Andréa Ranae: Leadership Coach on the Interconnectedness of Social Change and Personal Growth, Being Vulnerable as a Leader, & What Selfcare Really Means
"There is no personal growth without social change. There is no social change without personal growth."
[NOTE: I highly recommend listening to the podcast episode of this interview, if you have that option, for its full effects. Otherwise, you can read the transcription below. You can listen here. ]
I met Andréa at the beginning of this year on Twitter, and we created a mastermind group together. I loved the amazing things she's up to and want to share it with the world. It's radical to find someone talking about and practicing the connection between social change and personal growth. Most of my interview with Andréa discusses that connection, but we, also, dive deeper into what self-care really is and how growing up in Chicago has helped shape who Andréa is today.
I love what you’re doing. I love that you are combing leadership coaching with social justice work along with personal growth. It’s pretty unique. It seems that many people often focus their business or their coaching on one of those aspects but not all of those aspects Tell me more about this work you are doing and how you began doing it.
Yes, they are all interconnected and they cannot be separated. So, if they cannot be separated, then why aren’t we talking about it? I grew up in a very personal growth centered home with my dad being a coach. As I grew up, I’ve also always been very very sensitive to the injustices in the world, and there’s never been a disconnect for me with doing my own personal growth work and how that affects the world. But, I’ve noticed as I’ve grown up that for many people in our society, there is a disconnect. The personal growth industry and practice is very individual oriented, and social justice circles are very systems oriented. What connects those two is the humans that create those systems.
I got into this work because it’s very important to me that they come together, that there’s a bridge, that there is communication between the two. The state of the world is very frustrating for me, and I’m sure for many other people. I feel like my place in it is this individual work and this communal work and the relational work that transforms those systems that are injustice and dehumanizing for some many of us. So, what that looks like if I’m working with one person on their own coaching session is looking at the ways in which we dehumanize ourselves and the beliefs we have about ourselves, and the beliefs we have about others that are inherently dehumanizing for any human being whether that comes about with race, sex, class, or gender. It’s looking at those beliefs and transforming them into ones that humanize us and serve us better. Whether that’s looking at emotions or the way we work with people, it can go in many realms.
I definitely relate to the world being a very frustrating place, and feeling this strong desire to create social change, and then never having been able to separate the personal, inner, deep work from social change. But, I’ve found that in circles that are more personal growth oriented, I really haven’t found those circles to address social change. And, I’ve found the reverse to be true as well. Do you experience that? Or do you experience places and communities that very much combine both?
I have not found many places that combine both, at least in the way that I want them too. In personal growth circles, it’s all about you create your own reality and positive vibes. It’s very isolated in that this is your path and you’re on it alone, and you can have a coach to help you along that path, but it’s yours. But, there’s so much that goes into that-your community, your family, your friends, and the society that we live in influences your path and how much work is to be done. It’s very different for me, as a Black woman, and who knows where I stand in terms of queerness, to do personal growth work than it is for a white, cis man to do their own personal growth work. It’s different things and there are different obstacles. I haven’t found any places that name that, and that’s really frustrating for me.
Those are really good points, and you reminded me of something that is really frustrating for me. You mentioned how the personal growth world is very isolating and it is very much about you and you creating your own experience. One thing that’s great about it is that teaches you to take responsibility for your life, but it, also, ignores the very real social constructs that are there around gender, race, class, sexuality, and disability. While we do have personal responsibility, and, sure, we create our own path, there are social barriers and there is social discrimination. There is racism. There is sexism. There are these things that don’t support us in society no matter how much personal growth work we do. It’s frustrating that these things are not acknowledged in personal growth work.
Yeah, and, I think it makes sense because the personal growth industry is a very white industry. I don’t know if the founders is the right way to say it, but the grandfathers, the ones who have been the catalysts for so much of the self-help industry are white, cis men, well off, able-bodied. It makes sense that the struggles of POC and any marginalized group of people would not be prioritized or dug into. In our world that is built off of oppression, we all have internalized oppression, and what that is is our limiting beliefs. So if I believe that I’m not good enough, that might be because I’m Black, that might be because I was a young child, that might be because I’m a woman. For anybody else that might be because they’re gay, they’re queer, they’re trans, they’re disabled. We grew up in society, so those are going to have effects on our own view of ourselves and our views of others. It seems so like duh but sometimes it’ not because if you don’t have people represented in the coaching world or healing world, then they’re not going to know.
That’s a very good point. Beautiful. I’m curious how you define leadership because when I usually think of it, I tend to think of hierarchy and authority but I know that you’re defining it differently and a lot of people are. So, I’m curious, when you say leadership coaching or just leadership in general, what does that mean to you?
Leadership is not a position for me. It’s not a place of power. It’s more of a way of being than anything else. I define leadership, and I’ve learned to define leadership, as the capacity to influence your life and the lives of others and your environment, which is a capacity that we all have. One of the questions that I really like is, instead of asking yourself if you’re a leader, ask yourself how you are leading because you are. You are leading no matter where you are, whether you want to or not. You are influencing the world around you. So when I talk about leadership coaching, let’s talk about how you’re influencing the world around you, how you want to influence the world around you, and what you can do to do that.
I love that. I wanted to go back to when you said that you grew up in a family that fostered personal growth. You mention in your bio on your website that when you were a child and told your parents that you wanted to be a princess, a doctor, a dentist, a teacher and a singer, that you’re parents told you you can do anything. However, the world was telling you that you weren't good enough and that you were too much to handle. I’m wondering, how did these mixed messages affect you, and how have you fought back against those messages that told you that you’re not good enough and that you’re too much?
I also want to say that I got those messages from my parents too. I love them. I love them, and I don’t believe it was ever their intention to teach me those messages, those beliefs of I’m not good enough, I don’t matter, I have to be perfect. But, I did get those from them, and I also got it from my teachers in school and from my friends. We all make meaning out of different situations. I think having those mixed messages definitely has left me in a constant bind because I know intellectually and mentally about my worth and that I am enough, that I matter, that I’m a gift. I know that. But, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, that’s not the case. That’s what my work is and that’s what has left me in that bind. I know it, but do I live it? Do I act like I’m a gift? Do I act like I’m enough? That has been my work. Really integrating all of these things that I know about myself, but I don’t really really know about myself.
Right, that is the work. I relate to that. What practices do you engage in to help you believe on a deeper level that you are good enough and that you are worthy.
Well, for one, doing this interview. It’s a move. To expand on that, to be able to speak about my work, to speak about myself, and my life, and to know that what I’m saying is good enough, that what I’m saying matters is HUGE in terms of growth. Three years ago, this would not be a thing. Outside of this space, one thing that I’ve constantly been working on is sharing how I feel with others, being vulnerable with other people, especially the people that really matter to me. I can be vulnerable with a stranger because there’s nothing at risk. There’s nothing at risk, but if I’m talking to my parents or close friends, there’s a little more a risk about where I stand with them if I share my truth with them, or maybe how I share about them or how I’m feeling towards them. That has been a constant piece of growth for me, and, I think will continue to be for the rest of my life.
"I think the idea that we can’t be vulnerable with our coaches or students has to do with power structures. I’m not going to share what’s going on with me because I want to maintain this power that I have over you."
It’s definitely a constant practice to learn how to be vulnerable, especially with the people closest to you. That raises a question for me around, as a coach, as a leadership coach, as an influencer, how do you show your vulnerability to the people you are influencing?
Sometimes, I worry if I’m too vulnerable with the people that are in my community or that I might be coaching or that might be my “students.” But, I don’t know if I believe in that. I’m in the question of that all the time, where is the line or the boundary of vulnerability? I think the idea that we can’t be vulnerable with our coaches or students has to do with power structures. I’m not going to share what’s going on with me because I want to maintain this power that I have over you. So, I’m always in this question, including this moment, of should I share? For transparency, for the listeners, I taught a class to my peers a few semesters ago in college, and during that semester, a childhood friend of mine was killed in Chicago. So, I was in this weird position of power over my friends and my peers and my fellow students. I was going through this deeply emotional process of grief while I was teaching them about processing their own feelings. I didn’t quite think about it that much but I was like, I’m going to share what’s going on with me, I’m going to cry in front of them. I’m going to do this but that’s only because I know that I’m not putting my emotions on them. I’m not asking them to take care of me right now. If they want to, then that’s fine, you can take care of me, but I’m not forcing my feelings onto you because I am okay, right now, even though I am upset and sad and angry and all of these feelings. I am okay, and you don’t have to do anything for me. I feel like if that is the understanding, then sharing vulnerability is fine no matter what the power structure is. It’s another thing when someone just barfs out their feelings and doesn’t care who gets affected by it.
That’s a really good distinction. I think it’s so important that you were vulnerable with your colleagues. It was such a good example to them. I’m sure that they felt like they could trust you more and relate to you better. I’m curious, for the people that influence you, are they vulnerable and what kind of vulnerability do they share?
My in-person mentors that I actually know are very vulnerable with me, and I think that’s what makes me feel safe with them, and want to learn and know more from them. My dad is an emotional being and at the same time, he is masculine not that having feelings isn’t masculine. Having that model of manhood or masculinity, realizing that he is my parent, and in that relationship, he has power over me, so having him as one of my first authority figures has definitely impacted how I relate to any person who is an adult as I went through my childhood. I think just sharing with me about their life. It definitely makes me feel uncomfortable. Let’s say, I’m with a professor or a coach and they’re not sharing anything with me, and it’s just a transactional relationship like I’m going to give you space, teach you things and not learn anything from you, that makes me really uncomfortable. Just to name that vulnerability does not mean tears. It can just be sharing something that happened to you in your life, something that you’re angry about, or even something that you’re happy about.
Tell me more about where and how you grew up.
I grew up partially in Michigan and partially in Chicago. I’m constantly processing and going over my childhood. I grew up in Michigan and moved to Chicago when I was 12. That has had a great impact on my life. With my mom and my mom’s side of the family, they’re all in Michigan. When I think of my extended family, I think of my mom’s family. I grew up always hanging out with my cousins and my mom’s two sisters, my grandma and my grandma’s sister and also my great grandma, who is still alive and fussing. I grew up in this very matriarchal family. It was really beautiful. I would hang out with my cousins all of the time. I have about nine cousins between my two aunts that I grew up with who all feel like brothers and sisters to me. I’m realizing, now, even just over this past week, how I’ve really learned about sisterhood and family and what that means through being constantly being around my extended family, and when I moved to Chicago, I was detached from so much of that. At the same time, in Michigan, I was very much a child. I was younger than 12, so play and dance and singing, just hanging out was prioritized.
When we moved to Chicago, my parents separated, so a lot shifted because I wasn’t around the people I grew up with or the friends I grew up with, and I was in an much more urban environment. The kids I went to school with in Chicago were very, I don’t know if grown up was the word, but they were a little more in tune with the real world, I guess. I heard a lot more about sex. I got teased a lot more about my race, and not from non-Black people but from my own Black friends who deemed me to be not Black enough. So, a lot shifted, and I’m so grateful to have moved to Chicago because who knows who I would be if I didn’t. And at the same time, that move was really tender and raw and emotional for me and for the years to come after that.
Yeah, that’s such a dramatic change, and I’m wondering how your experience in Chicago has helped shape you.
I think opportunities is the word that come to mind-the opportunities to be surrounded by so many different points of view and perspectives and people is the biggest thing for me. My experience of Lansing, Michigan was very homogenized. I, also, grew up in Church, in Pentecostal church. Beliefs about the world were pretty much all the same, the clothes that you wear were all the same, the things that you do were all the same. But, in Chicago, I was exposed to so many other ways of being and living and doing. I think that has been the biggest thing for me, and what I mean when I say, I’m glad that I moved to Chicago. I don’t think I would be as accepting, or, at least it, would take me a lot longer to be accepting, and willing to relate to people across difference.
I’m interested in elevating diverse voices, and you’re doing something similar with your podcast, Changemakers. You’re interviewing unique and diverse voices that are interesting and off-the-grid types, so I imagine that your experience in Chicago might have helped influence that. I’m curious, why is it important to you to listen to and share these voices?
One, it’s important to me because I deeply believe that every single voice matters, and to hear and amplify and understand everyone’s voice and individual voices and collective voices is super important to me because I think when we don’t, bad things happen. So, I also, think with the podcast, it’s important to me to share various and diverse voices because I think it’s important to hear varying theories of change. Within the social justice world, the dominant voice says that tearing down systems and fucking shit up is the way to change, and then in the personal growth world, individual growth is the way to change. I think that it’s both and and more. There are so many issues and so many different people and different humans that create those systems and perpetuate those systems. There cannot be one way to change. To amplify those voices that maybe aren’t heard as much is very very important to me when it comes to making a change in the world. And, also, to provide for others who may be seeing this kind of dichotomy, this contrast. Or maybe all they see is let’s fuck shit up, or maybe all they see is I got to change myself in order to make a change in the world. I really want people to see all of the different ways that you can do that, and that you don’t have to do it a specific way. But, it is our responsibility to support each other, amplifying those voices and bringing them together. I think there needs to be a conversation between all of them and a relationship between all of the different ways that we can change the world.
I love that. That’s beautifully put. What is the social justice and activist piece in the work that you do. What kind of social change do you want to bring about and how do you want to do it?
I really in the most basic sense want every single person who is born unto this world to be able to have the freedom to be and to become whatever they wish to become. Freedom has always been very important to me whether that is what I wear, what I say, and beyond, it’s always been very important to me. But, the world that I live in, in many spaces, it’s not safe for me to do that. My life will be put on the line if I really spoke my truth or yelled my truth because I am Black, because I am a woman. And for so many other people. The freedom to be is really the core of it and where that comes into the work. Unfortunately, it is radical to value relationships over everything, and it is radical to value vulnerability, to value humanity no matter what race you are or gender or whether you are on the gender spectrum, or your class, or how “able” your body is. Unfortunately, that is all radical, and my vision for the world is that that’s not radical anymore. You got me going, girl!
"How am I dehumanizing myself and how am I dehumanizing others?"
Keep going! You brought up a good point around freedom. How do we become more free under these systems of oppression? Obviously, we need to change the systems of oppression, but that’s not going to change overnight. How do we find that freedom to be ourselves in an oppressive society?
Yeah, so two things are coming to mind. One, the dehumanization aspect of oppression, which is what oppression is, and why I value relationships over everything, and I think they come together. So, for me, it starts with me. As I said earlier, asking myself, how am I not valuing my humanity, how am I dehumanizing myself? By believing I am not good enough to speak up in a group I am devaluing my voice and devaluing my truth and devaluing my humanity. To bring that question to yourself and also to bring that question to other people that are also in that question of how am I dehumanizing myself and how am I dehumanizing others? This is so so important. That is something that I’ve really been learning recently. Personal growth work cannot be done alone. It’s personal but it’s not isolated. We need community, we need people around us that are also on their own journey, and that are for you, that are in support of you, that love you, through your growth, through your transformation and your expansion. For me, that is the easiest place to start because the systems can change all they want, but if people don’t have a way of being with each other that supports a different system, then those systems are just going to get recreated. If we are dehumanizing each other, then the systems that dehumanize us will get recreated.
So, for people who may struggle to find that support, what would you recommend in terms of people finding that support and not being isolated during their growth?
In person, I think the best way to do that is by sharing. Honestly, I am always wanting more connection in terms of physical beings around me. Because I connect online so much with people, I realize that I do need the interpersonal connection that is real time in front of me. But, I think sharing what you’re learning about yourself, sharing what you’re thinking about, sharing what you’re feeling is the best way to find other people that are down for that. And that has been one of my biggest lessons in my own personal growth work. Before I really started to dive into it a all, I wouldn’t share what I was thinking about or what was interesting to me or what I was feeling or a new idea that popped up for me. I wouldn’t share it, which made me feel isolated. In that way, I did create my own reality because then people didn’t really know me and I didn’t feel connected to them. It seems very basic but sharing is one way. Also, to share online what you’re learning, how you’re growing. It can be scary if you’re one of those people who does not usually share about what is going on with you, but that is the quickest way to determine whether the person that you’re talking to is an ally or not.
I want to talk about how you embody this everyday change. Social change and feminism and personal growth and entrepreneurship is an everyday thing. It ‘s not just one event or one campaign or one thing. It’s an embodiment. I wonder how you embody social change along with your personal growth and your entrepreneurship everyday.
I think I have to constantly remind myself that the two happen simultaneously. There is no separation. I’ve been so steeped in the idea that they are different, that they are separated, so I do have to remind myself that these two are happening at the same time. For me to raise my hand in a space where I know I might not be completely accepted is an act of social justice. It is an act of personal growth. In our world, the personal is political. No matter what you do, you are political. I don’t know how I feel about that because a lot of things are politicized that do not need to be politicized, but in our world they are political. For most of my teenage hood, I would say that I wasn’t really into politics, but I realize, now, that it doesn’t matter whether I’m into politics or not, everything political affects me though. So, I might as well be political because if I’m not, then I’m not going to be aware of how things are affecting me and how I’m affecting them.
Right, exactly, and once you realize that, then you realize that political change is everyday beginning with you. There are so many ways to do that. Like you said, maybe it’s sharing with someone, or raising your hand, or speaking out. There’s so many different ways to do that.
Also, bringing to awareness if someone has feedback for me about, let’s say, a blog, for example. If they have feedback for me, realizing and digging into all the things that are affecting their feedback for me. I believe that there is valuable feedback in everything, but also if the person that is giving me feedback is a Black person that maybe didn’t grow up in a Black environment or didn’t grow up to value their Blackness, then that’s something that I need to take into account. That’s something that they need to take into account too. How are your views and your beliefs, your deep seated beliefs in your brain affecting the way that you see me and the way that I see you? If I’m working with someone, like a white woman, being aware of what beliefs I have about white people and how that is affecting how I’m being with you. It’s in every single interaction that we have with people.
I want to ask you about self-care. It can be exhausting doing activist work and being an entrepreneur even if you’re passionate about it and it feels like your purpose. I’m curious how you take care of yourself. What are your self-care practices?
You can practice self-care in the way where you take time out of your day to do something for yourself, which is important, like taking a bath or even just being alone, or cooking a really great meal, or being intentional about hanging out someone that really makes you feel supported and nourished. That’s one way and those are very important. But, the way that I’ve come to think about self-care is how am I taking care of myself through all of activist work and being an entrepreneur and being a coach, how am I taking care of myself right now in this interview? Which means that I have a few crystals next to me; I’ve got a bottle of water. I’m in a room that makes me feel safe, and being aware of how I can take care of myself right now, and how I can get cared for right now. Because I don’t think self-care has to be an isolated practice. Self-care can be asking someone else to support you.
You just hit on a really important conversation that I’ve been wanting to have around self-care. I feel the exact same as you that self-care for me isn’t these isolated, individual experiences. It really is every moment. Whatever I’m doing, am I taking care of myself in that? It’s looking at self-care that happens all the time or that could happen all the time. It’s like, what can I do to take care of myself right now in this moment while I’m doing these other things?
Definitely. And it’s the same as loving yourself. I hate when I hear people say, just love yourself or they talk about loving yourself but never really get into the nitty gritty of what loving yourself actually means. What does it look like, how are you being with yourself? How are you going about the world if you love yourself? What does that mean? Getting clear on that because I think we tend to just throw around, oh yeah, self-care, oh yeah, love yourself but don’t really know what that means and really looks like for ourselves. That is a really important conversation to have.
"It’s easy to think that this is just the way the world and that there’s nothing I can do. But, I have power to change things. I see that things can be different."
What are the most important things of the work you do of combining leadership coaching with personal growth and social change. What are the most important things that this has taught you?
One thing, that I voiced many times throughout our time together, is that it’s all connected, it’s all interconnected. There is no personal growth without social change. There is no social change without personal growth. That’s one. When it comes to me, I’ve been getting clearer and clearer and realizing evermore the power that I have to effect change. Not because of the work that I do or where I am or the privilege that I have. Yes, those add on to it, but because I am human. Because I am in relationship with other people. Because I am a part of so many different communities, I have a lot of power to change things. Or, to change the way that someone thinks about something, or even just be in the conversation with someone that thinks about something differently than I do. I’ve been realizing that over and over again because it’s so easy to doubt that, it’s easy to think about all of the systems in place that are against me, are against my friends, are against humanity. It’s easy to think about that and think, wow there’s nothing I can do, this is just the way the world is. That is one of the most infuriating things. Really understanding, and I think I will always be learning about what that really means, but I have power to change things. I see that things can be different.