Episode Transcript

Choosing Empowerment Over Fear with Angela Ortiz



[00:00:08] BS: Hello. I’m Britt Skrabanek and you’re listening to Love Your Enthusiasm, a podcast that continually inspires you to make space for the thing you love to do most. With us on the show today is Angela Ortiz, who is the CEO of place to grow, a community building nonprofit that specializes in disaster recovery strategies. She’s also the author of Place to Grow: 8 principles that will make you an effective leader in social impact.

In this episode, Angela talks about how it took a natural disaster, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan, to pull her out of a place of fear and move her to choose empowerment for herself and others through social impact. As someone who works in a vulnerable, heartbreaking, and demanding space, Angela shares the wellness rituals, mindset approaches and leadership skills that help her stay grounded while moving forward with her purpose.

Quick note in case you weren’t aware, I do have a newsletter you can sign up for on loveyourenthusiasm.com. Once subscribed, you’ll always get new episodes delivered straight to your inbox. Okay. Ready to go to Tokyo for the next hour? Enjoy this truly awe-inspiring conversation with Angela.


[00:01:37] BS: Welcome to the show, Angela.

[00:01:38] AO: Hi. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:41] BS: It is awesome to have you. How are things going for you and Tokyo this morning, I believe?

[00:01:47] AO: We are hitting the lovely fall weather in Tokyo. It’s a bit bittersweet for me because I’m definitely a summer girl.

[00:01:53] BS: Yeah. I love the fall personally, that’s one of my favorite seasons. But here in Wisconsin, we obviously get some wicked winters, that just means that winter is definitely coming.

[00:02:06] AO: Yeah. Our autumns here bring the typhoon season as well, so I’m a little on edge, anticipating some floodings or some typhoons that will cause damage. Because there are recent years that have been like unprecedented destruction from typhoons.

[00:02:21] BS: Yes. I have heard many, many stories about that. The closest experience I even have to having to deal with natural disasters was growing up in Southern California, where we had earthquakes and I went through some pretty bad earthquakes there. Well, I do want to say that I know that you’re a big fitness person. I was checking out your Instagram channel not too long ago and was just wowed by all of your fitness videos. One in particular I was really interested in that I wanted to talk to you about, I just started using a sandbag and my husband, he does kettlebells and in weightlifting and we started doing some weightlifting together once a week. So he introduced the sandbag to me recently, and I saw one of your videos where you’re doing cleans with the sandbag and it was pretty awesome.

[00:03:09] AO: Yeah. That was a really fun session. That was actually my first time to try that.

[00:03:12] BS: Yeah. It’s really awkward for the listeners who don’t know. This is becoming a more popular thing where you just have a sand bag, well, it’s a bag, like a duffle bag that’s filled with sand. My husband of course has an 80-pound one, so I will not be doing cleans like you were doing, but I have done some deadlifts and some other leg movements with it. It’s pretty cool.

[00:03:34] AO: They say it’s great for the full body workout. Like you’re activating different muscles and definitely more holistic sort of fitness experience than you would with just weights.

[00:03:44] BS: Yeah. I really enjoy it because it definitely keeps you honest. A very straightforward thing to be lifting up.

[00:03:51] AO: That’s so true.

[00:03:53] BS: Yeah, that’s what I realized right away. I’m like, “Wow! You can’t really cheat this at all.” I mean, it’s super awkward. Okay. Angela, I’m really excited to talk to you today about your enthusiasm, because I don’t know much about this topic at all, and it is a big passion for you. I’d love to get right into things and talk about social impact and why social impact is your greatest passion.

[00:04:19] AO: Yes. That’s such a great question. I thought about this a lot. I came to the conclusion — I’ve always believed because actually my background’s in education. Like my first career was in early childhood education and I still believe that each of us, there’s that nature-nurture 50:50, right? And I think there’s just a part of my DNA, like my core person that has always been interested in kind of two things. This is like, even when I think back to my life or my person as an elementary school student or a middle school student, and the two things I was always interested in was, how choices that societies make impact the people that are living there and then how individual choices impact whole societies.

I grew up with like a huge love of history. It was my favorite subject, and I love learning about how people lived, and loved and fought, of course, because that was a huge part of life back then. But also, like how they interpreted life in nature through mythology, or lore, or the different cultural norms that ended up becoming and defining different cultures. So there was that kind of like basic, I think, that was just part of who I am. I was always interested in how people interact with each other. But then what happened was three, I say 3/11, but I’m aware that maybe some of your audience won’t know what that is.

In Japan, the date March 11, 2011 is a very important and I guess, painful memory for many people because it’s the date when we had the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Tohoku area, the North part of Japan. Which coincidentally was where my parents live and where I spent about 15 years of my life growing up in Japan. My brother, he had to evacuate with his family and it was just all very personal and very devastating. When I went there as a volunteer, I was like almost personally traumatized by what I saw, which was just like a whole city completely smashed, flooded, destroyed. You saw like cars hanging from trees and bath units dangling from the top pine ridges and it was just out of this world. Like something I could only have imagined from a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie about the end of the world.

That experience allowed me to pivot into social impact nonprofit, and then eventually what we call corporate social responsibility. Now, I work in both fields in the entrepreneur space, but also in the corporate field on this subject. To me, it was both like I had this interest, but then also through the course of getting involved, my skills grew and it’s kind of the combination of that, that makes me really passionate about this subject. It was the combination of seeing these two, like my skills and my sort of interests coming together. And I’m very big picture and visionary by nature as well, so I could quickly see potentials of how we might do things better or how we might restructure the way we’re doing things. Because I’m a third culture kid, like my father’s from Columbia, my mother’s from the U.S., but I was raised in Japan. I’m not really held back by the local cultural norms of how we do things. That really helped elevate my confidence in just suggesting alternative ways.

Then I’m sure you can relate to this. Like as you start, when you start creating something, there’s an enthusiasm that comes with it and an inspiration that it definitely feeds your inspiration in life for that subject. That’s where I find social impact just absolutely fascinating and just really inspiring to be a part of.

[00:07:57] BS: I can only imagine. I first learned about the 2011 disaster and Tohoku from Jessica Korteman, who was Episode 1of Love Your Enthusiasm and also the person who introduced me to you, because she knew you would be great on the show. Thanks Jess. I know she’s a mutual friend of ours.

[00:08:19] AO: That’s so interesting. She came and volunteered with us.

[00:08:23] BS: That’s so cool. Yeah. I actually learned about that whole disaster from Jess, and her writing and her coverage of everything that happened. That was how I learned about it.

[00:08:35] AO: Wow.

[00:08:35] BS: But I didn’t get to experience it like you did in-person or like she did. It was through her words I was able to learn and hear about the experiences that people were having there and what it felt like. Then to hear it from you as well, I mean, it definitely makes me feel — it gives me the chills because I’ve never seen anything like that, and I’m sure a lot of the listeners have been fortunate not to see a lot of those atrocities and disasters that do happen. And a lot of us kind of live in our protected bubbles and it’s important to talk to people like yourself who have actually seen these things and the impact that can happen.

[00:09:22] AO: Yeah. It’s both very devastating, but also incredibly inspiring because you see — like, I mean, as I mentioned, like as a child, I was interested in how people impact bigger pictures, right? I heard so many stories of very profound moments where people made a decision to act in a certain way. Then what are the short-term, but then the long-term impacts of that. I’m talking about like five years later, 10 years later, how did that impact their family, their community. And their city and these like connections, they don’t just go away after the disaster, like the rubble is cleared up. They impact the entire next generation of that area, and that’s where I found along the way, sort of like a secondary passion came where I was like, “We don’t actually know much about these impacts, and our disaster management protocols are often really lacking innovation because we don’t really follow the whole journey and then we don’t put those learnings back into the field.”

I was very lucky to meet some very influential people, both in disaster management and in like community building, social impact and nonprofit work. The conversations we would have were just both mind-boggling, but then also like there’s a lot that can be done. There’s definitely a drive and an enthusiasm for what might happen in the future or what we might be able to support.

[00:10:44] BS: It’s so important to look at the entire journey of something like this. Like you said, it’s not, a lot of people, they get their news and it’s here and gone, but something like that will really stay with people and it could stay with them for generations. Yeah, it’s just not something that we think about and it’s kind of awful actually, because we’re just like, “Okay.” We heard about it in the news and then we’ve moved on. But I remember Jess writing about this for really long time and following that. I had volunteered with the International Rescue Committee in Dallas in their office there for a summer once. I was sort of involved with that organization and I loved what they stood for. It was very much about coming in after the Red Cross and staying. Because the Red Cross comes in and then leaves and then other organizations come into to stay and help the people, and the city or the town help everyone recover long-term.

A little bit of a pivot here. I love to talk to you a little bit about productivity and specifically what zaps your productivity and like what those things are and how you bounce back when that, when those things strike.

[00:12:08] AO: I think definitely for me, the worst thing, worst thing, the thing that will absolutely destroy my productivity is confusion. If I’m not sure what my next step is or who I’m supposed to talk to next, or which program to follow up on, which donor to talk to. I also hit overwhelm a lot. I don’t know if you know, but I have one daughter, so I’ve always been a single mom, and then I started the charity and then I moved into corporate so I kind of still juggle quite a bit. I used to think having really efficient timelines and aligning my calendars was the cure all. It’s really great to have those systems, but I found that, unless I’m very, very confident on my why, like why is this important? So having a strategic mindset about my actions, I get overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed and then I get confusion about what I’m supposed to do next. That will just kind of land me on the sofa going, “Why am I doing this? Which is my biggest priorities? Oh!” Then I start focusing on the things I haven’t done and how I’ve got my daughter down, or you just sort of, you can get like all that negative self-talk.

[00:13:17] BS: I’m familiar. We kind of sound like the same person as you’re describing all of this with the overwhelm and the confusion. I mean, it just like paralyzes you. Then also, like me, I will actually throw like a little temper tantrum. It’s awful. Like I’ll just cry on the couch and it’s hard for me to figure out what to do next, so I can completely relate.

[00:13:38] AO: That’s great to hear.

[00:13:39] BS: It’s not just you. We’re in this together.

[00:13:44] AO: Awesome. Awesome. Other than having like — you do need to have a good system for keeping track of meetings, and appointments and important school deadlines. But just to make sure that I have me time, relaxing time and listening to my body and emotions because it’s actually, unfortunately, it is still usually my body that will just stop and then my mind goes, “Oh, right. Okay. We need to rest.” Like I’ll get sick or I’ll have a day where I’m just completely fatigued and I actually cannot make it to the 10 meetings that I ambitiously thought I could. I have learned to make sure that every day I have some downtime, some calm time. Then as I mentioned, really knowing why I’m choosing to do this much or this little with my time.

[00:14:30] BS: What is the downtime look like for you? I mean, you said you tried to build it in a little bit every day, so what does that look like?

[00:14:37] AO: My daily downtime will be my meditation and my fitness, so those sandbags. That time myself in the gym just kind of sweating it out, that is incredibly therapeutic for me. I meditate. I usually do guided meditations a lot, then I spend time reading and writing. That really helps me kind of process where I’m at, and what I’ve done and it also helps me keep track of the small progresses along the way and that keeps me motivated. Then my favorite, favorite thing ever is hot springs.

[00:15:09] BS: Wow! I’m jealous of that, because you’re in Tokyo, in Japan, so you have all sorts of options, don’t you?

[00:15:15] AO: Yeah. So it’s been hard now with COVID because I can’t travel to the countryside and they have the most beautiful hot springs. Like you can do sunrise hot spring, which is probably my most relaxing where I sit outside and you watch the sunrise. I remember the first time I tried this, I remember thinking of the movie Superman and going like, “Oh, this is like, when he gets his energy from the sun, when he flies into outer space.”

[00:15:38] BS: Totally.

[00:15:41] AO: I do love my hot springs. Then, so at home, what I’ll do is I’ll take baths. Last year, my daughter actually started a little side project where she makes bath bombs with essential oils.

[00:15:51] BS: Oh, perfect.

[00:15:52] AO: Yeah, so good. I was like, “Honey, how much are these? Can I just buy some for the week?”

[00:15:58] BS: That’s great. Yeah. I’m a big fan of baths as well. I pretty much have to have one every evening. That’s just my journey into downtime and into the bed soon after that. It feels so good to have your body temperature just slowly go from such a hot temperature back to normal. It always puts me out, it’s so nice.

[00:16:21] AO: They definitely are like a warm hug that you can sort of let go all your stress or the things you don’t want to take with you into the next moment of your life. I like actually can visualize like, “Okay, yeah. We don’t need this anymore, just put that there.” Then you come out and you’re just refreshed and you smell good.

[00:16:39] BS: Yeah, exactly. What else do you need? I’m missing saunas right now. This conversation is making me miss saunas so badly, because that was something that I used to do and haven’t been able to do, of course since COVID. All of those have been shut down. But one day, I will be in a sauna again and that would be especially nice this winter. Angela, what is something you learned through a social impact experience that stayed with you forever?

[00:17:10] AO: When I was 17, I traveled to India for a few months. I was in Goa at a market, Anjuna market. I was walking into the sort of festival area. It was near the beach. It was beautiful, palm trees, blue skies, the breeze is flowing and you saw baskets of different spices and there’s so much color. I remember seeing this little beggar boy near the entrance and my heart went out to him, immediately thinking some horrible incident must’ve happened to this poor child. I was thinking, “Oh, maybe I could give him some change.” Then my friend whispered into my ear and she said, “His parents did that to him.” Coming from a developed country, that just floored me. I could not understand or comprehend, but at that moment, this idea in my head kind of cemented, and I never forgot this. It was that the ignorance is the enemy we’re fighting. It’s not people actually, it’s not cultures, it’s ignorance. That stayed with me forever.

[00:18:19] BS: I have a different experience, but I’ll share it. When I was working with the International Rescue Committee in Dallas, I was just doing like development and marketing staff in their office, but I also was helping with their donations and organizing those in the closet. I was just fresh out of college at the time. This family came in from Iraq and it was a husband and a wife and their two children, a little boy and a little girl. They came in to get some things out of the closet and they were so excited to be able to like pillage the donations closet, to be able to get some new clothes and shoes. At the time, I was actually working in luxury retail and I won’t say the name of the store, but it was in Dallas. If anyone knows anything about Dallas, it can be a bit over the top sometimes, not everybody, but there, especially in that particular job that I was working at the time and I worked that job for a long time to get through college and a little bit afterwards.

But yeah, it was just the realization of those two very different worlds and I didn’t belong and I didn’t really belong to either of them. I’m just kind of in between. Like I was at this job and I couldn’t buy anything at the place where I worked, even with my discount, it was just like well beyond affordability for me. So there was that side of my life and then volunteering with IRC and seeing that family come into the closet and having nothing, having come here after the war in Iraq as refugees and being so excited to pick out things from the closet like that. It was just this really strange moment for me, but also something I’ll never forget.

[00:20:19] AO: Yeah. There are so many elements, and to be honest, so many moments that have stuck with me forever that I have sort of educated my perspective on social impact. One that I would also love to share, if I may, is how you can unintentionally create dependence. I’ll give a short story on this from my time in Japan, although I’ve seen this across like the history of throughout many, many different countries. But at one point in Tohoku area, we were of course donating clothes, and products and household supplies. As people moved into temporary housing, they had very small spaces, and so they didn’t actually need a lot of things. But the fact that they were still able to receive free gifts or free items really made them feel emotionally connected and taken care of.

But one day, we had received a large donation of fashionable items from a boutique that closed here. Harajuku actually. A young boy walked into the center and we were talking about how we’re going to distribute them or we’re going to do like a sale. He said, “Well, shouldn’t we just get them for free.” It was that moment where I then remembered like the problems of aid in developing countries and how they created, people who believe they should have hand-me-outs for the rest of their life and then the impact that has on their personal psyche. I remember seeing this ten-year-old boy and going like, “No, no, no, no. This is not the Japanese way of thinking. This is not the level of society that we’re at.” I definitely do not want to be part of supporting, or inadvertently creating, or contributing to a community that will then sit down and say, “This horrible thing happened to us and now we’re victims for the rest of our lives and we should be given aid.” That was a real wakeup call too, and it helped us reframe the way we were supporting the communities there.

[00:22:13] BS: Yeah. I didn’t even think about that, but how did you approach a situation like that? Was it just letting them know, “No, this is not the way. Here are some ways that we recommend acting.” I mean, how do you continue that conversation to help?

[00:22:29] AO: In the beginning, we didn’t need to address the problem directly actually. What we had done was we kind of — we’re able to mitigate that problem completely by saying, “Look, we need you even though we know times are tough, we need you to actually fulfill this amount of a role.” So for people in temporary housing, all we ask them to do was keep track of the families, manage the distribution and let us know, like give us the reports.” They weren’t just sitting there receiving, they actually were required to stand up and participate in the whole activity. That actually helps make them feel productive. And when we feel productive as humans, we have more confidence. When we have more confidence, we have more clarity and that really helped some survivors who were completely dazed with grief and just overwhelmed, actually start functioning again.

Then the survivors who maybe hadn’t lost as much, we asked them to do even more like actually lend their trucks so that we could go drop off these products in certain places. That was a great way that we kind of were, was able to stem a huge growth of dependency mentality. Then throughout the years, it became easier to actually just talk about these things directly with community leaders and have these conversations about, “How are we going? How is your strength? Are you guys ready to do more? Can we back off a little less?” We just sort of year by year; we’ll rebalance the amount of work we do and the amount of work they do.

[00:24:01] BS: Have you done most of this work and Tokyo or have you done this work in various places around the world?

[00:24:09] AO: Mostly for me has been the Tohoku area, but I was — in my younger years, I traveled to India and helped with like the polio vaccination there and they’ve done some different sort of volunteer activities in other cultures. Then in my corporate roles, I had the opportunity also to visit Cambodia. That was amazing to see like the factories and understand the cultures and understand the challenges that they’re having and how are they being addressed. And of course, you’re working with a lot of NGOs in this space as well, so that was an incredible opportunity.

[00:24:42] BS: Do you ever or have you ever just completely broken down from just dealing with the whole breadth of social impact? I mean, I feel like I would and —

[00:24:56] AO: Absolutely.

[00:24:57] BS: Okay. I was like, “Angela, how do you do this?”

[00:25:03] AO: Yes. I have like so many buckets of tears.

[00:25:07] BS: Okay. Yeah. I mean, I’m so amazed and I don’t know. I wonder — I mean, you must really have to spend a lot of time taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally to be able to do what you do.

[00:25:22] AO: That’s a good point, very good point.

[00:25:25] BS: You’re like, “I’m working on that.”

[00:25:26] AO: I am working on this. I feel like it’s a work in progress. The fact that I had a young daughter at the time and I physically needed to kind of create a life that was half in Tokyo and half in the field. Although I wouldn’t say that it was less work taking care of the kid and managing home life, it was different type of work. So that kind of helped balance out the stress factors. Then another thing is, I have a wonderful family. I’m really close with my siblings, and so having dinners, and barbecues, and parties together definitely helped me cope and sort of like have some space and just time for other things.

There were quite a few moments where the worst parts are when you overworked or you’ve overstressed, and then you don’t get understanding from the beneficiary side and so you end up feeling resentment towards them. Because you feel like I’m doing all of this, and I’m exhausted here, and you’re not appreciating it and you’re not, we’re not working together. Those are the most difficult to sort of talk through and overcome because you’re coming at it from such different places. I had to learn. It took me a while to learn like self-responsibility for my emotions and make sure that I didn’t push myself that far.

[00:26:50] BS: Well, it’s great that you have a family that is so supportive. I believe you told me that you are number four of eleven siblings. Is that correct?

[00:27:02] AO: That is correct, yes.

[00:27:04] BS: Okay. Now, where are you all located? Are you all in Tokyo or spread out?

[00:27:09] AO: There’s a few of us in Tokyo. I think there’s like seven of us in Tokyo now. Three in the States. I have a sister in Oregon, two siblings in California, one in Australia. Then one of my younger sisters is with my parents up north in Japan.

[00:27:24] BS: I just think that your whole — I’m just interested in almost like your whole life story, because you’re like — was it your mom that’s from — no. Your mom is from the United States and your dad was from Columbia. Did I get that right?

[00:27:35] AO: Yes.

[00:27:35] BS: Okay. But then you all ended up in Japan?

[00:27:38] AO: Yes. Dad likes to travel. He was actually a third culture kid himself. He grew up in Rome. He lived like 20 years in Rome because my grandfather was working for the UN.

[00:27:48] BS: Okay. Yeah. Well, that explains a little bit more than that it’s just kind of running in the family then.

[00:27:55] AO: It could be. I definitely think there is something to like, the genetics that you get and the character you become, but that’s a whole other story.

[00:28:03] BS: It is, right. Angela, what is something you are not as good at and how have you worked on improving that skill?

[00:28:15] AO: I think because I’m a big picture person and I find ideas, emotions, connections, these things make a lot of sense to me. I’m actually really great with details when it comes to like planning out every moment of an event or how I want people to feel or the experience, which was why I think it was so easy for me to move into emergency response. But when you start bringing in the details of like logistics, numbers, categories, and even locations, these are a little harder for me to work with. I try to outsource them if I can, or I make sure that I have like double the amount of time for planning because it definitely. I have to like really draw on like all my energy to get through this and I have to double check, and then I make sure that there’s someone else that can proofread it if it’s a report or if I’m planning, like doing project management or something. There’s kind of like two ways that I approach this one and it’s like, if I can give myself more time and do it, well, then I’ll do that. But like for example, the accounting for the nonprofit, I just had to find someone else.

[00:29:26] BS: Yeah. It’s nice to work with people who really specialize, especially in the things that you don’t want to do and or don’t have time to do, so there’s nothing wrong with outsourcing. I’m a big fan.

[00:29:38] AO: Yeah. This is actually kind of controversial. People have different opinions on this. They feel like you should work on your weak points. But I ascribe actually to the idea that if you don’t like something, it’s literally your mind saying, “Look, we’re not the best at this.” This takes us more time and effort than it would, so try and find somebody else to do it. It also gives you insights into what type of people will compliment your team. I’m a huge fan of being very honest about, “Look, this is my sweet spot. These are the areas I can do if we need to as a team, but we’re better off trying to hire or recruit people who can fill those other positions and not to feel bad about a task that you’re not the best at.”

[00:30:21] BS: Yeah, and one that’s going to take you twice as long as somebody else. I mean, time is such a precious commodity, so I totally agree with you on this being kind of a controversial topic. So I like this discussion because there has to be a point where you say, “You know what, I would rather spend this time focusing on my strengths because that’s how I’m really going to make an impact is if I’m focusing on these things, instead of worrying about these things.”

[00:30:53] AO: To your point earlier, I think like we’ve maybe gotten to a point where people think being so busy and working so hard is admirable. Definitely on this side of the world, this is a strong cultural trait that they don’t always appreciate this mindset, so I find I often have points of contention on this.

[00:31:17] BS: Sounds very similar to things in the States. Yeah. The culture of busy-ness, it’s definitely a problem. And of course, this year has force many of us to slow down, but like we were saying before we started the recording, it seems like everyone’s really busy again. And it’s almost like trying to make up for lost time or something from earlier this year. I know I’ve been at just all-time busy-ness with my work, with my other business, Superneat Marketing. Our clients have been busy. I mean, everyone’s almost trying to play catch up now it seems like. So it’s been a little, a little wacky for a lot of people.

[00:31:58] AO: Yes. I definitely feel that vibe over here as well.

[00:32:01] BS: Interesting. We had all of that introspection and some of that downtime earlier this year, and it does seem like a lot of that is a distant memory as we’re heading into November. We’re recording this in mid-October right now, but it’s seems like it’s a distant memory now. I’m trying to hang on to some of the things that I’ve learned during some of the slower times that I had this year and really trying to hang onto some of those experiences. Because that introspection, although it was difficult, it was also really good for me and I know it was for a lot of people.

[00:32:37] AO: It’s so ironic to me that the potential outcome of a forced downtime could be an increase in busy-ness because I’ve heard, for example, now with everyone using Zoom, there are people that realize they can be on mute and they can be on two different meetings.

[00:32:54] BS: Oh God.

[00:32:57] AO: I’m a bit like, “No, please don’t do that to society. Like we do not need to have exponential busy-ness in our lives.” All the health leaders and emotional health leaders is saying as humans, we don’t function well in those spaces.

[00:33:14] BS: Well, I actually have two podcasts going right now. I forgot to tell you, I’m interviewing somebody else on the other line. Got to get it done, Angela. Life is short, let’s speed it up.

[00:33:27] AO: I’m guilty of this too. Like I’ll try to read and listen to something at the same time or always — I got into the habit of multitasking and it’s only more recently that I realized, you know what, your brain can’t actually do two things at once, so just chill out and be present. Be more present.

[00:33:44] BS: Be more present, totally. God, if my mom is listening to this, she’s going to be upset with me, but I’ll just tell you that she has always read a book in front of the TV during her downtime. That’s her downtime, right? She likes to have the TV on in the background and she loves to read. She does both at the same time and I’ve never understood it. She’s done that my whole life and I love her to pieces, but I have to do one or the other. That is definitely not for me.

[00:34:17] AO: I liked what you said earlier. You said the culture of busy-ness. I’m wondering, that sounds like a book that’s already been written or should be written soon.

[00:34:24] BS: It might have been written. I mean, it seems like everything’s already been done. I mean, my husband and I, we joke about this all the time. There are no new ideas, so it’s probably a thing. But if it’s not, somebody should make it one. It’s definitely a problem.

[00:34:37] AO: Definitely. And more than just a trend, like — kind of another thing that makes me passionate about social impact is that it does encompass education. I’ve seen so many aspects of society, whether that’s like women’s rights or things like this, like being busy all the time or multitasking. We have these trends and these ideas, but there’s a huge gap between what is actually being practiced as a family, as a community. That’s really where we pick up all our traits, our characteristics. Even if it becomes a New York bestseller, if we don’t have parents actively being present in the home and teaching their kids to live in that way, then we won’t see a lot of change in the next generation.

[00:35:20] BS: Angela, can you talk a little bit about kind of your approach to social impact? How is it different now than it was years ago?

[00:35:33] AO: Well, it exists now. I have an approach. Before I thought it was all bullshit, and I thought nonprofit work was corrupt and people who engaged in social impact were either maybe religious or were being manipulated by some person that was just making money off of them. Then I think growing up in Japan also because we have the, there’s a strong Buddhist culture here, which is very much about you should be taking care of your own. And there’s not a lot of Western style philanthropy. They have their own way of doing things here. That was a big sort of pivot for me in 3/11. That disaster really just kind of changed the entire way I look at it because it exposed me to this concept of people inspire people. And more than like having the best product or being able to build everybody houses or bringing toys and cool products and for the kids and things like that, those aspects were not the aspects that really supported recovery as much as it was the people or the organizations that just kept showing up.

I asked local leaders about this subject and because they had gotten aid from like so many different types of people from millionaires who donated cash to governments, who built new hospitals for them. The things that really impacted them on a personal level that made them courageous to continue on with what is now a very difficult life, was the friendships that they made along that way. For me, I think that’s where I have a very completely different approach now than I did 10 years ago, about what the value of the volunteer is. I really do think that the volunteer is an important component of society, but it isn’t what I thought it was 10 years ago.

Maybe just to kind of summarize that succinctly, that now, I think rather than the products that you bring, it’s about the conversations that you have that allow for personal growth in the local leaders of these programs. That’s I think something that the volunteer can do and something that nonprofits are best suited to do even in the long term.

[00:37:51] BS: I worked for a nonprofit for a couple of years and the power of people, and I believe you said people, inspiring people, it truly is what keeps so many people going. Both the people who are working in the field and also the people that are serving. It can be really hard. I was in marketing and development, so I did a lot of grant writing. There were days where I felt like I was just, my job was to beg for money, so it was really difficult. Especially when you would work so hard on a grant, and think that it was some of your best work, and then you wouldn’t receive the grant and then you felt like you had failed. There are a lot of ups and downs of working at a nonprofit, but the people that I worked with and also the people that we were serving, I mean, that’s definitely what kept everybody going, was that connection.

[00:38:49] AO: I definitely think we need a sort of redefinition of non-profits. I think there’s a lot of innovation that needs to happen in that space as well, but it’s happening now because more and more corporates are moving into spaces that traditionally weren’t in the field of nonprofits. So we’re seeing a lot of disruption in this space, and so this is kind of another thing why I’m excited to be involved is, is to figure out, what is the real value that the nonprofit brings and what can you actually, maybe a corporate can do better or another sort of agency of society and just redefine that. Because we’ve gotten in a rut and I think there’s a lot of NGOs that are not very productive and a lot of MPOs that actually perpetuate a need that they shouldn’t be actually working to get rid of.

[00:39:40] BS: Yeah. A lot of antiquated processes and technologies as well. This year, especially as forcing everyone to embrace digital transformation, including nonprofits. I’m sure doing two zoom calls at the same time.

[00:40:00] AO: Yeah. I guess also my familiarity with social impact makes me unafraid to say, “No. Well, we don’t need to do that anymore and you should be looking to modernize or learn from other fields. Change it up.”

[00:40:11] BS: Yeah. I totally agree. Angela, can you talk a little bit about fear and how fear affects your passion for social impact?

[00:40:20] AO: Well, I think fear in general is something for me anyway, that needs to be welcomed and embrace in order for it not to control me, but for me to have control over it. If something scares me or I’m afraid of making a mistake, or looking unprofessional, or looking too professional or something, I try to find what’s the value that fear is bringing to my life, like what is it that it’s trying to do. A lot of this I think is rooted in our old limbic brain and sort of ancestor’s mode of operation, but there’s definitely some value that it’s trying to do. Usually, it’s just trying to keep you alive or keep you safe. That helps me.

I also do like public speaking a lot, and so there’s always that sort of like just fear of absolute embarrassment that I’m definitely going to fall on my face. But instead, I just kind of — I look at fear like as if I was talking to a person and I just say, “Okay, thank you. Thank you so much for that.” If fear is in the right space and I actually think, “Oh, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t do that”, then I’ll just move along with that. But most of the times I find that I just need to acknowledge it and say, “Okay. Thank you so much for looking out for me. You can just sit in the back there and I’ll take it from here.” Then I’m able to manage my fear more intentionally.

[00:41:38] BS: Do you find that fitness, which I know is another big passion for you helps you manage your fear? Like your love for working out and those rituals that you have with taking care of your bodies, does that help you?

[00:41:55] AO: Absolutely. I think fitness helps me with every element of my life. In the nonprofit, I helped develop the values and one of the values is healthy body, healthy mind. This idea that the mind and body are so interconnected was kind of quite new to me actually, like this was in my mid-30s or early 30s, that I was reading about this and it struck me so profoundly that without a healthy body, your mind is not going to function very well and vice versa. I definitely use fitness, I feel like it’s part of my being prepared, like maintaining my health, my mind, body. It’s the physical fitness and then the mental fitness. Also, it’s fun, it’s really fun. Like I love spartan races because we’re like climbing on things and I feel like I’m a six-year-old kid on the monkey bars all over again and there’s just joy.

[00:42:49] BS: Nothing wrong with that, especially in your line of work, Angela, where there are very serious things that you’re dealing with. It’s important to have fun too.

[00:42:59] AO: Absolutely. Totally agree. I love parties.

[00:43:04] BS: Yes. Like, PS, I love parties.

[00:43:06] AO: I love parties, but I say that because I integrate this idea into our programs, into our like recovery community building programs. We have events, and parties, and dancing and culture exchange. I do believe that you could not discount the impact that having inspired moments with other people brings to us as humans.

[00:43:31] BS: How are you all dealing with that this year with not having as many events or possibly any events going on?

[00:43:38] AO: We pivoted to online workshops for the kids a few times, but it’s been a bit lonely. Like we are like texting on social media, and sharing pictures and stuff saying, “Oh, I can’t wait to see you.” But this year has gone by so fast. As you said, there’s like this strange busy-ness and also it’d been able to encourage local leaders to have their own small gatherings, because every city has got different sort of rules and policies. So if anything, it has been positive for the organization, because you remember when I was talking earlier about how every sort of year periodically, we have to reassess how much responsibility we take and how much responsibility they take as leaders. This year, we’ve seen a huge shift towards them stepping up as leaders for their own community. I think overall, that’s a good thing.

[00:44:28] BS: Angela, if you met someone who wanted to get more involved with social impact, but they were unsure about the best place to start, because I’m sure it can be overwhelming. What would you say to them?

[00:44:43] AO: Read my book. That’s what it’s for. It’s a really short book to just help you get the mindset of social impact leadership. But if I was going to give like a piece of advice on like how they might start, I would suggest to align your passion, like your cause. Which subject in social impact are you most interested in? Is it like animal rights, or nature children, or old people or waste, or like there’s so many, many different aspects, right?

I believe that we don’t find ourselves, but rather we create ourselves. Where focus goes energy flows and so be intentional about like, “Well, what are my dreams for myself? What type of person do I want? What are the experiences I want to have in life?” Then you’ll see that intersect between what you really love doing and then the cause or passion that you are interested in. Then that, if you can find that intersect, then it’s a real sustainable mission for you. I really encourage people to be intentional about the value exchange they give and receive when it comes to social impact. Because the worst thing that you could do is startup projects or programs, and then drop them because you can’t keep going. The emotional impact that has on all people involved is quite negative. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pairing your own growth and your value for you with the value you give to others.

[00:46:08] BS: Thank you, Angela. Can you let the listeners know how they can stay in touch and find more info about you and your book?

[00:46:16] AO: Absolutely. So I just launched a new website actually, so you can see me at www.stratechist.com and you’ll find my book there as well as other aspects of social impact that I’m working on.

[00:46:33] BS: What about social? Which channels can we find you on it?

[00:46:39] AO: Facebook, I guess. Yeah, I guess Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. I’m on all of those. I think I have a Twitter account as well, but Facebook is probably the — I have the most content on there.

[00:46:51] BS: Okay. Cool. Well, I will leave those links in the show notes on the website for all the listeners so you can stay in touch with Angela. Angela, thank you so much. It was awesome meeting you and having you on the show.

[00:47:06] AO: Thank you so much. I had such a good time. I can’t believe our time went by so fast.

[00:47:10] BS: I know it’s so much fun. Thank you.

[00:47:13] AO: Thank you, Britt.


[00:47:16] BS: If you’re looking for related content, I will happily point you in the right direction. With Episode 3, The Choice of Living Consciously. Julle Klene is a long-time advocate of a zero-waste lifestyle. She’s also a photographer and adventure traveler who has traveled to 39 plus countries. Julle offers many beautiful reminders about how every action we take affects our lives and the lives of others. Be sure to check out Julle’s episode if you love this one with Angela. Thank you as always for tuning in to Love Your Enthusiasm. Until next time


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