Growth is not linear — there is no business strategy or five year plan that can plan for the future. Taking a look at 2020 is a prime example. Whether it’s as you are starting up, trying to scale, or figuring out how to exit, realizing and accepting that not all plans will pan out as you envisioned is a reality of not just business, but life. Growth is not linear and that’s not a bad thing.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Judith Martinez.
Judith Martinez is a leader at the intersection of social justice and the future of human capital. CEO of InHerShoes, Martinez is a sought-after voice as an entrepreneur, speaker, and strategist mobilizing the next generation of leadership. She was named a Forbes 30 Under 30 nominee, has been featured in NASDAQ and Forbes, is a Vital Voices and TRESemme Global Leadership Fellow, and amidst the national awakening for social and racial justice in 2020, Judith was most recently selected to be a United State of Women Ambassador representing the state of California, working with former White House Obama Administration in furthering gender equity and its intersection on racial justice.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/a13b550b8bc2acf7047e72acfb7f48fb
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am a proud first-generation Filipina American. With parents emigrating from the Philippines in the 70s, I feel incredibly privileged and humbled to have had the childhood I had. From my mother growing up in the barrios of the Philippines, to my family facing bankruptcy growing up as a kid, to me fortunate enough to attend top schools as a first gen student in Silicon Valley and the East Coast on scholarships -I look back on my childhood and see how adversity has been a launchpad for resilience and expansion growing up. A truth I feel many of us can resonate with. My childhood consisted of being told the “yellow brick road to success” looked like being a doctor or a lawyer. With a strong emphasis on education in our household, I never thought to question this “algorithm for success”, let alone dare to imagine what could be possible outside of “the plan.” Looking back now on my childhood, it was the perfect catalyst for what would lead me to where I am today, and just how much courage has been an underlying theme throughout most of my life without even knowing it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite and most memorable life lessons has been from my grandfather, lolo (grandfather in Filipino). Growing up as farmers in the barrios of the Philippines, when my grandparents emigrated to the United States after my mother petitioned for them, they practically raised me. This is a fortune and a privilege I am very aware of now as I am older. I got to grow up learning to speak both English and Filipino thanks to my grandparents, but more importantly, I feel I have had the privilege to benefit from their wisdom and immense humility of a life they led that I will never truly understand being born and raised in the U.S.
One of my favorite life lessons from my lolo was actually when I went through my first heartbreak as a young girl. He told me “ma ilhan nimo ang klase sa kahuy kung dili ma tomba ma-ig-an sa dakung unos.” In English, this can translate to “you know the strength of a tree only when it faces hurricanes.” I always found it to be so poetic and fitting given how nature played such an instrumental role in their lives as farmers. To me these words have meant so many things over the years, but the most important has been learning adversity and hardship are a part of life and although challenging, also highlights our strength. Our character as individuals, our relationships with those in our lives, our strengths and who we really are — can all be seen when faced with adversity. Even though my grandfather told me this in the context of going through my first heartbreak growing up, all my life I could see how it applies to any challenge or hardship I face.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As a Philosophy major while at University and forever English Literature nerd, so many books have significantly impacted me. One book that always stays with me, even in these times, has been Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. A collection of personal stories and reflections from one of the youngest Roman Emperors, ruling over one of the largest empires in the history of man, I always felt so drawn to his letters and reflections on life. No matter how many times I go back and re-read the book, I learn something new as he shares about his struggles, the decisions he faced, views of life, and personal lessons while holding such an esteemed position of power and responsibility during such a divided time in history. I especially love how I can read it in a year like 2020, and still feel the timeless lessons that are just as relevant today. Reading it for my first time in University, it challenged me to question my own views of the world and felt like reading a personal diary of one of the most powerful people in human history. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the Pandemic much of my career experience was motivated by one question: what would you do if you were 1% more courageous? This single question has been at the heart of my own career experience, so much so, I created InHerShoes as an entire organization mobilizing young girls and women to discover their own answers to it. Working with students and young professionals, we brought this question to life by challenging individuals to look for themselves where being courageous would make a difference for themselves and the communities they care about.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
As the Pandemic became more and more of a reality, it became just as clear the question of “what would you do if you were 1% more courageous” was no longer just for young girls and women, but frankly, for the world. This Pandemic has forced many of us to pause and reshape what reality looks like and means today. Amidst that, we pivoted not only how InHerShoes fulfills our mission to catalyze courage, but who we catalyze courage with and for.
No longer focusing on solely individuals, it was clear entire systems, structures, and standards needed attention and courageous conversations brought to the forefront. It is difficult to address the Pandemic without also addressing the interconnectedness of what this Pandemic highlights. The Pandemic brings to the surface the inefficiencies and shortcomings of so many systems and structures we have relied on. Whether it’s our education system, the infrastructure of healthcare, all the way to how we interact with one another — there is no “business as usual.”
We pivoted our approach, programming, and courageous conversations to challenge not only conversations within classrooms, but entire communities, corporations, and workplace cultures. We pivoted from looking at one to the collective. Today still in the midst of the Pandemic, we have completely shifted to be completely virtual and have built new programs such as Catalyze Allyship and pivoted our Catalyze Courage Summit to bring together intergenerational dialogue not only to young people, but leaders at the helm of corporations and decision makers of communities. Pivoting during this time has looked like not only learning to cope with the Pandemic, but beginning to reimagine a courageous future long after it.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
There was no single particular “aha moment” that sparked this new emphasis, but more so a series of events. For one, working with students and schools long before the Pandemic gave us a vantage point of just how impacted the education system would be. From cancelled graduations, the challenges of distance learning, concerns from parents, and the experiences of educators, it was a big jolt to witness. In addition to these moments, the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among so many other black lives this year, was the tipping point to pivot and forge new paths of courage for individuals and communities.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Incredibly challenging and rewarding. Pivoting during a Pandemic is not exactly a line item on a bucket list for any founder, but evolution is not just part of business, but of life. Even more so, this pivot has shown us our work is proven to be so needed now more than ever. Starting as a “silly kickstarter project” years ago, I never envisioned InHerShoes, let alone myself, to use our work as a platform and medium to challenge and transform entire communities and corporations to be more courageous. It has been a humbling experience that constantly pushes me to practice my own “1% more courage.”
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?
My mother. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by so many strong women in my life, my mother being one of them. It would be nearly impossible for me to do what I do and be who I am if it were not for her. Something she always instilled in me is the importance of gratitude and giving back in a way that helps make the world a better place. She has been such an inspiration for me in so many ways not just for who she is as my mom — working two jobs growing up to provide for our family — but also for who she is as a woman: soft and fierce, powerful and kind. She is one of the most generous, brilliant, and loving people and I would be lucky if I grew up to be half the woman she is.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Hearing from and working with more parents has been one of the most interesting new experiences in this new direction. With the Pandemic impacting whatever semblance of “work-life balance” means, it’s been eye opening to see how things like distance learning has impacted working parents with children. One mother in particular, a working professional in Silicon Valley managing multiple teams on top of a new distance learning schedule, reached out wanting to work with us in two ways: bringing InHerShoes in for a program series she wanted to create within her company to address leadership, but also ways to create courageous conversation with her two daughters, one in junior high and the other in high school. Seeing the role courage, and it’s demand for it, during such uncertain times has been interesting to hear from so many perspectives and has been a reminder that no matter where you are from, or what your age, we all could use a bit more courage in these times.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Growth is not linear — there is no business strategy or five year plan that can plan for the future. Taking a look at 2020 is a prime example. Whether it’s as you are starting up, trying to scale, or figuring out how to exit, realizing and accepting that not all plans will pan out as you envisioned is a reality of not just business, but life. Growth is not linear and that’s not a bad thing.
- The power of delegation — Sometimes as founders we think we are the “only” ones who can get the job done or execute something in “just the right way.” But that’s simply not the case, and a lot of the times, we end up missing opportunities to work and create with folx who can actually elevate our visions. By delegating and learning to give up control, we not only grow as founders, but as leaders. Creating a team is crucial to success and growth. Besides, it’s like the ancient Ubuntu African Proverb: if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.
- The value of mentorship — When I started my business I sought out every resource, person, and expert I could find. Looking back however, I realize that also sometimes meant I overlooked my own expertise, knowledge, and experiences. It’s because of this I highly encourage having a mentor and being a mentor. Seeking input and guidance will undoubtedly support your own growth; but being a mentor will not only support the growth of others, but remind you that you too already possess experience and growth that is of value.
- Commitment & flexibility go hand in hand — Things change, life happens, and not all plans workout. Keeping this in mind, I always emphasize it is crucial to be clear about what you are committed to, your end goal, while also being flexible in your approach to getting there. Being adaptable and learning to pivot goes a long way.
- ROI AND ROR — A return on investment is a driving force for most, if not all, business. But it’s critical to also remember at the heart of any business are people and relationships. If you really want to increase your return on investment, make sure you also are paying attention to your return on relationships.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
- Tend to your “media garden” — whether it’s the “doom scroll” of social media or binge watching the news, it is no surprise what we consume through our screens significantly impacts our mental health. That is why it is so important to support our mental wellness by being aware of what we choose to consume and how often. As an iPhone user, I have taken advantage of the “screen time” feature and have set limits to my app and phone usage. If you don’t have an iPhone, setting alarms and reminders to limit your screen time can be a resource. Even simple practices like unfollowing accounts that you notice impact your moods negatively can make a significant difference.
- Embrace outdoors — if you have the opportunity to go for a quick walk, sit outside in the sun, become a new plant parent, or even open a window for fresh air, being outdoors or connecting with nature has proven to significantly improve our moods and mental health even for just a few minutes. Just remember to wear your mask!
- It’s okay to say “no” — Similar to tending to your “media garden”, it is also important to manage your energy and bandwidth off the screen during this time. Creating boundaries to help foster my own energy and bandwidth has been a crucial practice for me during this time. Whether it’s learning to manage my energy with friends (re-assessing if I actually do have the bandwidth for that hundredth zoom gathering), or managing my energy with work (learning to communicate realistic timelines), setting boundaries and learning to communicate them has been a large source of support to my mental health during this time. Remember, “no” is also a full sentence.
You are a person of great 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?
I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to say the movement I would want to inspire has already is already in motion and has taken on a life of its own. InHerShoes is a movement dedicated to catalyzing courage toward a more just, sustainable, courageous world. Looking at our work and impact today, our work has grown into a movement that mobilizes people to create movements of their own around causes and passions that intersect with what the world needs.
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 would love to share a meal with Michelle Obama. From her work long before the White House, and her own personal story, she is a roaring example of what I feel it means to be a woman of courage in so many ways.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow the InHerShoes journey online at https://www.inhershoesmvmt.org/our-story and me personally on social media on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/jud.ithmartinez) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/judithpmartinez).
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!