bigger punch and conviction. I get to this space where I don’t care if people like it or not, because I just HAVE to speak it out there. And it’s helpful for me to remember the ⅓ rule — ⅓ of the people are going to hate what I say, ⅓ are going to be fairly agnostic, and ⅓ are going to be rabid fans. Given that there are almost 8 billion people in the world, that ⅓ is still a pretty big number.

And — do power poses before you speak. Always! Our bodies are a great source of good energy.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

First, I wish someone had told me to get a coach from the beginning. My coaches are the best people to cheer me on and help me find the reframes when things don’t go as planned, and that’s what I need to keep on driving. For example, I learned about the ⅓ rule from my coach when I was feeling freaked out about getting out there in public more. And when some of my family members starting coming after me when my book was released, my coach at the time helped me to remember my why, and refocus on that. Coaches are trained to support you as you make your calling happen. I think we all need that sometimes.

Second, I wish I had known just how much this could be a family business. I was so worried for so long that my children would suffer, and instead it’s been just the opposite. I’ve seen their confidence and personalities grow and blossom as I’ve brought them into the talks with me, and frankly — I’m doing this in large part to help the future world be a better place. I love that they get to do that, too.

Third, I wish someone had told me to find more friends that would support me openly. That has been a really long haul — finding the people that will take the time and effort to share my work, pour that love and nourishing back into me, and be grateful for and show appreciation of all of the things I’m working so hard to create. I hear this a lot from my female clients, especially — we women can be so hard on each other. So find some women that are already in this space and become friends with them.

Fourth, and related — I wish someone had told me that if I was pissed off or disgusted at what another woman was doing, it was most likely because I wanted to grow in that area. And THAT’S a weird concept. For so long I both admired and was disgusted by women in the talking circuit — picking them apart, thinking of how I could do it so much better, coming up with better ways they could phrase it. Yeaaaaaaah. So I have learned that that is a strong indication that there is something there that the universe is calling me to do, and that it’s just my job to figure out what that is. I think many, many women are storytellers and creators, and that can be one of the reasons we are so hard on each other when we see others stepping out in this way — just an internal part of ourselves saying “I want that too!” So, if you are like me and have ever had those feelings…lean into it, sister! It means you’re being called to greatness in that area!

Finally, I think it’s really important to remember that there is a season for everything. Sometimes the talks are going to be amazing. And sometimes they are going to bomb. The point is that we are fulfilling our calling, not that people like us. If we’re only saying the things that people like, we’re not saying enough. If we go through a season of poop, embrace it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re saying is off. It can mean a whole huge variety of things. Finding what that means and recognizing the seasonality of life has allowed me to take the long view, and stay true to my own integrity — which is the most important thing for speakers to do, always.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I think that the projects we are doing to empower women in finding their own voice and pursuing their own passion just drive my soul into the stars. We have an online program based after my own book, the Becoming Superwoman Club, and it takes the best of leadership development, empowerment, and coaching, and helps women to pursue the passion project that has been calling to them. I love it so, I love my co-leaders and the women that are in the course, and I can’t wait to see what they create! I envision a world of united superwomen supporting each other as they go out and inspire the world into a better tomorrow. Good dreams for where we’re all heading.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

Oh, self care is absolutely the most important part of the whole game. I wake up at 5am every morning — two hours before my kiddos — so I can read, journal, and set my own intentions. I then go for a run, pretty much every morning, so I can recharge out in mother earth, and remember again just how small and short-lived we all are. Such a good reminder for those of us that feel like we are being called to high-impact work. And then I always make space in my schedule for my own growth — it’s how I honor me. I am usually enrolled in at least one course, and most often more like three. Being a CEO of a multinational corporation, a mom of three, a diplo-spouse, an author and a speaker, I often get the question of “how on Earth do you fit it all in?” I answer with, pretty much — great friends. I have a huge tribe around me, and we all support each other, and ensure that each one of us is taking care of ourselves, too. Community is one of the most underrated commodities of our time (along with Mothers — the builders of Community!).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou. Speaking isn’t about the words, or numbers, or how many likes we get. It’s about how we make people feel. If I make one person, each day, feel stronger, braver, more confident and inspired to be kind and loving…I’ve done mighty work, my friends. Mighty work indeed.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If I could start one thing, it would be to pay mothers for the incredibly valuable service that they give to humanity. We so devalue the mother job, and we have so forgotten that without mothers, our species would literally not continue. Mothers are the peacemakers of our time, in that they sacrifice their own wants (who really actually wants elephant belly in this world? NO ONE) and desires for the sake of society. We have to start valuing the incredible service that mothers have given throughout the ages, and stop punishing them for “gaps in their resume” (no stay-at-home mom ever would call those years a gap in experience). I’d like to see mothers get the payment, gratitude, and respect for what they do.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I feel like every woman on earth right now would say Michelle Obama. I mean — come on. She’s amazing. I love hearing stories from other women, and I have a feeling she’s got a lot of them up her sleeves. Lunch would be amazing ;).

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

They can find us at ainagiving.com and follow us on all social media outlets @ainagiving. I’m also a really big fan of starting conversations and sharing my own inspiration and hope, which I do on my own personal Facebook and LinkedIn profiles (Carmen Westbrook).

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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