9: Stephenie Larsen, CEO of Encircle, on Being Brave, How She Came to Understand All People Matter, and Daily Questions She Uses to Keep Herself Accountable
Stephenie Larsen is the CEO of Encircle, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to deepen and enrich the conversation among communities of faith and LGBTQ teens and young adults. They teach individuals to love themselves and empower families to cultivate an environment where LGBTQ individuals can thrive.
During our conversation we discuss:
- Why Stephenie started Encircle and how her vision for what it could be has grown.
- How her belief in her purpose helped be brave, the strong motivation she has to get “stuff” done, willingness to accept the help of others and give people a chance.
- How we came to realize that "all people matter" and why she enjoys getting to know people in the shadows.
- The power of learning to work hard.
- Daily questions she asks herself to hold herself accountable.
- The value of celebrating the small things.
- Dealing with differences in perspective and belief while still respecting everyone.
- Wanting to do something big and finding herself as a woman.
- The importance of being an effective communicator.
The best ways to connect with Stephenie and Encircle are:
- Web: https://encircletogether.org/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/encircletogether/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/encircletogether/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/encircle2gether
You can follow Brett Pinegar on:
- Twitter - https://twitter.com/brettpinegar
- LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/brettpinegar/
- Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/brettpinegar/
- Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/brettpinegar/
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Growing up, multiple times a week, I would pass my dad in the hall or in the kitchen and he would say, "Are you nice to everyone?" "Yes, dad." "Especially the kids who don't have friends?" "Yes, dad." And he would just harp that in. Everyone, you're gonna learn something from everyone. I do remember in junior high this girl saying to me, "Stephanie, thanks for being my friend "because you really don't have to be." It just, it was one of my proudest moments and I think that from that time on I have always found value in getting to know everyone of all different walks in life. I've been surprised as an adult sometimes how many times I've watched people maybe blow people off because they're not important.
Welcome to Seeking Excellence. I'm Brett Pinegar. The Seeking Excellence podcast is all about sharing insights from people that are leading out and seeking to do their best. The path to excellence is difference for each of us. Yet, what we share is a desire to improve and to develop, to learn and adapt. We talked about the processes and approaches we can all use to make our path more effective. We share the stories and experiences that help us develop. Our goal is to inspire and motivate all of us to be the very best version of ourselves. If you enjoy this podcast, we would appreciate it if you would take the time to subscribe, rate, review, and share it with others. If you have suggestions for people you would like to see as guests, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In my work, I help executives and teams become their best and enjoy the remarkable results that striving for excellence enables. You can learn more about my coaching, peer groups, training programs, and consulting services at brettpinegar.com. You can also follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram @brettpinegar. Let me also announce that on May 17th at 11:00 AM mountain time, we will be having a special no-cost webinar on the neuroscience of excellence and how to go from average to awesome. I'll share four mental models that people use to achieve two times the results that the average person achieves. You'll find out about this and everything else in this episode in our show notes at brettpinegar.com. Now, let me introduce today's guest. Stephenie Larsen is the CEO of Encircle, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to deepen and enrich the conversation between communities of faith and LGTBQ teens and young adults. They teach individuals to love themselves and empower families to cultivate an environment where LGTBQ individuals can thrive. During our conversation, we discussed a story of why Stephenie started Encircle and how her vision of it's grown. Her journey as a leader and how her belief in her purpose helped her be brave and strong to get stuff done and to accept the help of others. The fundamental beliefs she has is that all people matter and the joy she gets from getting to know people. The power of learning to work hard and giving 100% to everything you do, some daily questions she asks herself to hold herself accountable, dealing with challenges of differences in perspectives and beliefs while still respecting everyone, wanting to do something big and finding yourself as a woman, and the importance of being an effective communicator. There's so much more in this episode, let's get right to it. Stephanie, it is great to be here with you today.
Thanks so much for having me.
Let's start by talking a little bit about you and about Encircle.
Basically, we started, I guess I started Encircle, it's been almost two years ago and we've only been open, I think it's 15 months since Valentine's Day last year.
I'm just from Orem, Utah, I have six children, and that's about it.
What was the motivation for you to start Encircle?
It's kind of a long story but I had been a stay-at-home mom for 17 years and I was, I grew up in Orem, I was a BYU graduate, I studied family sciences and then I went to law school. I represented abused and neglected kids and sort of worked in the area of family and the law. At the time, when I was in my career, I would have told you that homosexuality was a sin, that gay marriage would destroy our country if it ever became legal, and I married my husband and he had an uncle named John Williams who was gay. I got to know John and he was my very good friend for over 20 years and knowing John made all of those beliefs fall apart. I guess knowing John made me realize when you've got one of the best people you've ever known and one of the most Christ-like people you've ever known, how could I judge him for his sexuality? I started studying about the biology behind our sexuality and there's so much research out there that proves that we are born with our sexuality, it's not changeable. I guess I started believing people don't choose to be that way and then you put that up against Christ and the teachings of how we should treat one another. I don't know. As a stay-at-home mom for 17 years, I just, in my home started grappling with that and then I started learning about the suicide rates in Utah and just decided that something needed to be done. I didn't know it would be quite to this extent. I had a vision of opening a little house where kids could come after school and spend a few hours sitting around the table doing homework, eating cookies, and having a safe space where they felt accepted and loved. Then Encircle just kind of grew out of that.
Fantastic. What a great story and a great commitment to take an idea, a belief that you had, and convert it into action. So often we will have ideas about ways we'd like to influence the world and make it a better place and yet we'll sit back and we'll go, I should do that some day.
It took me a while. I called John probably five years ago now and asked him if he would help me do something. He said, sure. I basically just said I think that in Provo, where I live, is probably one of the hardest places to grow up an LGBTQ child. We have our two large universities and tons of families and no resources and he immediately said, sure, I'll help you. Then, I chickened out and didn't call him back for another two years. It was scary.
There's a journey and it's a journey of walking into the unknown and walking into the dark a little bit and getting outside your comfort zone. Do you have a sense for what it was that finally brought you back?
A lot of things. I will say I'm LDS and the church policy pushed me a lot. I had a number of friends who have gay children who didn't know what to do about it, didn't speak of them much. My daughter, who was at Temple U, had a number of friends come out as gay their junior year and watching what they, how they were seen by their peers and knowing that a lot of them were suicidal, I think those things really pushed me.
Wow. Well, thank you for what you're doing here. This is a great place and we've spent a little bit of time here at an art sale and also have gone to a concert that you were a part of here that were just tremendous. Let's talk a little bit about your path to leadership. Obviously you'd had a great experience earlier in your life as an attorney. You've learned some things there. Talk about your journey as a leader and what you've learned as a leader through this process of starting Encircle.
I might have to laugh about that because I can't really say that I've, I guess my journey has been Encircle because as a stay-at-home mom for 17 years, you walk back into the public sector and it's scary. I didn't feel like I had anything to offer to be honest and because I believed so much in this and the need, that was the trajectory that kept pushing me forward. In the beginning, I remember everyday just saying, just be brave, just be brave. With time you gain confidence and I think I'm still working on gaining that confidence.
We often talk about how we have a purpose and goals that are on, I'll call them a mountain, it's the mountain we want to climb, it's the thing we want to accomplish. Then we recognize where we are, we're down in the valley and we've got this mountain to climb. The difference between where we are and where we want to go represents tension and it can motivate us. But often we'll get stuck and we'll need help along that journey. Otherwise, we'll wander around and we'll never make it to the top of the mountain. What are some of the places you've turned or some of the people you've turned to to navigate that process of really moving towards this powerful mission that you've got?
Well, I was very fortunate that in the beginning, after John Williams, John was murdered and that was two months into the project. John was who I, when I decided to do this, was going to rely on as the gay man who understood. He had the financial backing to make this happen and the business experience. When John died, I no longer had him and that security and I was very fortunate that people just started showing up out of the woodwork in my house. Actually at my door saying, we've heard about what you want to do. We think there's a need and we're willing to help. I stalked a few people like Barb and Steve Young, who I knew had connections and passion. From the beginning they've helped us. Tom Christofferson jumped in from the beginning because he has the life experience and also the spiritual understanding that is so needed with what we're doing. A gay man from San Francisco named Will Spendlove, who I went to BYU with, is on our board. I leaned heavily on them in the beginning and I remember once opening up to Will and saying, Will, I have no idea what I'm doing. And he said, let me tell you, I've seen a lot of start-ups, not non-profit start-ups, but start-ups, and he said, the thing that they all have in common, and I'm gonna swear here but he said, people just know how, the people who are successful know how to get shit done.
For a number of months, that was all I focused on is just getting things and it got us a house renovated and the doors open.
Wow. That mentality here of getting shit done, getting stuff done, is a really important part of your belief system, I guess.
Because it really sort of kept you going, kept you motivated. One of the things I love about leaders is what their beliefs are, about what their mindsets are, because so much of who we are as a leader is driven by what we think inside. For example, if I see the world as for me to win, you've got to lose, or for you to win, I've got to lose versus a world of abundance where we can both win and be successful. That's an example of a mindset that some people have the mindset of abundance, others have a mindset of zero sum game. There are other mindsets that we have here and I'm wondering if you think back to kind of what are some of the key mindsets that really motivate you and that keep you on the track, keep you persisting when things are difficult.
Well, one thing I think that I have really learned from Encircle is I had a belief that everyone matters, everyone has something to offer and you never write anyone off if they approach you and want to help or be involved. That's sort of the approach we've, I have taken is you have people come and say I want to help and you take them serious and you give them a chance and it's been amazing. For example, in the beginning we needed a website. This young 21 year old who had left his mission early because he was gay and it was hard for him shows up at my door. He was from California, he'd just moved to Orem. We thought well, I said, well sure. He ends up being one of the most brilliant people I have ever known. I always tell Jake he's like he's 80 years old. He has this wisdom that I believe he was probably born with.
He does all of our marketing, all of our videos, our website, our everything and it's like that at the house. I think you need to give everyone, realize that we all have strengths and abilities that we bring to the table.
Where do you think that came from? Roll back the clock, go back to earlier in life here, is that something that was nurtured into you? Did you have an experience where you really came to profoundly understand that everyone was important here? You talked a little bit about your experience as an attorney.
Sure. I would say it definitely goes back to my dad. Growing up, multiple times a week, I would pass my dad in the hall or in the kitchen and he would say, "Are you nice to everyone?" "Yes, dad." "Especially the kids who don't have friends?" "Yes, dad." He would just harp that in. Everyone, you're gonna learn something from everyone. I do remember in junior high this girl saying to me, "Stephenie, thanks for being my friend "because you really don't have to be." It just, it was one of my proudest moments. I think that from that time on, I have always found value in getting to know everyone of all different walks in life. I've been surprised as an adult sometimes how many times I've watched people maybe blow people off because they're not important, in their mind.
I think that that's what we're seeing a lot of at Encircle is a community coming together. We have over 650 volunteers who have been through training who help us and you saw today, people are downstairs cleaning and just giving their time. I think it's making a big difference and we're very grateful.
It's remarkable. Another attribute that I certainly noticed just in our conversation is the attribute of persistence. Let's roll back the clock. Where do you think that persistence came from for you?
Ha ha, I don't know. Growing up, doing gymnastics, working hard at that. I think my parents made me work very hard growing up and I think, I believe you can do anything if you just keep at it and work hard.
Did you believe it at the time or is that something, because sometimes when we get into things like gymnastics or swimming or tennis it's like, oh, my parents made me, made me do this. Was that your sense or were you really deeply passionate about gymnastics?
I was deeply passionate about it. I think I did it six days a week, about five hours a day and it was my life. It gave me confidence in who I was and so I think that learning, having a skill that you work hard at as a kid is sometimes important.
Coaches, in that timeframe, have a big impact on you?
Oh, for sure.
What sorts of things did you learn from them that sort of stick with you?
Well, I had one really mean coach who was the best coach of all but as far as getting us to perform and he was constantly asking, are you giving 100%, was that 100%? I think learning to try your hardest everyday.
Hmm, fantastic. One of the things that I see as I talk to leaders is they'll compare themselves to other leaders and say, well, I'm as good as so-and-so or I feel pretty good as a leader, I feel like I've arrived as a leader. Oftentimes they're comparing themselves to the average. There's another way we can compare ourselves which is to the best. It sounds like this coach here is helping you to compare yourself to the best, to the 100% versus did you give a B-level effort or did you give an A+ effort here? When you think about staying motivated to give your very best, what do you do to stay sort of strong and inspired to do your best? For example, are there daily routines, habits, rituals that you engage in to keep you at your best?
Ooh. Yeah, I guess a lot of self-talk, a lot of looking inward and checking and saying, are you trying your hardest? I'm one that's very hard on myself and I think that that's how I keep myself from feeling like I'm not doing enough is looking inward and saying I know I'm always trying my hardest and that's the best I can do. I think being kind to ourselves.
Sure. Yeah, it's certainly is about being our best, it's not about being perfect.
Perfection's overrated. I think progress is the key. How do you balance that sort of inward sort of tension to give it your best without being overly hard on yourself though?
I've gotten better with age but I haven't perfected it yet. I guess I just think if I'm trying my hardest, that's good enough.
Yeah. Love it.
Yeah. You've got self-talk is an important part of what you do regularly. Any other sort of things that you really rely upon to energize and to motivate and keep you doing your best?
I would say I rely on my husband a lot. Just having someone to talk through things with and get feedback. For me, if I can, if I have something going on internally, or a situation, if I get it out and talk it through, it takes off the frustration that might be involved in the situation. I feel fortunate to have that in my life. I think just enjoying, one thing I think that we try to do here at Encircle is we say we celebrate. We celebrate the small steps because what I'm dealing with now mostly is kind of the harder things, the fundraising, the problems that happen, employee issues, and so you feel like it's often you could just let it feel like a frustrating situation. Or we can celebrate the milestones as we go and the small things that are happening. In our meetings, we try to weekly talk about what great things are happening, what good things have we done and I think it helps us see that we are actually moving up the mountain.
That's right, that's great. There are certainly challenges whether it's the mundane things of dealing with employee issues, with operating issues, infrastructure issues here. They're oftentimes bigger challenges we face here. Think about some of the big challenges you face and maybe share the challenge and what you've learned through having worked through or are now working through the challenge at Encircle.
I guess I would say the challenge with what we're trying to do is maybe there's no right answer. That what I believe isn't necessarily what my neighbors believe or what always, what the community believes and trying to respect everyone's beliefs and to be willing to still learn from people who see things differently and I guess, I don't know if I'm explaining that well. If you can understand where I'm going with that is I think our biggest challenge is to help people understand this issue better without, I guess, and do it with love.
Mm hmm, mm hmm. Also being respectful, I hear what you're saying is also being respectful that their views are different. It's how can you understand this view and also understand that you may have a different view. Is that kind of what you're saying?
Right and how to be really be a benefit to our community rather than pushing up against the community's values.
Mm hmm, mm hmm.
And trying to get change for these youth and these individuals but in a meaningful, patient way.
Mm hmm. What sorts of things have you done to try and build those bridges and to connect with the community, the very conservative community here in Provo, for those who are not familiar with it? Sort of efforts that you've engaged in to try and build those bridges.
I would say we spend a lot of time just talking, having conversations and listening to other people. The thing that we have done the most is, let's say this house, for example. When I, in my mind this was always going to be a little old house in downtown Provo. When I went looking for it, I thought, well, it should be close to the court systems because a lot of these kids are homeless. It should be close to tracks because a lot of these kids will have to find their way here. It's close to in the middle of both universities. My idea was let's put it in where things are happening. The Temple was about to be dedicated in downtown Provo. I dropped my kids off at school and I thought I'm just gonna start at the Temple and do circles around the Temple and see what is available and might be for sale. I drive down University Avenue, hang a right after the Temple, and here's this cutest house I've ever seen sitting on a hill. It stands out, it doesn't really fit in right here. It had two huge Available signs. I looked through the windows and there's these rainbow-stained glass windows there are 125 years old, built by a Mormon polygamist and I thought this is it. I sent John Williams pictures on a video on my phone and he is like, no, absolutely not! This needs to be back in a neighborhood where these kids have privacy and they, most of them will have not come out yet and they'll need to work through that without the fear of someone finding out. And I said, John, it's got a back door, we'll be just fine. They can come in the back door. My, at the time, I remember arguing with him, probably the only time I've ever disagreed with John, that Provo's ready for this. If these kids, even if they're okay with themselves and their families are okay with who they are, if they live in a community where they feel misunderstood and unaccepted or they'll have to leave eventually or they just will not completely thrive. He finally said, okay, let's try to do it there and that's kind of a way that we've tried to do this is by being, working in the community. Showing these kids that they are valuable to the community. Letting the community get to know these kids. We did like the Love Louder art sale in the beginning, not necessarily to show people the renovation but to get people into the house and explain our approach and what we're trying to accomplish. We added the art so that people would come. I think that we, on Monday nights, we do something called Surf were we try to do a service project and engage with the community. Because I believe that once you get to know someone that's when the love comes in and we find understanding and compassion and that changes people.
We need to interact with the community so I guess that's how we're approaching it.
As you think about the experience, now having done some of those things, do you see the fruit yet? Do you feel like there's some bridges are being built, some walls are broken down, or does it feel very early days still to you?
No, I have been amazed at what we've seen. We have all these volunteers who come in and I think once you go through volunteer training and you spend a few hours in the house with the youth, you are never the same again. We've had amazing support from the former mayor, the new mayor, our county commissioner, people saying we need to do better and they're actively working to help us and I think that we're all trying to do it in a loving, patient way.
That's got to be hard sometimes. Sort of the tension of the mountain versus the tension of doing patiently sort of handling it the right way
Right. and sort of taking the time to do it right.
I think that my mindset years ago was so similar to what a lot of people who I talk to, how they see things, and so I completely understand that, they're, I don't completely understand their viewpoint, but I was once, I used to see it very differently also. There's complete understanding and love for the way they see things.
That's great. Encircled now has got an operation in Provo. I understand there's something going on in Salt Lake, potentially, here?
Yes, we just bought a house in Salt Lake and we start renovating it in, I think it's gonna be mid-May, and we hope to be in by the end of the summer.
Fantastic. How does that relate to kind of the future of Encircle? What do you, do you think beyond that or is it?
Well, yes, we actually have another house that we purchased in southern Utah that we'll start working on after that. We're looking at a house out of state and going into this, actually, the idea was let's come up with programs and manuals and ideas, the training manuals that anyone from any conservative community could take and do something similar with so they don't have to recreate what we're trying to do. Because we think that this concept could fit in a Catholic community, in a Baptist community, anywhere in the South. I have learned with time that this isn't just a problem in our area but these kids struggle all over our country.
I think we hope to expand both digitally and with homes in different areas.
When you think about the hardest part of your job, the thing that is just, it just requires the most energy, the most like, ugh, I got to really dig down and do this here, as a leader, what would that be? What's the tough stuff?
Probably not discussing hard issues with your staff that, making sure that someone who's not involved in that issue doesn't need to spend their time and energy but making sure everyone keeps focused on what they do. Because I have a tendency to bring everyone in and say what do you think about this, where it really isn't something that, they should stay focused on what they're working on.
That's one thing that I need to work on.
What are you doing? Have you found any things that have been helpful to you in that process so far?
Just trying harder not to do it, I guess.
How did you become aware that that was a problem?
Just thinking about it because I realize why is so-and-so dealing with this because I'm distracting her from the important work that she has to do. Just trying to be more selective and careful about planning ahead and planning what conversations need to be had at what meetings and with who.
Yeah, yep. This idea that you've sort of, you had this ah hah that, hey, why am I involving so-and-so in this when they don't need to be, to me, it's a concept that really is profoundly connected to self awareness. Our ability to be aware and take a step back and to go, whoa, what's really going on here and really reflecting on our environment is one of the most important responsibilities and skills that we can have as a leader. Because if we're not self-aware, we're oblivious to all this data that's flowing towards us here. When you think about your ability and how you improve your self-awareness and where you are on that spectrum here, tell me a little bit about what that's like and how you're developing your awareness.
I have to be extremely self-aware because I've never run an organization before, I've never run a 501c3. I walked into this really with no experience and so I feel like I've been on this steep learning curve and I keep having to question everything I do.
And ask other people. I've been reading books, just trying to maybe look at this from a big picture rather than just getting so into the details that I don't realize where I'm actually going with it.
Well, it's almost the, it's the benefit of being new. Sometimes when we're old and we've got it all figured out here, we're less effective. It's one of the reasons why I think young entrepreneurs that are in their 20s are really good at starting companies because they know that they don't know anything so they're eyes wide open, learning, trying to gain insights. It's when we think we know a lot that we tend to get ourselves into trouble. How do you stay humble?
Oh, that's easy because I make so many mistakes everyday. I have no other choice.
Oh, that's great.
I will say that I have had amazing people show up and be a part of this and it's that collective effort. I'm just the fortunate one that gets to watch them all achieve and do so well. I always tell, we have a lot of young LGBTQ people who work for us, and I always joke about how they make me look like I'm really good at what I do because they are very good at what they do. Yeah, I've just been lucky to have great people.
Glad to help.
I'm guessing it's more than luck. Oftentimes we are able to surround ourselves with people when people feel like they're respected and when they're appreciated and when they're valued and that there's a sense of somebody's willing to listen.
I think that that is number one thing that I believe has helped working here is giving people opportunities to thrive and trusting them. Until they prove that they're not trustworthy or that they're not gonna kill it, you expect that they will and you see people live up to what you believe in them.
That is so interesting. Years ago, most leaders felt like the key to leadership was to command, that a leader stood out in front and cracked the whip and spoke the big words and gave people tasks and then told them to go off and do it and it was very much of a task-driven approach to leadership. We've learned a lot through, the Gallup organization has sent some interesting research and there are others that have done research to show that people don't want a commander.
That, in fact, what people really need is a coach.
They want to be inspired, they want to get some help and feedback when they need it but they want the latitude to do the work the way that they can do the work, to use their talents fully in accomplishing that. When you think about your role as a leader, one of the jobs is not only to work with these young kids that need help but also to work with your team here. How do you go about coaching and inspiring your team to sort of do it? You've talked a little bit about how you kind of give them, you trust in them and do other things like that, but is there an intentional approach you take to coaching? Is there a process? Do you use one-on-ones, do you use, hold people accountable so they come back and they say, alright, well, it's been a week, how did it go? What kind of processes do you use to do that?
We meet every Monday, sit around the table as an executive team and we go through and everyone has things that they've worked on for the week that they know they'll be accountable for the next week and they report on how what they're working on is coming and we just sort of talk about what's working, what's not, where are you going with this. We just go along and we talk to everyone. I think, again, celebrating their achievements. Like I said, because I'm new a this, I've been reading books and I'll start meetings by saying here's some things I learned this week about teams. Here's some things I'm learning about leadership and I ask for feedback. What do you need more from me? What would help you? Are you doing okay? Am I putting too much pressure on you? Do you have too much of a load? I think that them feeling safe to say you know what, you need to work on this or I need this.
I need help.
To create this safe team where we all know we're working towards the same goal. It's not about our personal egos, this is all about achieving Encircle's mission and that together we're stronger. I think that we have a really great sense of team and I do think those weekly check-ins and team building really help.
You've talked a lot about books and there are books that have been influential. Are there any that really stand out to you?
Lean In, for one.
That was very important to me. I just read one called Tribes, which I thought was very good. The Five, I'm gonna forget, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
A Team, yeah, by Patrick Lencioni.
Yeah, I thought that was very good. I can't remember any others that I've.
Well, when you think about Lean In, for example here, how did that motivate you and how did that change your view of what you're responsible for and how you work through challenges?
I think it just, I related so much with how she talked about being a woman and how we do need to lean in. Sometimes we're afraid to give our opinion. We almost apologize for it. Just learning to look at myself and say my opinion matters and it's okay to have an opinion and it's okay to be strong and not to apologize for everything. Because that is where I am, that's my habit, I would say. I think that learning things that women do by just upbringing or
Culture. tradition, culture, really questioning some of those things and trying to find confidence and who we are. I don't know, I'm not answering this very well.
No, I think there are some great ideas there and some very important ideas. I've got four girls that I care deeply about and I want to make sure that they realize that they can accomplish whatever it is they want to set their mind to. That they don't need to fit into some stereotypical mold of what's expected of them, that they have passions, they have the talents, they have abilities, and they need to sort of go after those things. What advice would you give to maybe a young adult or a teenager that is feeling the desire to really go take their life to the next level but may feel that fear?
Well, if I can be completely honest, when I was growing up I kind of had a, I wanted to do something big, whatever that would be. But I also felt like I'm supposed to be a mom. I went through years of schooling and I only worked practicing law for two years and then I quit and took 17 years where I only did my children. I loved that but it was also very difficult to, I kind of lost myself. As I watched my husband continue to learn and grow and I felt a little stifled. I think now, I would recommend to young women to find a passion and maybe never let go of it. That working part-time may be really good for a lot of people, that you could pay someone to do your laundry and your house cleaning in the mornings while you have from 9:00-12:00 that you're off doing something that fills who you are and helps you feel like you're achieving something kids are but it's a longterm project. I will say that I have been very grateful that Encircle came along when it did because I have three daughters. One is 19, one's 15, and one's 13 and up until two years ago they only saw me taking care of them and cleaning and doing laundry and grocery shopping and cooking and everything was about them. I say now we are, I used to work to make our lives perfect and now we're working as a family to keep, help other people stay alive. They find, I think they feel some achievement and accomplishment in that our family is working hard together, we've given up some comforts and some things to help other people. I also think that it's good for my daughters to see you can do hard things, you can do unpopular things, things that other people may disagree with you, that if you believe in it, and I think that they will, I hope they will look back and if they're ever in a place where they're afraid to do something, I hope that they'll be able to say, well, my mom did that and I can too, maybe. Not that it was anything great but I just am grateful that they've been able to see me in a role other than just taking care of them.
And that you're a whole person.
Yeah, maybe that's the right word.
That you've got talents and capabilities and passions in many aspects of your life.
Now that you've instilled that in them, or are instilling that in them, how do you get them to take the jump, to actually then do it? Because there's a lot of fear. Just from a, looking at teenagers here, I see a lot of teenagers that have big dreams but yet are fearful. The whole social media thing for a lot of girls, in particular, feels them with fear because they got to look a certain way or be a certain thing to be perceived as in the popular crowd or whatever. Any experiences you've had working either in Encircle or with your family about how you get people to take that plunge, to lean in, to sort of cut against the grain and to do the thing they really want to do?
I think I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about that they have talents and abilities and they can do anything they want to do if they will just work hard and that life will open up to them if they go for it. I think fear holds us back for sure and that so what if we fail? I mean, that's how we achieve, too. I will say at Encircle is a good example. You have kids who come here and they're 13 years old and they're coming out to the world as lesbian or gay or bisexual, that is scary. I can't imagine at that age being that completely raw and honest with who I am, who I would be. I tell these kids you are so courageous. If you are this courageous already and you're owning who you are, imagine who you're gonna be when you're my age. Because I think I didn't dare own who I was until I was 40. That probably isn't a great answer but it's an answer.
It's very helpful, I mean, because it's the need for inspiration and the need for support. Having a network of people that will be there for you and will inspire you and lean you up to stand you up when you're feeling down and encourage you to not give up. Certainly as leaders, as people who are listening to this podcast, they can say well, what can I do to inspire and encourage and support people that have either are developing a vision or have developed it and are now just on that mode of not quite taking action but need to take action so they can fulfill their dreams and accomplish their purpose.
Well, that is a great insight and I think that I certainly hope that we can create an environment where all people can feel inspired to accomplish their dreams and that we can provide support for them, regardless of their gender, their experience, their situation, to go out there and do it, make it happen.
Right. I would say sometimes the difficulty is finding that passion.
I think, too, thinking of you may not have a passion yet but prepare yourself so one day when you find something you really believe in and you want to do, you have a skillset to make that happen.
Really interesting. What kind of skills would you encourage people to have that would allow them to take advantage of the passion? What would you say work on this now?
Oh, I would say learning to engage with people, learning how to communicate your feelings and your thoughts and ideas. I would say learning how to write. I found in this job that people who know how to write can really change things through their written word. I would say education, just anything you can do to build who you are as an individual.
Great. Well, that's kind of the story of your life is about building up individuals and helping individuals realize they can be themselves and to provide them with the support that they need. What a great difference you've made and will continue to make here. This is a treat. Let's go ahead and end with just a couple of quick questions I ask everyone on the podcast here.
Are you more of a leader from the front or lead from behind?
Ooh! I would, I don't know. From the front or behind. I would say maybe I had to be in the front in the beginning because when I used to say just be brave, be brave, I think I thought I was going to be the most misunderstood crazy lady in town when I started this. I think being willing to step out there and be raw and honest and take criticism maybe in the front on that.
Yeah, yeah, interesting. Now maybe a little further behind because you've got a team of people that can support you.
Yes, and now I love to be in the background.
That's great here.
Are you more of a rule maker or a rule breaker?
Oh, I'm a rule breaker, definitely. That's easy.
Ha ha ha ha!
If there's a rule, I find a way to break it and I don't know why. My husband's the same way. Our poor kids have horrible examples.
Oh, that's great. Do you find that you get yourself, your energy from inside of you or from outside?
Outside definitely but I have to have my alone time and my quiet time.
Interesting. Would you describe yourself as being somebody who is goal-driven or maybe I can call it purpose-driven meaning are there things that you want to do and when you've done them you feel good about it or is it more about the meaning that you attach to the work you're doing?
Definitely the meaning. I think that when a meaning is attached to it you find more success. I'm a big check things off my list person and I can do that forever but when there's purpose behind and passion, it's a whole different game.
Fantastic. Stephenie, how can people follow you on social media?
We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, EncircleTogether.org is our website, just Encircle.
Great. We'll put all that in the show notes and let people follow you.
Okay. Because I think you're a very phenomenal, you're a phenomenal leader and that people would do well to follow you and to track your progress.
Well thank you very much.
Thanks for being here today.