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Nikki Innocent believes you are meant to be exactly who you are

If you’re looking to change the world, Nikki Innocent has news for you. The founder, podcast host, coach and top-notch hype woman believes that you are meant to be exactly who you are to change the world. After exploring the trail that Nikki is blazing, we chatted with her about some meaningful milestones and standout moments along her journey.

You shared that people have called you the”human embodiment of care bear stare” How did that come about, and what do you think it tells people about you?

A friend of mine actually described me as the “human embodiment of a Care Bear stare” when I was struggling with describing the influence/impact I have on people. I’ve found that people inevitably feel something around me, usually it’s good, but it’s unmistakable that some sort of emotion tends to result in meeting me.

Even as a little kid, I started speaking when I was like five or six months old and my “Hi” had people coming from all over to chat with me, and for my two very shy parents it was quite a challenge! I’ve witnessed my impact on people my whole life and some early traumas had me believing it was important to minimize it, to hide my shine and keep my presence under control so as not to overwhelm people. I now know in doing that, I was losing the true essence of who I am. About 6 years ago, I started my journey back to myself and have been working religiously on letting my care bear stare energy shine brightly. In coaching and in speaking, I’ve found a calling that allows that true superpower to shine.

When I work with people, it’s almost guaranteed that after an interaction my clients say something along the lines of “I feel better,” “A weight has been lifted,” “I’m so motivated,” “I feel so seen,” or “I believe in myself!” And this is in the midst of big life challenges like leaving a company they founded, weathering a layoff, navigating a divorce or trying to survive the depths of burnout. So if you’re looking to feel seen, accepted and walk away with an energy boost, I’m your person!

“About 6 years ago, I started my journey back to myself and have been working religiously on letting my care bear stare energy shine brightly. In coaching and in speaking, I’ve found a calling that allows that true superpower to shine.”

The early milestones of your career journey — graduating from a top business school, promotions at a major management consultancy, big budgets and big names — might have people assuming that you’d stay on that linear, traditional success trajectory. Since then, you’ve changed industries, pivoted to consulting and now are making your mark as a coach. Was this the path you expected for yourself when you started out?

Honestly, no. Rewind back to when I was a little kid and my vision for myself was consistent in the sense that I was drawn to the idea of servant leadership. My plan was to either be President of the US to help foster a more peaceful world, a soccer coach to help people excel in the sport that I love, or a lawyer to fight for justice. Fast forward and I ended up on the traditional business path mainly because I believed it would give me freedom to live a life based on my own choices. Independence was a priority for me because, growing up, I felt stuck in a home that was clouded by the emotional, verbal and psychological abuse of my stepfather. I now know so much of that drive for independence resulted in me blindly hustling into a wall of exhaustion and burnout. But that experience also gave me so much resilience and such a unique perspective to spot oppressive dynamics that were playing out everyday in the halls of Corporate America that have been seen as “just the way it is”.

Looking back at all of the moves I’ve made, personally and professionally, while they don’t fit a traditional trajectory of success, they have truly been the right steps for me. And honestly, the ability to witness that is what has motivated me to step into my current role as a coach to act as a support and guide for folks who are grappling with the all too common reality that the path they’ve been told to follow doesn’t match up with the path our intuition pulls us towards. That realization can be a real crisis point for so many of us, and it can feel super isolating – but I assure you if you’re feeling that way you are not alone!

Among your accomplishments and milestones of success, you share the impact losing several friends had on your journey. Why did it feel important to share these obstacles, especially given the pressure for social media perfection?

Ohhhh social media perfection, you sneaky sneaky mirage! I share the losses of my friends because I truly believe that dealing with death, grief and loss on multiple occasions when I was young is something that makes me value the juxtaposition of the power and fragility of life that much more. We’ve been fed the belief that in order to be seen as valuable we have to “do the right thing” or “follow the right path” but I believe that you were born infinitely valuable. Your job is to be you, trust your intuition and the impact you were put on this earth to make will naturally reveal itself.

“Your job is to be you, trust your intuition and the impact you were put on this earth to make will naturally reveal itself.”

One of the key principles of the women’s leadership methodology I coach from is that we need to change our relationship to time and money. Traditional/masculine metrics of success are driven by belief that time and money are finite and we are jockeying for position with one another to get to the top spot – a zero-sum game: for you to succeed, others must fail. The experience of being so profoundly impacted by the loss of significant people in my life has shown me without a doubt that we are all in our own lane and there is more than enough of this life to go around.

If anyone is grappling with loss right now, one of the most profound resources I found when my close college friend passed away recently was a talk from actor Justin Baldoni “What if Birth and Death are Actually the Same?” I always felt like our relationship to death felt off, but this talk really resonated with me. I also have a friend Janine Kwoh who just released her new book Welcome to the Grief Club that normalizes the conversation and experience of navigating grief, death and loss.

Your TED talks (Embrace Your Other, Activate Your Superpower and Break the Rules in Life, Then Re-write Your Own) occurred within weeks of each other and seem like when you really stepped into not just owning but celebrating your unique path through life. What was life like for you at this point in time?

Those three weeks were jampacked, exciting and a bit overwhelming. Both opportunities organically came from folks in my network – for those of you who are Human Design lovers, I’m a 1/4 which means I’m meant to be an expert in the things that light me up (1) and that most of the opportunities I’m destined for in life will come through my network (4) in some way!

These talks were also within a month or so of launching my podcast, I honestly don’t know how I did it, but am so grateful I did. The blessing of it was that I didn’t have time to waste with imposter syndrome, my energy was needed to step into each opportunity fully and bear witness to what happens when I give myself permission to just be me. The coolest part is, that all three of those endeavors have remained the backbone of my approach to my work and life. Anyone who has ever run a business, worked in a startup or even evolved their perspective in life knows messaging/interests/product offerings pivot and shift all the time, but the core mission that inspired my talks and my podcast has stayed the same.

I also learned how to step into my style for speaking and sharing my story. During my first TEDx, there was a speaking coach who had a very rigid way of guiding us through the process that didn’t work for me, but I made it work. Then for the second talk, I was able to embrace my own style and it was a game-changer. Ever since then, when I’m hired for speaking gigs, I embrace my unique style for prep and execution and trust that the audience gets more from it when I do.

So many folks have asked me about how to go about booking a TED talk or becoming a speaker and I believe it’s unique for each person. I built out a whole workshop/course that is all about embracing your style and your strengths to bring your story and message to life and find your own authentic way to share it with the world. I’m hoping to release it this coming spring/summer.

“We learn about a lot of official subjects in school, but identity and belonging are not among them.”

Checkbox Other is your podcast that celebrates those who don’t fit in a defined box or category. What drew you to podcasting as a platform, and what has working through this medium taught you? What have you learned from your guests?

I had the idea for the podcast a few years before I actually launched it, because of how often in my life I felt like the options presented for me to fit into just weren’t sufficient. As a biracial Black, millennial, tomboy, creative in the traditional, majority white, male business world, I found myself to be more of a hybrid human that lived on the bridge between the identity options we were encouraged to choose from.

We learn about a lot of official subjects in school, but identity and belonging are not among them. Both topics, especially when highlighting aspects of it that aren’t usually represented, recognized or included, often benefit from a space for nuance, critical thinking and reflection at your own pace. In most scenarios in life where we’re facing and navigating our relationship with belonging, we are on the spot one way or another.

Podcasts are a wonderful forum for that because:

  1. They are on-demand, so you can pause, rewind and listen to parts again if need be,
  2. They are intimate. You feel like you are getting to know/having a conversation with the person on the other side of the episode. I believe that this offers the opportunity to truly create connection and build genuine trust in a way that is challenging with shortening attention spans in our trend-driven world of social media.
  3. They offer time and space for critical thinking. You can listen and you don’t have the pressure to respond, react or be certain, right or correct as you are consuming the episode. When I run workshops at organizations or even sometimes in coaching sessions, there is this feeling that you need to absorb so much so fast and I truly believe that we all have our own unique style of learning and pace of learning, I think podcasts provide flexibility for folks to absorb in a way that works for them
  4. They are accessible, both for creators and listeners. They are publicly available for listeners so you can use them as a starting point for a conversation with another person.
  5. They have a lower barrier to entry and less of a gatekeeping vibe than most other forums. Historically, there has been so much power given to the folks who have access to the microphone or the pen to write history. Podcasting offers more people that power.

My podcast has given me the opportunity to use my voice more freely than ever before and at the same time to hold intentional space to amplify voices and stories of others that have also historically been silenced, ignored or left behind. I learn something new from every single podcast guest. I find stepping into other people’s shoes is one of the best ways to see the world from a different perspective and learn wisdom that is hard to put into words. A few specific examples:

Want to experience more of that Care Bear stare magic? Explore Nikki’s trail and connect with her on OwnTrail!