Azul Terronez, CEO of Authors Who Lead, joins the program to discuss the evolution of his diversity story, and how having dyslexia made him a better writer and book coach. He also reveals the importance of vulnerability as a writer, and the need for self-care.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Azul’s multiple diversity stories (2:50)
- How having dyslexia made Azul a better writer and coach (9:00)
- The power of universal truth (18:30)
- An example of an author finding their authentic story (26:30)
- What it means to be a thought leader and why it matters (31:00)
- The importance of self-care for authors and leaders (36:30)
- Azul’s self-care practices (40:00)
- What inclusive leaders can learn from the writing process (47:30)
- The benefits of being a “chameleon” (48:30)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Azul, welcome to The Will To Change.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Thank-you, Jennifer. So glad to be here.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m happy that you’re here. I am really excited to dive into this topic, because it is near and dear to my heart and to yours. Which is writing our books, and getting our stories out into the world. It’s something that you help others to do, which is literally, I can scarcely imagine more important work.
I know for me, it took an army to get my book out of me. It shouldn’t have. But you know, I think I was kicking and screaming throughout.
AZUL TERRONEZ: I can imagine.
JENNIFER BROWN: You know. So we don’t go easily through the process. But it is such a transformational process. It’s kind of like the birthing of the human child, which I can’t speak to directly. But it’s like, “Oh, whatever pain I went through doesn’t matter. Because now I’m just overjoyed to have this in my life”. But boy, is it a journey to get there.
For those of you who want to write a book, for those of you that have written, want to write a second, or are considering yourself as a future author, this is going to be a really helpful episode for you to understand the inner game of authoring and writing and creating, and particularly telling our vulnerable stories in the world. Which really, let’s face it, makes writing so powerful for the reader. When we can actually not just write from our heads, but write from our hearts as well.
So thanks for joining me, Azul. Our listeners know, we always start The Will To Change with our diversity stories. Let me just hand that right off to you, and take us where you would like to go.
AZUL TERRONEZ: You know, what’s so interesting is, if you would have asked me 10 years ago, my diversity story would have been probably about my race, or my ethnicity, or however it was termed back then. Because I was raised in a mixed family. Meaning my mom is Filipino and Spanish. Because her mom was from the Basque country, and her father was from the Philippines, and were farm workers. My dad is Mexican. So that was my diversity story then.
Then it started to evolve. Which, it’s kind of surprising. Because I always felt like a fish out of water, because people weren’t sure what I was. “What are you ethnically? Where are you from?”. Those kind of conversations.
JENNIFER BROWN: “Your English is so good”.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Yeah, “You’re so … Wow. That’s so nice”. They expected me to speak Spanish. Because with a name like Azul Joaquin Terronez, you should speak Spanish, right? I did not speak Spanish, because I didn’t raise in a family which spoke Spanish. But I moved to Mexico, and I started studying Spanish. Because it just helped the assumption. You know?
So that was uncomfortable. Even then, when I had this ability to speak, I sounded like somebody from Spain. Because my teacher was Spanish. So it just didn’t work. Then later on in life, I wanted to go to school to be a writer. But when you can’t read at 3rd grade, you get the special classes and special support.
I was dyslexic, so this dream of writing was really hard. Because even passing English was hard. I flunked out of freshman English at UCLA. I got in, which is great. I was the first one in my family to go to college. But then I just really struggled with the writing part. I didn’t find out until I was a junior in college that there was this word called dyslexia. Didn’t know what that really meant. But when they described it, I’m like, “Oh, that’s me. No wonder this has been so hard, to get here”.
Then the most ironic part about the diversity story is that I became a school teacher in English. I was an English teacher. The least likely role I should have. But what it did for me is, I started to see the world differently.
To the last part of that diversity story, I know it’s a longer story. But I didn’t come out until I was 38. I was married to a beautiful woman. We had lovely children. I felt the need that it was time to transition my life into who I was. Most people, there’s so many different iterations of this diversity part. That now I wear all these hats.
It really has helped me become more comfortable just being myself. A lot of that was because I had to appreciate and accept the fact that these are my stories. There are multiple iterations of that story. But imagine as a principal, I was a principal, I was a university instructor for eight years as a founding member of faculty. So I always felt like I had to hide a lot of my identity.
Some you couldn’t, because they always asked me, “What are you?”. But others, I had to start making decisions. Am I going to start sharing that I’m dyslexic now to my students? Because I used to hide it. Am I going to share that, yes I was married to a beautiful woman? That when I sat her down to say, when I came out to her, we’re still beautiful friends. That I had to also just accept the fact that my life would be different than most people’s lives with children.
When I came out to my wife, I was terrified. That was part of that diversity thing. But what happened was, I went in the closet. Because the boy I loved at 19 committed suicide. I just couldn’t bear, in the ’80s it was hard to be out in general. But to lose somebody and just think, “This is just too hard to bear on your own”. I just, so it made it easy. I married my best friend. She and I got along great.
But when I came out to her, you can imagine how difficult this conversation was. But a month later when I came out to her, she said, “I think I have to tell you something. I didn’t think about this. But when you came out, you gave me courage. I think I’m gay as well”.
JENNIFER BROWN: Your story just continues to unspool. It’s so amazing.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: You can not make this up.
AZUL TERRONEZ: You can not make this up.
JENNIFER BROWN: You can not. You can not.
AZUL TERRONEZ: So that’s, the diversity story is multi-layered obviously.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is so, I don’t even know where to go from there. I’m just absorbing it all. Now you are literally a book coach, and have made language your mechanism in the world. Which is just phenomenal. I am so curious about, I’m sure that all of this has enabled you to connect as a coach so beautifully, with the widest possible variety of potential authors. You know?
I know that none of this was wasted. That it really, I’m sure, equips you and enables you to hold the space for all manner of potential authors in the emotional journey of reconciling their own story. Also your own journey of being open about all aspects of your story, I’m sure is something that equips you to encourage them to do the same. Because that’s such an important part of authoring.
Do you believe that that’s true? Is that continuing to evolve? How do you experience that? Your sort of coaching superpowers? I would call them superpowers. You can be modest. But I call them that. Because I know that they are. But how … I just think they must have given you lenses through which you could hold someone in this, what can be a pretty arduous process of self discovery and vulnerability.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Right. I think what you’re saying is so true. Because I couldn’t read for so long, I spent so much more time studying and observing people. Which I could get. The words would move, letters would shift. That was hard. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t. But what became really more heightened was my ability to see people and study them. To connect with them. Because I know if I could make an honest, real connection, that I had a better chance of being successful.
It was just a different tool that was kicked on for me, because of that gift. I mean, I think of it as a gift now. In school it was just painful. But now, it was such a gift. Because I could study people and be paying attention to other things.
When people come to work with me, I think the thing they’re surprised by is the fact that I can see them so quickly. Like, “How do you know me? How do you … It’s like you see me”. I’ve been called a book sorcerer, a book doula, a book whisperer. Someone calls me so many different things. It’s just interesting, what comes out of their mouth.
Because what they feel like is, they feel seen. They feel safe being vulnerable. With that, I’m able to find the message that lies beneath the surface. Not what they know. Not the content. Not their expertise alone. But who are you made of? What’s your unique gift and qualities in the world? Most of us don’t see that very well.
Like myself, I never saw my dyslexia as a gift. But now that I understand it better, I understand why it was so important. It helped so many of my own students when I was in the classroom. Because they felt like, “Oh, if you could do it. If you can stand up there and say that you’re not perfect, then maybe I have a chance to be something”.
I think that’s also what I hope to do with authors. “There’s stuff in you. There’s a vulnerable part of you, and that’s the part of humanity that we connect with. Not what you know, because that’s easy to hide behind. But who you are. The decisions you make”. I’m not talking just about memoirs. That would be obvious. But I’m talking about people who write really very traditional nonfiction books on leadership.
The vulnerable part is what I have to help them be confident, that sharing some of that will help them connect with their readers.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know you know what imposter syndrome feels like. So do I. So many folks of differing identities experience that of course. Perhaps more. But I think it is equally then, or perhaps more difficult, to think our story matters in the world. What’s the point of telling it? What will it shift, and who am I to tell it? Who am I to think that I could have an impact, and that it matters? That’s this question of significance.
What would you … I’m sure people, that’s part of the work you need to do, and the space you need to hold. Showing somebody’s story back to them in the way that you see it and hear it, and what you think it could do in the world. It’s giving people’s stories back to them. But perhaps reframed in a way that perhaps energizes them, and enlists them in the importance of being seen and heard in a book form. I would imagine it’s a lot of that.
So you must have had contended with some serious cases of self-doubt in your authors. How do you … Do you think everybody’s story is ready to be told? Because there is a story in each of us. I think the question is timing too. Is it raw? Is it new? Is it old? Is it alive for you? Do you have the space to tell it? I think there’s a timing question for authoring too.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Yeah, I agree. I agree with that completely, what you said, Jennifer. I think that the story part, the parts that are vulnerable are the ones that, I’d say protect those. Maybe it’s more like Brene Brown. She said she really, “You’ve got to choose the people who you give this vulnerable stuff to”, you know? I agree with that sort of notion.
But what I help people do is, you don’t have to expose all the things that might make you who you are. But you have to give them the lens to the content. The way I describe it is, if you’re an expert in something, that’s great. But how do you see it? How do you feel about it? How did you come to understand it that way?
Most people don’t know how they arrived where they are. They start to trace their resume. I say, “No no no, not that part. That part I understand. I can see that on LinkedIn. How did you get here though as a human? What led you to be here?”.
They’re often like, “Well what do you mean?”. I say, “Well, my belief is that your internal operating system, the subconscious part of you makes decisions without you knowing it”. A lot of that got developed early on. Your knowledge, your skills came with you later in life, for the most part. But those things are framed in you.
So what I look for is, I say, “Look. I want to know, what are the highs and lows in your life, over the course of time? From earliest memories to now? Whatever you perceive them to be, high and low”. Because I think a lot of our persona, our uniqueness, comes out in the distance between the highs and lows. Because most of us remember, “Yeah, that’s when I won that race”, or, “That’s when I had my kids”. Or, “That was that promotion”. Or, “That’s when we lost grandmother”. So we mark our lives that way.
But I want to know, “What happened in between those times?”. Because the way you responded to those highs and lows often define who you are. We don’t see that in ourselves, because we live in our own skin. We don’t see our uniqueness.
Someone was asking me the other day about, “How’d you become a public speaker? How did that happen?”. I said, “Well I was the kid that avoided speaking at all. Most people thought I was mute”. They’re like … I took, we had mandatory speech class in high school, in California.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, terrifying.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Terrifying. You had to take it to graduate. So I took it X period, which is at 7:00 in the morning. Thinking, “My senior year. I have to take this. I’ll do it in the morning”. I showed up to a classroom full of other introverts who were terrified. So it was the biggest class. But you know, this is a dyslexic’s nightmare. Not only do I have to read in front of people. I have to write these speeches.
The coach or the teacher said, “Look. You have to turn in your speeches written. Then you can use an index card, and you have to do this and that”. I went up to him afterwards and I said, “Look”. I didn’t know I had dyslexia, so I couldn’t tell them why I was so terrified. But I was like, “If you don’t make me write this speech, I promise I’ll get an A”. He was like, “You’ll get an A?”. I said, “I promise”. He goes, “You’ll get an A on every single one?”. I said, “Yes”.
I was just buying time. He said, “If you get an A minus, you flunk the whole semester. I know you’re a senior, so are you sure you want to do this?”. I said, “Yes”. Because I knew I could deliver a speech if I didn’t have to write it and read it. So the very first speech I gave was a speech with no words. My speech, I didn’t say a single word. For two and a half minutes I just … It was almost like …
I told them, “I’m going to show you what happens when two people meet”, and that’s all it was. That was the title of the speech. But after that, I had no words. I waited for the teacher to just throw me out. He clapped and said, “Well done”. But I didn’t see my limitation as someone who was dyslexic, as a source of strength. It felt like survival.
So many of us have that in us, and we just forget about it. Because we push through. I look for those moments in people. Because those kinds of stories or lenses to your life are the reasons why you show up, and how you show up. Not the what. Not, “I’m a CEO”, or, “I’m this or that”. I think that’s why I spend time in those shadow places of people’s vulnerability.
I don’t expect them to expose their stories the way I am comfortable doing it now. But I want to see them show up on a page that says, “This is who I am when I show up to things”. So I don’t know if that helps understand it. But that’s what I’m looking for. Those genuine vulnerabilities that give you a sense of who you are.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, and a coach like you can help us articulate the edges that are a bit too risky. Did you say, Brene Brown calls it the Vulnerability Hangover? I loved that. Oh yeah, “I probably shouldn’t have … I went too far. I’m not sure I’m ready”. I love that you’re framing this, it’s not about vomiting up everything.
But I love what you just said. My friend Erin Weed, who’s also been on the podcast, talks about story truth and universal truth. The story is what happens to us, or the facts. We might be telling ourselves a story about it. But what most importantly is, what was the truth to you? What was the takeaway about it? The description of what happened. What was the lesson or truth?
Then the universal truth is the piece where a lot of people struggle, that I coach anyway. Which is, what does this have to do with the audience that’s listening to your story, and the truth in your takeaway and your lesson? What is universally shared? Because if you can do that, that’s basically the recipe for a TED Talk. Because it’s an arc, right? It starts with an occurrence. The moral or the thing that shifted. The a-ha moment. The crisis of the soul. The rebirth. The reinvention. The right turn. Whatever it was.
Then the universal truth is that piece where it’s like, “But does anybody out there hear this? Does anybody take another lesson from it? Is it actually moving humanity forward?”. So for me, the voice story I tell, of losing my voice to surgery and having to leave singing and all of that. I always say I was meant to use my voice, just not as a singer.
Then the universal truth with audiences is, how are you … Metaphorically or literally, you may lose your voice. You may have already lost your voice. You may have had your voice taken from you, and not even realized it. Or you might even take your voice for granted, and not be using it in the world. So I was able to finally locate, how would I translate this really specific story in my life to a metaphor that others could find actionable, inspirational? Giving them permission to be louder in the world.
Because I was that opera singer that could project to the back of the room. But when you take my singing voice away from me, was I able to do that anymore? I had to figure out another way. So yeah, so it was really … I never thought that story would resonate. I just never did.
I wondered, coming out for you, I think of my LGBTQ identity, and my pride in being a part of this community. I think coming out was a transformative experience, and being in this community has been such a gift. I wondered, what in particular do you think the gifts of being LGBT are for you, in hindsight? What has it unlocked for you? I don’t know, does it inspire you every day? Does it remind you to be humble? How was it a crucial part of your own development, doing what you do now?
AZUL TERRONEZ: Yeah, I think coming out was terrifying. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I had worked really hard to avoid the LGBT community. Because I was like, “They’re going to find me out”.
JENNIFER BROWN: “We’re going to see you”.
AZUL TERRONEZ: “They’re going to see me”.
JENNIFER BROWN: “You are one of us”.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Exactly. So I had intentionally stayed away from anything that had a reference to the community in that way. When I was coming out, and in fact I went to a center. I told you the story of my wife telling me that she was gay. She’s the one that encouraged me to go to the LGBT center for a men’s group. Because here I was, I finally came out, and she came out. I was more closeted and scared than ever before. Because now that it’s real, I was like, “I don’t know how to be gay”. That was the way I felt. “So what am I supposed to do?”.
We both agreed that I would stay with the kids, and she wanted to give this new life a spin. I think that was also difficult in the community. Because most people assume that the mom would stay with the kids. It was a really conscious decision we made, that they should have stability. But now I became a single gay dad, and how do you date? Where do I go? I had no idea.
So I felt like, the community for me meant I could show up as I was. I wasn’t sure what that was yet. How am I comfortable in this space? So I think the community allowed me to see, when I would go to the center and realize, “Oh. Not everyone looks like me, or is like me. But it’s an accepting place. That you’re supposed to belong here”.
Even when I didn’t feel totally in place, because I didn’t meet a lot of other single gay dads, I felt like it was okay that I was different finally. I didn’t have to explain why. I could just be myself. So I think that’s where I got the community. Just relief that I didn’t have to hide my mannerisms, or catch myself looking somewhere I thought, it was uncomfortable noticing another guy.
So I think that for me, I felt finally in my own skin, and that felt good.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautiful. Yeah, I always think, back to our conversation about emotional intelligence. The fact that you literally had to learn how to read people. Because that was the only input that you could have, right? To be in the world, and to establish trust and all that. I think when you’re closeted, my theory, at least how it felt for me was, I got very good at observing. I got very good at question asking. I got very focused on others, because I was relatively less comfortable bringing up things about myself.
But the emotional intelligence that, I might have always had this. I’m not sure. But just that fear, which is essentially a bad thing. But it’s sort of lemonade out of lemons, you know? “How can I endear this person to me? Avoid any stereotypes that might be triggered in them if I tell them who I am?”. So essentially the hiding behavior, it’s sort of, you have to create workarounds.
I think the workarounds have actually sort of cemented some of my skillsets that I prize the most now. Which is, it’s interesting. I have to work really hard, I think, to have a voice and be more overt, and be more declarative about who I am. Maybe some people would be surprised by that. But I … Keynoting is so enjoyable for me. But if given my druthers, I would really be in the background listening, and considering, and observing. Helping and coaching others, and giving them the voice. Because that is, I love that work. I know you and I both love doing that.
So yeah, when I think about the sensitivity I have, and the reasons why I might have it. It might have been for survival. But now it’s something that I prize deeply. Then that ability for your authors too, and for my clients, is to say, “I may not know literally what you’re going through. But I know how to hold this space for you while you go through your creative process”.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Right. I think the way you just described it there is probably how they reflect it back to me. When an author might be interested in working with me, I want to know their story. I want to know what their message is. What’s their reason for writing this book? Why does it matter to them so much?
As we’re going through this iteration of, “Tell me about you”, I would say half the time, maybe even more. Maybe 60 percent of the time, people cry. Men, women. It doesn’t matter. They’re always apologizing, “I am so sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me”. I’m like –
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re like, “I know what’s come over you”. You’re like, “Yeah, there it is”.
AZUL TERRONEZ: “Because I created this space for you to be you, in this moment. With no expectation”. Then that’s when the story that they’re supposed to tell surfaces to the top, and connects with their content. Rises to the top.
I’ll give you one example. One gentleman, he wanted to be, he has thought leadership on his mind. He’s an executive. He has a PhD, MBA, African American male. Very successful. In the banking industry. He wanted to write a book to grow his thought leadership, and start to speak and make sense. So as we’re doing this work, and we’re talking about it, and I’m just listening to him tell his story, from childhood to present, as he’s in the banking world.
Those tears came. He was like, “Sir, I am so sorry”. I’m like, “One, you don’t have to call me sir. Two, tell me more”. He started to explain that he’s never felt like he’s been seen before. I said, “In what way?”. He’s like, “Well as a young man, as an African American male, I was kind of hidden. Because I was the book kid, and smart. It just made me stand out, and then I had to hide that about me. Then as I even became married, and my faith grew, I had to pretend like my pains were not as important. Or maybe I thought I should.
Then as an executive, I was the token black man in the room. In fact, when I would be hired for a job, maybe I took the place of another black man. They would call me that black man’s name, as if I were just that role”. He goes, “I just felt like this invisible executive”.
I said, “Pause for a second. What did you say?”. He was like, “The invisible executive”. I said, “What a beautiful story of leadership and truth. To say your story, about being the invisible executive in corporate America, as an African American male, highly educated. About how that influenced you. Do you see how powerful that story is?”.
That’s when the tears came. He was like, “See. I just hadn’t been seen. I didn’t know I was hiding. Or I hadn’t … When you’re invisible, you see everybody. But you just aren’t seen”. I was like, “See”. This is the kind of thing I want to provide for them, is the opportunity to find themselves in their own story, and find transformation. Like, “Wow. So I can show up now. I want to be seen. That’s what this book’s for”. I was like, “Good. That’s a great reason to write a book. To be seen”.
JENNIFER BROWN: Is it out yet? I know we can’t talk about it.
AZUL TERRONEZ: It is out. It is out.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, good.
AZUL TERRONEZ: It’s called The Invisible Executive.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that title. I would have seized on that too. That is the moment, when the title just pops out. It’s like, “That’s what it is”. But we have so many barriers up, and self-protective mechanisms. So many skins to shed, if you will. That you could get to that truth quickly, and help him see himself. Then give him permission, that his story is so important on so many levels. That he’s a role model and an example for so many.
Because we’re never alone. Our story is never, it is unique. But in so many ways, there’s others that really need to see us, and our story. They will find themselves in it, and it will keep them going another day, another week, another month. I do think this is kind of life saving stuff. So the steaks are really high. No pressure. But it’s not that much work, except just to be honest and vulnerable, and make sense of what’s happened to you in your life, and not feel so alone.
It’s this amazing feeling, when people come up to you and say, “I really … Thank-you for saying what you said”, or sharing what you said. Or just the act of vulnerability is so inspiring for people. Almost to the point where it doesn’t matter what you say. It’s just, that permission giving transfers to your reader, or your audience in my case, as a speaker. They sit a bit higher, and they say, “Well Jennifer did it, so that means I can do it, and I should do it. I should tell the truth. I should come out”.
I’ve had these beautiful emails from people who go back to their team, and make that commitment and have the conversation. It just takes your breath away when that happens.
I wanted to ask you, you and I had this really interesting conversation about, speaking of thought leaders. This executive had this inkling that there was something left to do for him. I’m sure it wasn’t about ego, and I don’t think the world’s real thought leaders are powered by ego. But you and I talked about thought leaders as ice breakers. I loved that. So could you go into a bit about how you see that word? What does thought leader mean in the right way? What do thought leaders serve to do in our best and highest use?
AZUL TERRONEZ: Yeah. Well I want to give credit to Todd Herman, who wrote The Ego Effect, or Alter Ego Effect. But he really talked about thought leadership as the boat that goes into the ice of the north to break it up, so that other boats can go there. But so few people know the names of those boats or those crews or those captains.
It’s a role of service to be a thought leader. It’s not glamorous. Most people want to do the work because they want to stand out and say, “I’m here”. But it’s a tireless job to show up to break ice. Because you have to assume that one, it’s going to be hard. Two, that someone may not have been here before. The clear the path and the way doesn’t mean that you’ll come out unscathed. Or that it won’t be difficult.
But I think because thought leadership is on the rise, just like maybe before Tim Ferris, entrepreneurship seemed so far away. But now it’s coming closer. I think because thought leadership is coming closer, people like to see it. I think they misunderstand thought leadership for influence. I say thought leadership is just a tireless commitment to this message. Or the way I tell my authors is, “This is a conversation you want to own, and that you care about so deeply that you’re going to continue to have it”. That’s what, to me, thought leadership is.
Influence is just a continued understanding of service. If you want to be an influencer, then be of service. Both of those things go together, and I think that if we had that mindset, one, the right people would show up and realize, “I can do this work. Because I care”. It’s not about being out and visibly in front, but actually being in front.
Then if you want to be an influencer, then find a way to serve and show up in the world that says, “This is not about me. This is about serving”. I think if you think about that in your book when you’re writing it, you realize, that’s why this message has to be more than just content. We’re drowning in content. We’re drowning in information. But we really need people to show up. To have something to say, and mean it in a way that’s true.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s beautiful. I love that image of the ice breaker boat, and nobody knows the boat’s name. Sometimes it’s just hammering through the ice. I can really relate to that, with the particular conversations that I’m having all the time. Which is breaking the ice of unconscious bias. Or breaking the ice of resistance. Or working really hard to make sure certain voices are heard that aren’t traditionally heard. Being in service of that.
That many people ask you, “Where do I get the energy?”. To me, I am that tugboat. I like, “Give the ice breaking job to me”. Because maybe that’s my role, is to be creating the crack in the ice so that others can proceed through, and maybe go on to greater heights than maybe I will ever be. I would love that outcome. To me, it’s not just me, and I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have very few of the answers.
But I can break the ice, and I can create the crack. Then I can pull the crack open. Then I can push, I can sort of curate what is pushed through. Then I can go from behind. I can go alongside. I create other cracks. So I love … I could play with that metaphor for a long time. I love it, and I think it’s very, it pertains to those of us who are changing hearts and minds, and literally using our bodies to crack through some things that are super old, and super entrenched.
Sometimes I worry about my boat and my hull. I worry. I worry I have enough food onboard. I worry that I’m the only boat I see for miles. So I guess the next question that occurs to me is the self-care question. Because when you’re the ice breaker, and you’re out there in the frigid seas, it can be dangerous. It can be disheartening. It can be lonely. So I wonder, how do you attend to that in your authors?
Because going through this whole process, you dig up a lot of stuff. Then you write a book. Then you have to literally release it to the world. You may not be over all that trauma. You may be carrying a lot. You might have surfaced a lot. Then you get all this love, I think. Which is the cool part. Which allows you to really heal.
But how do you recommend people take care of themselves, so that they can sustain themselves through the creative process of digging up, telling the truth, and then hopefully going on to be the ice breaker over and over and over again? Which I think is a game of stamina, honestly. That’s what it feels like for me.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Yeah. I think you’ve got to think about this metaphor as applying it in multiple ways. The reason I call it a conversation that you want to own is, it should have just as much potency in a two minute conversation in the line of a grocery store, when the 90 year old woman says, “What’s that book you hold there?”. You say what your book’s about. She goes, “That’s interesting”.
You’re carrying it forward in a short conversation, an hour long keynote. Or sometimes it’s a five hour conversation with a person who knows, and even they need it. That you think they can carry this farther than you can. So sometimes you’ve got to realize that breaking the ice, the metaphor, is hard. But you’ve got to decide, “Sometimes I’m going to have it in small places by just being persistent and showing up and saying the thing”. Other times, you’re going to have a more rich conversation with the right person about this notion.
You spent the time writing the book to amplify it. But also to have it deep inside of you. So whenever you’re able to say, “Look, I really have something on my heart I want to talk to you about”. That’s a short conversation or a long one. Because that’s all a book is, is a five hour opportunity to chat with somebody intimately. That you would make the most profound impact with that person.
So I think the self-care part is, sometimes this message is for me just to amplify, and to place in other people’s hearts. Other times it’s to get out and push hard. So it just depends on where you’re at in that journey, and how well you’re able to take that emotional challenge you spoke about, and say, “This is a really good conversation with these five people, because they have the most opportunity for it to make a shift in a bigger way, than me being on a TED stage”. Which is an amplification, but it is a lot of giving at once.
I think that’s the way I would think about it. Self-care has to be, this conversation can happen in multiple ways. Not just one.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I mean some people write their book, and that’s all they ever do. Because it’s so cathartic, right? That’s all that’s needed. They don’t want the stage or whatever. Others of us, the book is a total catalyst to figuring out our story, that then we want to get onto stage, and get in front of audiences.
Everybody is so different. Everyone has different goals with writing books, I find. Not every author is a speaker, and not every speaker is an author.
AZUL TERRONEZ: That’s true.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. I’m curious too, how do you practice your own self-care? Given the amount of personal holding that you’re doing for your authors. Do you ever feel like you’re kind of jangly? A little, I liken it to putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. You feel a little, I don’t have the word for it. I don’t know. Perhaps, it’s not out of control. Because you’re in a coaching role, right? So you are doing some seriously heavy lifting.
I just wonder if there are any consequences to you sometimes, and how do you repair? How do you restore? Do you need to restore? Or do you feel like you can just go from story to story, to conversation, and each one makes you stronger?
AZUL TERRONEZ: You know, that’s a great question. Two things that help me personally. One is, I make sure that this person that I’m working with is also the person that can hold the space for me. Meaning that they understand. That we have a mutual understanding, that they’re going to show up, and so am I. So that we have to agree that this isn’t just one sided.
So that when I encourage them to take a risk, they know I’m doing it for their good. But also that I’ve taken people on who are going to trust what I say. If I say, “Look, we’re not writing today. I want you to get some crayons and get some markers, and show me what you’re thinking”, that they won’t push away. I would say, “If you’re not willing to think differently about this than you always have, then perhaps I’m not the right coach for you. Because my job is to find this book in you, and to let it come to the surface. If you’re not willing to do it …”.
Remember, I am not an English major. I flunked freshman English. I have a Master’s degree from UCLA. I’m smart, but I’m not smart that way. So what I do is, I say, “I want your kindergarten brain today”. Kindergarten brains have no filter, and they have no fear. So put down the pen, get away from the computer, and get some crayons or some markers. I want you to show me this book.
If they push back, then I know that over the course of the six months, nine months, whatever we’re working together, that they’re going to fight me along the way. I can’t do it. So I basically say, “This isn’t going to work. Because you already don’t trust me”. So that’s one of it. Make sure that there’s mutual trust. I have given you trust that I’m going to hold your story. That I’m not betraying it, and you’re going to trust me that what I ask you to do is for the benefit of the story.
The second thing is, I luckily am an introvert, and I get recharged by making personal connections. More interpersonal connections. So I don’t leave my coaching sessions drained. I leave them energized. So excited. So full. Most people are like, “That would drain me”. I have a lot of friends that do work in the book industry. But they could not be coaches. They’re like, “That’s draining”. I said, “That’s the opposite”.
I mean sometimes I leave emotional. I have to take a break. I’m like, “Wow, that was a lot to hold for them”. But for the most part, I’m rejuvenated. Just like speaking on a stage energizes me. I don’t get depleted, I get energized. But put me in a room with lots of people, I’m just uncomfortable and awkward. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. That’s depleting. I just want to go hide.
I think that’s the benefit for me. That’s part of my natural behavior. So those two things together is how I take care of myself.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love it. Just knowing your character, introversion and extroversion, is a huge a-ha for people. Then seeking the kind of energetic work that fills you up and doesn’t deplete you is critical. You just made a really interesting distinction for introverts. Which is, introversion doesn’t just mean you need to be alone all the time. It might mean a singular interaction, or a deep connection with very few people.
Versus, for me, I’m a high extrovert. My partner thinks I am just crazy. But we can run me really hard all day, with many groups of people. One after the other after the other, and get on planes, and show up to receptions. I know that that’s … In a way, it’s a privilege. We talk about privilege and advantages. For the work I do and the message I need to deliver, and the role that I play in change, it’s very fortunate. It’s not an accident that I am so extroverted.
Because I think my best and highest use is to crowd surf over this conversation, and hear a lot of voices at once. Distill things. Be available to a lot of people. It does mean that I can’t go deep like you do. But I think that it’s still sort of my best and highest use, right? It’s how I’m wired. I do think that you and I are both change agents. We just have these different formats that we have found, that feel that they’re a sweet spot, and that they fill us up. Hopefully they work for the people that we’re working with.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Right. I think that’s, I didn’t realize it until much later. That speaking does fill me up. Because I feel like I’m talking to a single person from the stage. I feel like the audience is the person, so I feel that is a one on one connection. The audience is the one, and I’m the other.
JENNIFER BROWN: You can tell yourself that.
AZUL TERRONEZ: That’s how I deal –
JENNIFER BROWN: Do you sometimes look out? Does that really feel that way? So even if it’s 1000 people, are you –
AZUL TERRONEZ: Yeah. I don’t have, people have said 10,000. It doesn’t bother me. The number of people doesn’t change the way I feel about it. Because I think of them as the audience. The audience. So I don’t have that feeling. Unless you ask me to read. Then you might see me fall to pieces on the stage.
JENNIFER BROWN: Noted.
AZUL TERRONEZ: The funny thing about that was, I started as … I went to apply to UCLA. I told you, I wasn’t from a family of educated people, from college. So I got into UCLA, and I applied to theater school. But I’d never taken an acting class in my life. So they wrote me back saying, “We like you as a candidate. But you have no experience”. I was thinking, “Isn’t that what college is for? I’m introverted. I’m quiet. I’m shy. I thought acting would be good for me”.
So they admitted me to the school of the arts. But they kind of wanted me to wait a couple years and get some acting skills, and then apply. I’m like, “Well this doesn’t make sense”. But I did. I went to auditions. I tried what they told me. I took classes. I learned a lot about having to be in the presence of people, and not feel so terrified. Then it just started to come to life, when I put on a persona of what I think I’m supposed to be, versus what I am.
You talked earlier about the gifts that serve you. Because I was constantly a chameleon, I feel like I can fit in in lots of places where I’m not comfortable. Because I wasn’t comfortable in academia at all, but I could fit in. I knew how to make that work, and look right. So it was sort of a good balance for me. Those became gifts later on, when I was playing in the band. Playing on the football team. I’d change my uniform, run in to go march in the band.
I always try to fit in. I thought, if I had more people that I know, maybe that I could fit in more. It sort of became this interesting game for myself. But it’s served me now as an adult, because now I feel very comfortable in lots of places, where I probably wouldn’t have felt as comfortable if I didn’t just try to push myself in places that I didn’t belong.
JENNIFER BROWN: Man, that actually, that’s the advice I give for inclusive leaders. Is to put yourself in places where you think you don’t belong. I mean literally you’ve been, because of your circumstances that were I think out of your control, you had to do it. I think that the tricky part for some of the folks I coach is that they can live their lives without doing that. So they don’t develop the competency that they desperately need, in order to then have empathy for an entire workforce that doesn’t look like them, say.
So it’s more difficult, because you’ve got to fabricate or manufacture the experience of difference. It’s like when somebody stands up and says, “I don’t know if I have a diversity story, Jennifer. I don’t really know, I don’t think I have any connection to this”. So then my question is, “Well where do I start with this person, in terms of using their voice and potential advocacy?”. It’s really interesting.
I think this is, it’s a great lesson to say, if you’ve had a life that hasn’t put you through the twists and turns of struggling to figure out, “Do I belong here? Or do I belong here? How can I get these people to like me? How can I be that chameleon?”. There are many that haven’t, I don’t think they would describe their journey as having had to learn how to be a chameleon.
I certainly would. I can relate to you a lot, and I think it’s now such a gift. Because the world’s best leaders are, they’re chameleons. But they don’t trade their own truth and authenticity while they’re being chameleons. It’s sort of, if you can have both of those things, you can shift and change and respond. But you can also be truly representative of your truth and your authenticity at the same time. I think that’s what I would love to see in the world. Which is that balance of those two sides of the coin.
I mean, I think we would be seen more quickly, and we’d be embraced for our difference. But we’d also be more equipped to create space for others to be embraced and seen and heard too. That’s kind of that dual activity that I talk about so much, and I want to see in the world. But you’re really living it Azul, so thank-you. I appreciate all of the stories that you’ve helped birth, and doula into the world.
I think people probably feel this energy you have, just in this conversation of the space holding. The grace. The patience. The trust. All the things. I would really steer folks to learn more about you, because I believe book writing is something – Whether it’s a memoir or nonfiction, fiction, whatever it is, I know you’ve worked with all of the above – But you know, a book is like a message in a bottle for the world. Every lifetime has such interesting things in it, that I think we could all learn from.
AZUL TERRONEZ: I agree.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank-you for doing the work you do. So where can people find out more about you?
AZUL TERRONEZ: Yeah, they can go to authorswholead.com. That’s where I do a lot of my work to help authors. Of course, on social media, at azulterronez.com, or @azulterronez. They can find out more about me. I love to connect people. I always answer my own email, and reach out to people. Because I want people to feel confident.
I helped this woman, she reached out to me from my opt in form. I called her. She was like, “I’m borrowing this phone”. She was in this small little village in Africa. She was like, “I just want to ask you about my book idea. If it’s any good”. I could hear, it was loud. I listened to her, the same way I would do with anyone. I found what I thought would be the nugget.
She was like, “Oh my gosh. I can not wait. All the people here are going to be so grateful that I get to write this book”. But my heart just shifted. I just opened up. She won’t be a client. It was just about serving her, and really she served me with her … She really knew she could do this, and she just needed a little bit of a push to believe. I was like, “This is amazing”.
So I reached out to her, and anybody who reaches out, I try my best. As it is challenging. But thank you so much.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so generous, because I know how busy you are. But you know, those are those moments. You’re right, everyone doesn’t need the same level of time with you. But just literally, we can shift things in one quick conversation halfway around the world. I think that’s really true. So never underestimate the power of having that moment with someone, and making time for someone.
I love how you just said it was totally mutual, and it shifted something in you too. That’s beautiful. I hope she does write the book.
AZUL TERRONEZ: I know.
JENNIFER BROWN: How will we know? Do you have her information?
AZUL TERRONEZ: I do. You know what? I do have her email and her phone number. I was like, “I could call her back one day”. But she borrowed the phone to call me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh. She was literally a voice from somewhere. Who knows? Maybe she’ll track you down. She already tracked you down once.
AZUL TERRONEZ: That’s right. I told her to come on the Born To Write podcast, the one that I had you on. Maybe someday I’ll be able to report back what happened with that book.
JENNIFER BROWN: That would be beautiful. Thank you, Azul, for everything. For sharing your story. For being courageous. For being loving and gracious, and holding space for all of our stories.
AZUL TERRONEZ: Jennifer, thank you.
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