Torin Perez, DE&I consultant and author of the book “Who Am I To Lead?” shares his diversity story and the formative experiences that led him to decide to become an author. Torin reveals what he learned in the process of writing his book, and shares tools that leaders can use to be more impactful and effective.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Torin’s diversity story and growing up as the child of immigrants (5:00)
- How Torin made it through times of adversity (9:00)
- Coaching tools that are useful for leaders (22:00)
- How Torin got started as a writer (27:00)
- An “aha” moment that freed up Torin to write (31:30)
- The connection between vision and our support system (37:00)
- The change that Torin wants to create with his book (39:00)
- The importance of asking powerful questions (43:00)
- Why you need to allow yourself to wander (57:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Torin, welcome to The Will to Change.
TORIN PEREZ: Thank you so much for having me. Been waiting for this.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know! I’m excited. I’m excited. I’ve been wanting to interview you for a long time. That time started about a year ago when you first came on my radar screen. We were both presenting at the PBWC, which is the Professional Business Women’s Conference, started by Maria Shriver. It’s in the Bay Area. It has grown, gosh, 7,000-8,000 people I think.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It was really fun. I love that you were speaking at a women’s conference. I’m not surprised. (Laughter.) You’re just one of those people. I know that everybody loved your message. Now having read your book, which is called Who Am I to Lead: The World is Waiting for You, I can see how universal your message is and how transparent you are about your own journey, which I really appreciated. You’re not one of those authors or speakers who gives us a sanitized version of yourself, you are very honest about the journey upwards to the place you’ve achieved now. Of course, there’s so much to achieve ahead of you, which I’m sure all of that and more will happen.
TORIN PEREZ: Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: We always start The Will to Change with our diversity story. I want to give you a whole lot of room for however you’d like to answer that.
TORIN PEREZ: Appreciate it. I really like the way that you frame this, because very often, to your point, you arrive at a place. Right? You are now a leader in your field, you’ve now accumulated all of these achievements. You’ve gotten certain levels of certification or education – things that now almost put you in a level that people can’t necessarily see that journey that brought you to that point.
I feel like it’s so important and I’m sure we’re going to get into all the good, juicy stuff around our stories, but it’s so important to share our stories and talk about what was the point in the journey that shaped how we show up in the world today?
I’d love to bring you back to my upbringing. I grew up in the inner-city of Brooklyn to immigrant parents from the Caribbean who came to the United States in the late 1960s. And like most immigrant parents, they valued education. Like my two older sisters, the plan was for me to go to college, finish high school, go to college.
When I was 18 years old, that plan really kind of shifted into high gear because I was selected for something called the Posse Foundation Leadership Scholarship. Over the last 30 years, the Posse Foundation has selected and identified inner-city students like me from different city sites from around the country to go to some of the top colleges and universities in the nation and succeed together.
The term “posse” is really about a group. There was a young man who told our founder that had he had his posse with him, he would have never dropped out of school. She got this idea. And Posse students have been graduating at a rate of 90%, which is far greater than the average of 54% in the country.
This was an opportunity to go to one of the top colleges in the country. I ended up going to Lafayette College. Posse puts you through an eight-month, pre-collegiate training program, which they use to really help you find and hone your voice.
We talk about all kinds of topics together as a group. And some of them make us feel uncomfortable, some of them – we’re talking about our passions, we’re talking about things that are happening in the news and the world around us and our schools. We get comfortable dealing with uncomfortable things. And that’s meant to prepare us for being on mostly homogenous, mostly upper-middle-class, upper-class white student bodies – being a part of that and being able to add our voice, which is definitely going to be unique in those environments.
I think back to when there was a racial epithet. The “N” word was written in big, bold letters on one of the walls in one of the college dorm rooms. It was actually a Posse-student-founded student organization that I was also on the leadership team for that led the campus response to that.
We held a forum where we brought together students, administrators, and faculty. And when I say “students,” I mean students from all different demographics – from not only difference, but also from Greek life, from athletes to Posse Scholars, themselves. I think back to those experiences. I think about how much that has shaped me. This is now, for me, 13 years later, and now I’m deep in this work as a diversity and inclusion practitioner, advocate, speaker – trying to elevate and move forward, help other people to move forward in the way that they think and the way that they show up for others.
I think about that experience as being a defining moment. I want to bring you also to after I graduated. I graduated from this awesome college, and I was unemployed for 27 months.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know, you told me that. So painful. Anybody in their 20s listening to this, so many of us have been there.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes. It was definitely one of the hardest times in my life from an emotional, psychological, mental standpoint. I see people getting really anxious, frustrated, and almost falling into depression because they’ve been unemployed for a couple of weeks. You know? Just to keep it in perspective, you will bounce back. There is light at the end of the tunnel because you’ve got to stick with it and you’ve got to stay on path and have something that you’re working towards that will pull you through.
I feel like during that time, it was family, it was all these personal development teachers that I was following on YouTube. I discovered the Strengths Finder, which I’m excited to use. I actually just re-upped my certification yesterday, which is super awesome.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so good.
TORIN PEREZ: The Strengths Finder actually gave me a really strong internal sense of confidence. It helped me to see what are the talents that I have that nobody can take away from me? Whether I get this job, whether I get this interview or not, these are the things that make Torin special. And it gave me a sense of, wow, this is so special to me, I wonder if I could use this to help other people.
So that’s why I ended up investing I it to become certified a couple years ago. But during my time at Bloomberg, it was my first corporate job, I had the experience of being one of “the only.” I was one of the only people of color on the advertising/sales team, and I was the only black salesperson on the sales team.
And in and of itself, Jennifer, you know this. That in and of itself is not the problem. Problem, and I didn’t have the language at the time to describe what I was feeling, was I didn’t feel psychologically safe. So, I didn’t feel comfortable necessarily talking about all the things that I did on my weekend or I didn’t feel comfortable all the time getting my shoes shined, you know, or getting fitted or going to shop for very expensive suits, because those weren’t necessarily things that I valued or cared about.
Those are just a couple examples. When I was there, I was curious to know like are there other people at this company that feel similarly to me? The organization, thankfully, and fortunately for me and many others, was just forming its employee resources groups for the first time in the company’s history. And this was such a special opportunity because I was able to find that safe space. I was able to show up as a leader in the black professional community and then also make connections that kind of bridging capital between folks that were in the pride community and the women’s community and the Latinex community, that we could all kind of identify with shared struggles being like one of the only or one of the few and thinking about, well, are there limitations or are there barriers to our progression here, becomes managers, leaders, bringing more people in that look like us?
And being able to rally around that with company leadership support was really a special experience for me to be a part of, and being in that community, I had kind of like the “OGs,” the folks that had been at the company for like 20 years, the first black person ever at the company. You’re so awesome. If you ever wanted to leave here – if Bloomberg was not the place for you that you wanted to be here for 20 years, you could totally go out and do something great.
And so that kind of helped me to feel like, okay, I can go out now and create an impact far beyond the four walls of this organization. And I could go out and I could speak and I could inspire and it could be anywhere in the world, it could be at any organization. That is what – those are some of the experiences that really shaped my diversity story.
Obviously, I’ve been a black person my whole life. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: Really? (Laughter.) That’s right. What I hear in your story is you found your voice through community, you sought that community because something inside you told you you needed to do that, right? And you made it comfortable, hopefully bringing more of yourself to work at a place like Bloomberg over the couple years that you were there. You felt more comfortable, you and communities of any kind of difference are so needed by companies because we educate the company, we bring knowledge about our cultural differences, and we try to create new norms that are more inclusive, right? These companies desperately need that.
Ultimately, like you said, you gain this enormous network of people that will do anything for you. I know that’s been such my experience in many communities, but particularly the LGBTQ community. Same kind of thing. Everybody has each other’s back. Everybody is – you make one phone call and you can ask someone to do something for you, and likely they will do it. And I do it, I give it back, too, today. I constantly am thinking about people did this for me, how can I do this for them now that I have any kind of social capital that I can share. And I really endeavor to make time for them because I was the beneficiary of so much of that.
I’m sure you do a ton of mentoring now and you probably really enjoy it, knowing you.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes. And it’s all the way around, too. You know, I believe that leadership is circular and we all have something that we can teach and we all have something that we can learn. And I think leaning into that is almost one of the foundational cruxes of the work that you and I are so passionate about. It’s about the people. And if you have an opportunity to reach back, if you have an opportunity to pull up a chair to the table, if you have an opportunity to speak up for someone, then those are the moments that matter. Those are the moments that help our world to heal and to grow into a better place to live.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s really beautiful. Leadership is circular. It reminds me, too, in the D&I world of sometimes you need to be the voice in the front, and sometimes you need to be the voice in the back or supporting other voices, right? That whole balance is what I spend a lot of time trying to explain to people who really want to do more and become somebody that is considered an inclusive leader.
But it’s interesting, because I’m like, find your voice, use your voice, everyone has some kind of diversity story, some kind of story about exclusion, but you also don’t want to dominate the room, because there are many voices that you need to elevate to the center of the room, right? It’s a bit of a conundrum. And I try to explain, it’s a “both and.” But many people don’t know if they do have something to say and then they lack the confidence to say it. And we’re all struggling with that. But then we have to balance that with if I’m a traditionally dominant group, I have to be careful about how much oxygen I take in the room because what we’re trying to do right now in companies and everywhere is to hear what we haven’t heard and what we haven’t made space for. And so sometimes for me, that means like giving up my seat on a panel, for example, you know what I’m saying? You don’t need another white woman with my profile. Let’s think about who we might suggest instead so that we make sure that we have the greatest representation.
It’s really an interesting moment. But I love what you said about what ERGs do. I know this audience is super familiar with what they do.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: You found your voice. Tell us about going out on your own. I’m not sure I know that story. Technically, you’ve been out on your own for a couple years, is that right? And you’re building your –
TORIN PEREZ: Five years.
JENNIFER BROWN: How did you take the leap? I get asked that all the time. What were the circumstances? Were they chosen or did they happen to you? Maybe you’re grateful that they did. How did you start to get into rooms, to do keynotes, and then we really want to get around how did you decide, as somebody who didn’t think you were a good writer and you didn’t enjoy writing, I forget which it was, but how did you end up writing a book?
TORIN PEREZ: Yeah. Man, wow. Let’s see, where should we start? I think I’ll take it back to going to South Africa after my freshman year of college. I had never traveled that far before in my entire life. And the Posse Foundation hooked up an opportunity for me to go with the World Teach program to South Africa.
I spent the summer living with a German host family working with teenage entrepreneurs in a black township, teaching English in a colored community, and there’s a lot of layers to how this experience has shaped the lens through which I see the world. And specifically, when we’re talking about some of the deeper issues of like the things that are shaping our society systemically, but I think for me, going through that experience and being able to see how I was able to make a positive impact in that short summer on those people’s lives. I think about the German host family, who I’m still in touch with today. Those kids were six years old when I was there, and now they’re all in college. We still connect at least once or twice a year.
And I think about those young entrepreneurs whose families, parents, don’t even have clean water to bathe and wash their clothes in. And I think about some of those things, and I remember coming back from that experience, and all the people who were really close to me, including like my parents especially, they could see a difference. I was so grounded in wanting to make a social impact with my work. And I didn’t know what shape it was going to take after college or during college or in my career, but I knew that that was going to be one of the bedrocks of my life. If I could look back on a happy life and a good, purpose-driven life well lived, I would have made an impact.
When I had my experience in corporate, and even in my internships prior to that, there were people who could see this person is – he’s thinking a lot bigger than usual. You know? I’ve traveled extremely far. People started seeing something. I definitely was thinking about how far could I go? What could I do with a college education, with money in my pocket, what could I contribute?
Those questions were always in the back of my mind, even when I was in corporate making a good check. And I thought to myself, my personal development was really – became something that was really important to me during the unemployment period. I invested tens of thousands of dollars into coaching certifications. I went and saw Tony Robbins live. He’d been somebody who I admired for a long time with the personal development expertise that he has.
I got a chance to do a lot of these things, and those experiences showed me how I could – be using some of those tools when I was in my job. I would be using my coaching techniques without telling people I was coaching them. I’d be listening to problems or things they were going through. The first person I coached was actually thinking about divorcing her husband. That was the first person I ever coached. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: I didn’t know about that. Good coaches can do anything, you know? It doesn’t have to be their primary experience, right?
TORIN PEREZ: That’s right. That’s right. And the coaching skillset allows you to use – when you really tap into the higher coach, you’re able to elevate yourself where the questions that you’re asking really invite the person in to be vulnerable, to share what’s really authentic, and then the listening capacity is really about attentive, non-judgmental listening. And those tools, whether or not I actively say I’m coaching or this is my title, I’m constantly using those things.
I’ve got to tell you, some people will talk with me three minutes, five minutes, and they will talk about things that they’ve never talked about with other people and have tears running down their eyes. I’ve had that happen with complete strangers. It brings out the best in them, I feel that it brings out the best in us when we’re able to connect with each other in that way.
It was some of those experiences and knowing that I had that toolkit that gave me the confidence to say, “I know I can do this.” Now, we’ve got to figure out how to turn it into a business. And over the last couple years, it’s been an extraordinary ride of ups and downs Maybe at some point next year or the year after, I’ll talk about the ride that I’ve had in the last 12 months and in 2019.
It is one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made to stick with it because I constantly get a chance to see people light up. I constantly get a chance to see people change right before my eyes. That is something that – words can’t really express what that experience is like.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so true. That’s why I love talking to you. We do something so special. We’re so fortunate to be – to witness that and to have any part to play in that at all, however small, but also to sense what people need right now, what they need to hear and what kind of space that needs to be created and to be able to be the one that knows how to create that space is so – it’s lovely.
And then to have no fear around whether it’s a group of 20 or a group of 1,000, being super comfortable with that and feeling like you’re in your sweet spot, you’re actually doing exactly what you’re put on the earth to do, which I’m sure you get those feelings. You’re, like, “Oh, okay.” But it’s funny, when you come out of school, you don’t know, “Oh, by the way, you’re going to be a motivational speaker someday.” How crazy would that have been to hear?
TORIN PEREZ: Yeah. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my gosh. And then to have somebody from above say, “You’re also going to author books. You’re going to write books and somebody is going to want to read them.” Really?
TORIN PEREZ: Yeah, for sure.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tell us about the book, then. I know most keynoters know you have to have a book, you just have to. Tell us about how you started to write and find your writing muscle. You really got it out quickly, which I think that part of the story is interesting, because most of us, it takes months and months and we’re sort of doomed to the boundaries of publishers and all that – all those kinds of schedules.
But you got this out fast. I wonder, I always mentor so many people to say, “Get your book written.” You’re never ready, it’s never going to feel like it’s perfect. And yet, it’s something about you that when you’re not in the room, people can hold it in their hands, feel your presence, feel what you’re about and how you get your ideas out there in a scalable way. I know for me, it’s been transformative for me, but also for my business and keynoting career.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, tell us about what were those early writing days like? What was your schedule? What has the book unlocked for you personally and also from a business perspective?
TORIN PEREZ: Sure. My writing – my father, he’s actually a really phenomenal writer. He has – I don’t even know how many hundreds of poems and stuff he’s written. He says he just shares these little beautiful text messages with our family. Little things that he’s written in the morning.
I think about him as passing along the gift of language to me. My gift, I think, really is with vocal expression. Being able to talk. People have no problem sitting and listening to me speak for an hour. You know?
JENNIFER BROWN: You’re, like, really? I could just stay up here all day if you want me to.
TORIN PEREZ: An hour, feels like 20 minutes. You know?
JENNIFER BROWN: I know, it goes so fast, doesn’t it?
TORIN PEREZ: I think I’ve got to credit my pops for hooking me up with some of that good talent. The writing journey, I did a lot of spoken word in college. One of my good friends, we used to do spoken word competitions. The writing piece of it hadn’t really taken its form. I knew exactly what you were saying about how writing a book and becoming an author could serve your career well, specifically for what we’re doing, being somewhat public figures, speakers, and such.
That was always in the back of my mind. Every time I ever sat down to write, I had no idea what I was going to write. I was just like, you know, let me just shelve this project.
JENNIFER BROWN: No!
TORIN PEREZ: And at some point, you’ll get some wisdom or I’ll have something that I can use to write about.
I’ve been having conversations like this – I mean, personal conversations, thinking about our aspirations, thinking about life for as long as I can remember. I studied psychology in school, and I landed on psychology after changing my major three times because it was the one thing that I knew I could really identify with – my interest and passion for people.
In the fall of 2016, I went and visited one of my good friends that lives in Boston and we were just having a really nice time talking. We had a little bit of social lubricant, so I had a couple of beers – these delicious beers that we were having. And when we got home, we had a couple hours between the dinner and then we were going to go out at night, right?
And I had my laptop with me. And he went to go, I guess, freshen up, take a nap, all that good stuff. I was just sitting there. I popped open my laptop, and from our conversation, something hit me. I opened up the laptop, opened up Microsoft Word, and just started typing. Hour and a half later, two hours later, I see two single-spaced, typed pages on my computer. Didn’t remember a single word that I wrote.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, you were channeling. That’s what we call that.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes. Went back, read it, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, this makes sense.” (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: So great that you didn’t look at it and hate it. That’s actually really refreshing to hear. I don’t think that’s every author’s experience. Maybe it was the booze talking. (Laughter.)
TORIN PEREZ: Maybe. I showed him, he said, “Dude, that’s actually pretty good. I actually felt it, it felt like you were talking to me.” Yes, that’s exactly what I want this to be.
I think a couple of weeks later, I ended up seeing my mentor, who is Frances Hesselbein, I can’t tell you her age, but just to give you an idea, she has been studied by the American Foundation for Aging Research, and she is a gem of this world.
JENNIFER BROWN: Truly.
TORIN PEREZ: She’s a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient for being a pioneer for women, diversity, opportunity. And in 2015, I met her and have had the opportunity to call her a mentor for me over the last couple of years. And being able to soak in her amazing, immense wisdom and her ability to communicate the right message to me at the right moment has been absolutely invaluable for me as a leader and as an entrepreneur, as a person.
And when I went to her office, I told her that I had been taking these little 90-min chunks and writing down stuff. And then I’d talk to her about what does it mean to really write great work? And she took the pen – she doesn’t really write. We sit, we talk, we listen, we talk. She took the pen from me. She puts it down on the back of my sheet of paper and she writes, “Communication is not saying; communication is being heard.”
And for somebody who had been reading a bunch of books by authors that I love and admire, I’d been thinking about how they express themselves to their audience and not thinking enough about how Torin needs to express himself to his audience.
That gave me such an incredible level of freedom to literally almost communicate the way I speak in my book. I knew when I speak with people, I’m connecting to them in a deep way, and I want the book to do the exact same thing. And so having her say that to me in that moment, I knew I could do this.
Fast forward. Life happens, me and my partner are expecting a baby now, and we – yay!
JENNIFER BROWN: Wow.
TORIN PEREZ: My little guy is 15 – no, 18 months, he’s a year and a half now.
JENNIFER BROWN: Cutie.
TORIN PEREZ: And in that time, I had no space, no time, no mental capacity to really sit down and write. I hadn’t written anything for – it feels like almost a year. And in February of 2018, I received an e-mail from the Professional Business Women of California, inviting me to speak at that conference that you talked about. It was February 22nd, the conference was taking place on April 24th, 2018, and they told me that if I was a published author, I could sign books at the conference.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, my goodness. Don’t even tell me you did this in two or three months. Is that true?
TORIN PEREZ: So I go home and my lady and I are just talking, chopping it up for the day, and I say, “So, I got invited to speak at this conference.” She’s like, “Yay!” And I said, “They told me if I was published, I could sign books.” And with almost no hesitation she says, “You’d better finish that book you’ve been working on.” (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: Make a deadline!
TORIN PEREZ: She said, “You’ve got to do it.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
TORIN PEREZ: So from February 22nd to April 2nd, 40 days of 12-20 hours a day writing, rewriting, writing new chapters, new essays, going through a strenuous editing process with this amazing editor from the TED residency who used to work at Harper Collins in the leadership vertical. Think about the serendipity of that. I was also able to find an artist who was also part of the TED residency in my class who had a campaign called “Are you using your voice?” And his art and his therapy for his own mental challenges that he’s faced in his life was to write down the first thought, feeling, emotion that he had in the morning when he woke up on a Post-It, transformed this into art exhibits where people could write these things, and display them in cafes around the world.
He was my art director. All this time, 40 days, we were able to get it to the publisher, which I did self-publishing, to be approved, published, printed, shipped, and then sold at the conference.
JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, that’s like ripping the Band-Aid off right there. And it is going to be what it is. It’s a beautiful book, Torin. As I was reading it, I thought it was the book for my younger self, as I was thinking about all the advice I would have loved to have – particularly because you and I have a similar passion and similar skills, even though we come from such different worlds, which is cool and why we first connected.
It’s all this advice that’s so invaluable. It jumps around a bit but in a really wonderful way. You touch on so many different things – starting your own company, the beauty of serendipity and how you can build the circumstances for serendipity. You talk a lot about Imposter Syndrome, in fact, the whole question of, “Who am I to lead?” I had my own moment with that. I was sitting with a friend before I had my company. I must have said something like, “I have a vision for more inclusive workplaces,” where I would have felt welcome, where I could have done my best work and where I wouldn’t spend time covering. I think that workplaces could be better places, and I want to be a part of making that happen.
I think my friend – I don’t know, I could be making this up – but I think she said, “Who are you? How can you possibly do that? That’s so – who are you to do that?” I don’t know if she was challenging me or if it was a genuine question, because it was such a giant vision. You know, the definition of vision is that we will never accomplish it in our lifetime. Visions should excite you and feel impossible and feel like a stretch and feel like something like, “God, I don’t know how I would ever do that, but this is what I want to do, this is what I want to effect in the world.”
It can be dangerous to have friends who question you. You have to hear that for what it is, which is that most vision is difficult for people. Most people are cynical. Most people don’t think that change is possible on that scale. And then there are others who – gosh, this is such the entrepreneur mindset, right? I can do anything. If I set my mind to it, I somehow can make it happen. Say yes and figure out how on the back end, which I always like to say. Best advice I ever got. I also got the advice, “Fake it till you make it,” which was also good. I happen to be pretty good at that, which I’m sure you are, too. (Laughter.)
The duck on the water, right? The beautiful duck that’s smooth, and then the feet underneath the water paddling, hustling, hustling. What did you want to effect? I know you were just writing, writing, writing, and getting it out. Looking back, I’m sure you had, whether you realized it or not, you had a vision for change that was coming through this book.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: What is it in a nutshell? Who is the audience you hope is most moved by this? I think I know what you’re going to see, but I’d love to hear you say it.
TORIN PEREZ: Yes. I was thinking about this right before our call. And these words came to mind because I wrote it to feel like a timeless piece of literature that you might have on your coffee table or on your nightstand, something that you might read first thing in the morning to get your positive “juju” going, you know
And I feel like the person – the right person who’s going to pick up and read this book is somebody who is thinking about that question when they see it – who am I to lead? – and they want to find, discover, or remember the leader that resides in them.
For me, that question, while it can conjure up doubt, the subtitle is: The World is Waiting for You. And I want to put that doubt to rest. All of us have the capacity to be more than we were yesterday, to answer that question in our own lives. What does it mean to be a leader in my family? What does it mean to be a leader in my community? What does it mean to be a leader within my organization? And without the title, the rank, the role, you can show up differently than you did a day before in a way that could positively influence and shape the lives of the people who are around you. Those circles of influence that are within our grasp allow us to be ripples of change.
Those are some of the fundamental ideas that I have. And I think being able to explore leadership without necessarily this archetype, theory-based kind of frame, my book allows you to really explore the things that affect how you show up in the world. Imposter Syndrome, what are the moments? What are the stages that you’re avoiding because you don’t believe you deserve to be there? When you think about finding your why and your cause, some people think about – one of the hardest questions for somebody to answer is: What’s your passion?
So, I change it up. I say, “What’s one thing you’re passionate about right now?” We get caught up thinking life is supposed to be some linear, logical path. It’s really more of an intertwined web of crisscrossed lines. And being able to dance in that experience allows us to become the person that we’re meant to be. And it doesn’t have to be that when you’re 35 years old, you have to be exactly that when you’re 45, because as human beings, we’re designed to grow. We’re designed to develop and become something else, something more.
I think it’s for people who are curious and who want to have an authentic conversation with themselves. This book, I wrote it to feel like a spark for the person that’s reading it, but also for them to have conversations about it with their colleagues or with their family or friends.
And I feel like one year in now, with the book being live, I’m really excited to share with you like on this day, the end of May, over the last 30 days, over 200 copies of the book have been sold. That, to me, is an indication that it’s finally taking the shape of the vision that I had for it. It’s reaching people the right way. And sometimes it’s the question that people want that they’re most interested in, you know? Some people haven’t even read the entire book. They’ve read a couple pieces in it that have touched them and they read it over and over and over again. That, to me, is like, “Yes!” That was the purpose, why I wrote this.
JENNIFER BROWN: So good. So good. I love what you just said, sometimes it’s the most powerful thing you can do to ask the right questions. This is your coaching coming through, of course. This is what you learn in certification programs for coaching.
I remember I tried to get certified and the feedback I got was that I was answering too many of the questions. I wasn’t just asking the neutral question, which is the art of coaching, which is letting the person explore for themselves and find it. That’s when I knew – it I knew that I would not be satisfied just being a coach. I really had a strong point of view about change and the solutions for change and that coaching wouldn’t be able to hold me, per se, but that training around asking powerful questions never leaves you.
I see it in your approach to leadership and in the way you communicate your ideas. You’re much less interested in the answers. You’re not writing this book from on high. That’s why I love it. We need more authors to be transparent about their stories, to take us on the journey, to talk about what didn’t go well, to talk about our constant need to do our own work and here we are in our own growth and where we’re uncomfortable, still, to this day.
And maybe on that point, I could ask you: Where are your moments of discomfort these days? As you stretch and grow, you’re getting on bigger stages. If you had to write this book now and we parachuted into your life, do you still deal with Imposter Syndrome? What are the other things you write about that you look back at in the book and say, “Wow, that’s definitely in the past. I’ve figured out how to do that. Now I have different challenges.” What does that look like?
TORIN PEREZ: Oh, my. We can go in so many different directions.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know! (Laughter.) Just go with me. Humor me.
TORIN PEREZ: So, I’ll start it like this: One of the things that – one of the ideas that really helped me to say, okay, I’m going to write and finish this book in 40 days was the moment that you write something and publish it, it is already old.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, isn’t that true?
TORIN PEREZ: Knowing that as truth in the sense that it really serves as a conversation starter that allows you to continue to have generative conversations around the topics that you care about. Being able to utilize the foundations of your book to continue to elevate the messages that are important in the world, that are important in the society, that are important to the things that are on people’s minds. That’s the beauty in the work.
For me, things that I wrote about in the book like dealing with mental health through adversity, I just saw in my LinkedIn feed, there’s going to be Anthony Bourdain Day.
JENNIFER BROWN: No way!
TORIN PEREZ: There has been some significant progress in bringing humanity back into places where it needs to be.
You talk about the workplace, where we spend most of our time. Just back in March, this March, 1800 executives were surveyed through the Russell Reynolds Report on finding and keeping your next chief diversity officer. And diversity and inclusion was ranked dead last in eight available options for the business outcomes that are priorities for those executives.
You think about that, that’s a global survey, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
TORIN PEREZ: Companies that you and I work with, that we know, are trying to make progress. They flip that on its head because they know that when they reverse it, all of the other numbers, results, and outcomes happen because we’re elevating and creating a better, safe, awesome environment, inclusive environment, equitable environment for the people that show up and do this work and serve this mission every day.
Not only that, you think about the other dynamics in our society, we’ve got crazy social and political – a crazy social and political climate right now, super high tension, divisiveness, the feeling of polarization pulling people – literally ripping people apart. And at the same time, the one thing that I constantly feel and see is people are desperate for connection. They’re desperate to feel like they belong alongside people, regardless of the differences that we may have.
I see there was a study done last year that showed that it’s the workplace where we are most likely to interact with people who differ from us. So, this time that we’re living in right now, where you’re able to talk about things like mental health in the workplace, you’re able to talk about the dynamics, the legacies that affect how our experiences are with intersectionality, you’re able to have those conversations in the workplace at a time when it’s the best place to have those conversations, it’s the best for employee activism, it’s the best places for CEOs to use their influence to affect policy, to affect where they do business, to affect what’s happening in all of the different regions where they’re hiring and bringing representation. This is such an exciting time that I feel like me walking onto stage and being able to talk about these ideas, there’s no imposter syndrome in that. What I’m doing is I’m role modeling. I’m showing myself so that the people in the audience feel comfortable and safe enough to show themselves. This is the time when all of our voices can feel invited to the table.
And I think that, yes, there is – I mean, scores of companies, dozens of companies that are totally lagging behind with old practices and old ways of thinking about this space, but there are a lot of forward-thinking organizations that are really embracing this new normal. I feel like those are the organizations that are going to win because we’re living in a different time. The transparency level through social media, through online access, publicly available information, people are looking under the hood of these organizations that they’re thinking about going to work for. They’re asking their friends, but then they’re also doing their own research to say, “Is this just lip service or is this company really about inclusion?”
This is the time when being able to foster these kinds of conversations is making a tremendous difference. This is the time when the leaders of these organizations that actually do those things, they’re going to be winning not only from a personal and personnel standpoint, but from a business standpoint as well. Those are just some of the things that came to mind for me when I think about the larger implications of fostering people to think, to raise their awareness about these issues or raise their awareness about their own personal leadership development. There’s a much larger picture that we all have to play in, and being able to excite and ignite people along that journey is definitely something that quiets the voice that’s like, “Oh, you’re on the TED stage now. What are you doing there?” (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Who are you to be on the TED stage?
TORIN PEREZ: Show up. People want to hear your voice and your story.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. There is a hunger for it. It always feels if we go first on the stage, it makes space for others and gives permission for others and normalizes it, too, honestly. Vulnerability, I’m sure you love Brené Brown and we talk about that as a rising competency for leaders. This is why I think her scholarship has been so adopted by the corporate world, but it’s such a challenge for them. It’s really counter to the expectations of leaders, historically. It’s viewed as weakness. It’s read as that, perhaps. But the rise of more diverse leaders, I think, is going to bring – I hope, if we can get – gosh, if we can get underrepresented leaders through that pipeline and up into those visible leadership positions, it will redefine the core skill set of what it means to be a leader, because we will all bring our own lenses to that.
Sometimes I think the older generations are like, “Oh, people are just going to assimilate and they’re going to become like the rest of us.” I hear that a lot when we think about folks from your generation. I say no. No. There is a commitment that I see and feel and hear just in today’s conversation with you to commitment to authenticity, commitment to telling the truth when we can and when we’re brave enough to. A commitment to ourselves to honor all of who we are. A commitment to not having it all figured out and not having that be a problem.
I mean, I remember suffering with that uncertainty all through my 20s and it felt like pain. It felt like an existential pain. What am I meant to do? How can I be of service? I know I can work hard. I want to work hard, but I want it to matter.
And for some of us that don’t fall into an easy category with our jobs, whether you just don’t pop out of college and go right into banking or management consulting. Some of us are destined to wander a bit more. But what you’re doing as you’re wandering is you’re picking up so many things. Your learning is happening, whether you feel like it or not. And the messier it is, it can be uncertain or worse, and yet I’m sure you can look back of everything you talked about today and say each piece of that was a teacher. Each stage of my career has led me to where I am now. Where is Torin going to be in several years or five years? Is it bigger and bigger stages? Does the topic change at all? Can you see – do you see a second book and what would it be about? So you look at your current book and you’re like, been there, done that. I gathered it all, I put it into this thing, and I’ve moved on.
I feel the same about my stuff. In fact, I’m done with it in the middle of writing it at this point because I just went through my second. I was just trying to get it out. Can I go on to the next?
TORIN PEREZ: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Believe me, it continues to happen. And yet, you’ve got to stick with your book because it’s what you’ve poured your heart and soul into, and now you’ve got to bring it to the world and make it come alive over and over again from the stage, which is an interesting challenge. Part of you has moved on, but part of you really deeply feels still everything you wrote about and bringing that alive on stage.
I wonder, can you see into the immediate future around what is intriguing you, what do you feel is not written about? What is the untold story that you want to be talking about on the stage in the future?
TORIN PEREZ: Yeah. I alluded to this earlier in our conversation around part of my story that I need to see 2019 to finish before I’m ready to ready to talk about it. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: I get it yes. I’m so curious. You’re leaving us hanging, I like it. Good. That’s okay, that all right.
TORIN PEREZ: I know. We’re smack dab in the middle of the year at the end of June.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, we are.
TORIN PEREZ: I think that I’ll probably want to talk about that in some sort of written for at some point.
JENNIFER BROWN: It sounds a bit vulnerable. Is there a level of readiness to talk about stuff? Is it a level of depth? Is it complex?
TORIN PEREZ: It’s a level of wanting to just experience what I’ve experienced and what I’m experiencing and see it through to a point where I feel like I could tell a complete story.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, because it’s still evolving and getting juicier every day. I’m sure it is. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot in the last year and it’s been a hyper-growth period for you. That’s what happens when you’re on stage and you write. You parachute into this – well, you parachute into this thought leader space, for lack of a better word, and people ask you your opinion all the time. There’s a level of respect that’s conferred on us. It’s an awesome responsibility. Sometimes we don’t have the answers – often you’re a space holder, but not a “question answerer.” Right?
TORIN PEREZ: I love the impromptu conversations, though, and the fireside chat. Now they have something where the questions just come.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I use it all the time.
TORIN PEREZ: There are a couple things that I know we’re coming to the close of our conversation, there are a couple things that – words that you’ve said throughout our conversation that I think might help us to tie this up into a nice bow.
One of the words you just said was “wander.” I was just visiting a friend who had one of those – there are these little piece of artwork that have these little sayings. And literally the saying that I saw this weekend was, “Not all who wander are lost.” So, thinking about that, when you have a vision, which is the other word that you said today that stood out to me, when you have a vision that other people may not be able to comprehend or see, when you’re able to see it yourself, you may wander because that vision is big and it’s something that can take you to different spaces and different places.
For me, I came across a quote about two years ago now from Oprah, who once said, “What we all want is to be able to live out the truest and highest expression of ourselves as human beings.” So, my big vision and crazy idea, she helped me to put it into words. That’s what I want to help the human race do.
Whether that’s helping organizations to become more inclusive or coaching speakers like I have through the TED residency who have now gone on and received millions of views of their world-changing ideas on TED.com – who are trying to stop homelessness or inspire youth to use the arts to solve their traumas, thinking about all of the different ways that I could serve that grand vision, that to me is Torin doing his work in its grandest scope.
I can’t describe, I can’t tell you what that’s going to be two or five years from now. I’m just excited about continuing the journey and doing it alongside people like you, who are inspiring and uplifting others as they go along the way. Thank you for having me today.
JENNIFER BROWN: Torin, this is beautiful. You gave us so much to think about. I want people to follow you, buy a copy of Who am I to Lead? Where else can folks track you as you move around the world and do your thing?
TORIN PEREZ: Absolutely. My website is www.torinperez.com. You’ll see a bunch of good stuff on there from videos to getting a sense of how I work with different organizations. It’s been one of my great privileges to work with a speakers bureau over the last year. They are phenomenal and extremely easy to work with. There is LinkedIn, which I am starting to get a lot more active on. Two of my posts over the last three weeks have received 27,000 views, which is just mind blowing. But it’s really exciting to see the reception of that and lots of people are starting to follow and add me on LinkedIn.
I really appreciate LinkedIn because it is a great forum, it’s a place where I get a lot of my information and read a lot of people’s posts and stories and things of that nature. LinkedIn would be great. I invite you to reach out and get in touch with me.
Obviously, the book is available anywhere online.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yay!
TORIN PEREZ: You can find it on Amazon, search my name or Who am I to Lead? and you’ll find it there. I appreciate your support and I appreciate hearing from my readers as well. I would love to hear about how it’s touched you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Maybe you’ll get some ideas about the next book, number two, which is definitely going to happen – I’m pretty sure. Thank you, Torin, for joining me today.
TORIN PEREZ: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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