In this B-Side, Ade sits down with Christa Clarke, entrepreneur, public speaker, project manager and event hostess about the #MyMentalMatters episode.
To connect with Christa:
To learn more about Cubicles to Cocktails
Related blog posts Christa referenced and/or wrote:
Mandela Dixon’s Mental Health + Workplace Instagram Post
Ade: What’s up, y’all? This is Ade with Living Corporate, and you’re listening to a B-Side. So if you’ve been here for a while you might know what a B-Side is, but in case this is your first episode I’m going to give you a quick intro. So for our new folks listening, B-Sides are much more informal shows that we have in-between our larger episodes. These are much less structured and often more lit than our regularly scheduled shows. Sometimes they’re conversations between us, the hosts. Sometimes they’re extended monologues–I’m looking at you, Zach–or sometimes they’re a chat with a special guest, and today we have a really special guest with us, Christa Clarke. Now, Christa is the founder and chief creator of FreeingShe, which is her lifestyle blog, as well as Cubicles and Cocktails event series. Christa’s also a project manager in the health care industry and a wife based out of Houston. She’s a self-confessed blerd y’all I know rock with who loves technology and health sciences. She also happens to be a huge lover of hand-crafted cocktails, (which?) shout out to you, and a wine enthusiast, pairing wine to fit her food and her mood. You sounded like my kind of lady. Christa, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
Christa: [laughs] I’m doing great. How are you?
Ade: I am wonderfully cramped. [laughs] Hanging out in my closet. Okay, guys. For those of you listening, I happen to be recording from my closet today so that I can increase the audio quality of Living Corporate. Never say I’ve never done anything outside of my comfort zone. So Christa, I’m here with my cup of coffee, and I just want to know – did you listen to our latest episode? What’d you think?
Christa: I did, yeah. So, like, the latest episode, I thought it was, like, a very great discussion, and also an excellent resource for communities of color when it comes to starting on a mental health wellness journey. One of the things that, like, particularly stood out to me in the conversation too was Evelyn from the Internets’ “Calling In While Black.” [laughs]
Ade: Yep. Oh, God. [laughs]
Christa: I thought the video, like, was so funny, but it was so truthful. I know, like, after Trump was elected I honestly did not want to go to work. [laughs] And then also, you know, just when new cases of police brutality, you know, pop up, like, I just–it just, you know, causes me deep distress, as well as, like, a lot of community members. And so, like, I totally related to the video. I know one of the things that I do in particular though when cases of police brutality or anything that’s, like, systemic racism or sexism against marginalized communities pop up, I try not to share the videos, and I don’t watch the videos because as a person of color myself, as a woman of color, I don’t feel that I need to actually, like, do that in order for me to action and just–the viewing for me actually causes deep trauma, and so I just avoid viewing, but I just–you know, I just go ahead and take the action anyway. So that’s one of the things that I do encourage people of color to not do is to not share those videos or watch them if it does cause you intense pain.
Ade: Yeah. So I hear you about, you know, not sharing those videos because–I think I made a very intentional decision, particularly after the Walter Scott shooting, and I remember very, very clearly sitting and making the decision not to watch it because I had watched every video before that, and it had seemed as though bearing witness was the least I could do for these people, but after each video I realized–I even listened to the 911 recordings in the Trayvon Martin case, and I realized that it wasn’t doing me any good. Being in that space, being in that mental space, just was not helpful. It wasn’t helping me. It wasn’t helping my community. It wasn’t helping anybody around me, and so I had to take responsibility and take ownership of the course of my mental health, and that was the overarching theme of that conversation for me. And I take my mental hygiene seriously, so much so that I wrote a list of 23 promises to myself on my 23rd birthday to be really intentional about my self-care in this new chapter of my life. Allow me to ask you this. What intentional decisions have you made for the sake of your mental wellness?
Christa: Yeah, that’s a really good question. So I will say, like, you know, just–some of, like, the easier things to talk about is that I–you know, I participate in yoga. I do yoga and I meditate. I actually meditate in an office. I have a sign where it’s like, “Meditation In Progress,” and I tape that to my door so that I’m not disturbed. And, you know, I also read devotionals and have some scriptures that are my favorite, so they’re, like, easy to refer back to. I use scriptures in place of affirmations because personally for me a lot of affirmations–I feel like they just don’t work, and sometimes they make me feel worse. Like, there’s actually, like, research out there that shows that affirmations don’t work for everybody and that there’s–you know, there’s a process you should go through in order to get to the point where, you know, looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I am a confident, beautiful black woman,” you know? [laughs] Like, actually like [inaudible], and you actually believe it. And so for me I just–I wrote a blog post about it called I Thought Affirmations Were A Key To Success – I Was Wrong, and that just explains, like, my whole thought process behind why I personally don’t use affirmations and why I personally lean on biblical scriptures. I also avoid caffeine, and for caffeine I find that caffeine triggers anxiety in me, especially when I’m dehydrated, which, you know, when I’m too–when I’m too busy, sometimes I do forget to drink water, and so I–that’s really hard ’cause, you know, in Corporate America, I feel like caffeine and corporate environments, like, they just go hand-in-hand, right? You know, your mid-afternoon coffee break.
Christa: So I don’t have those, but I would say, like, the biggest thing for me was actually, like, leaving what I considered personally a toxic work environment. Mandela Dixon–she started Founder’s Gym–she posted recently on Instagram about her experience having anxiety attacks in her office and her workplace, and she said through reflection she realized that her growth was, like–she felt that her growth was being stunted, her creativity was blocked, and that her value was being taken for granted, and when I read those words, like, I totally related to that. At a previous job, I really felt very, very truly that all three of those things were happening to me, and it was causing a lot of tension at home with my husband, a lot of–by the end of my time, by the end of my tenureship there, I was feeling sick all of the time. Like, GI issues, bad sleep, and–and, you know, just, like, bouts where sometimes I would just come home and cry or I’d come home and be really fatigued. I know I’ve had a few anxiety attacks actually in that workplace, and mainly I feel like it came from a place of me trying to be strong and trying to, you know, just continue to work and deliver great quality work and not putting myself first, and so I ended up contacting EAP, which is Employee Assistance Program, after one incident that just left me emotionally disturbed, to find a therapist and get connected to a therapist. And so from there, you know, we kind of explored, like, what are my options? Do I learn coping mechanisms to not let the stress get to me and let it drive me to the point where I’m, like, in the office feeling like–literally feeling like I’m dying, like I can’t breathe, you know? I’m so nauseated and dizzy. Or is my–is my option, best choice for myself, is for me to leave the environment? And for me the decision was to leave. So I–you know, I got really serious about my job search, and I just, you know, kept on praying. I really enjoyed the work that I was doing at my old position, but, you know, for me, I just kept on praying, “God, I just want a better environment. God, I just want to feel as if I’m working for a boss who values me and wants to see me succeed,” and I didn’t talk to him about what the job would be. I didn’t talk to him about the compensation. And so finally when a door was opened, I was looking at entering a brand new field in the health care industry that I’ve never touched. Like, I’ve done entrepreneurship, I’ve done clinical operations, and this is, like, you know, academia now for medical school. So I was also looking at a pay cut. [laughs] So I wasn’t expecting that, and so that was a very–you know, a very difficult decision to make, but, you know, no amount of money–and I know this sounds so cliche, but no amount of money is, like, worth your mental health and worth your sanity. And so, you know, I took that leap of faith and I left, and the first–the entire first week of my new job, I was actually having anxiety attacks in that office. So that’s, like, how much toxicity, like, has built up in my system. My body was, like, still expelling that in the new office. And at first I thought it was just the fluorescent lights causing me to be, you know, dizzy and nauseous in the workplace, but now they don’t bother me. And so, like, in reflection I realize, “Wow, that was just, like, me having [inaudible] episodes of anxiety that was being triggered from that old workplace,” and how [inaudible], but yeah. I think that was, like–you know, that was definitely the biggest decision that I’ve ever made in terms of protecting my mental wellness.
Ade: Yeah. That is huge. I think the idea of putting yourself first, of centering your whole self, your mental health especially, is just such a huge deal because I know so many people who are hustlers. Like, it’s never going to be about “Well, what is most important to me is my mental health, and everything else comes second,” right? It’s “All right, but who’s gonna pay these bills though?” Right? And I think part of those difficult decisions and the difficult conversations that we have to have in our professional communities as people of color is that the world won’t end if you take that pay cut. The world won’t end if you opt to walk away from people, places, and things that don’t serve you, right? And if you are honestly in search for what your best self is, what your greatest good is, then it can never be positions and places or people, bosses in particular who reduce you, who shrink you, who are just in general not good for your mental health. But with all that said, I just want to pivot quickly to talk about FreeingShe, your lifestyle blog, and Cubicles to Cocktails because–I mean, I’m interested. I mean, I know that I’m in D.C., but if you’re ever coming out this way I just want you to know that I need a ticket. [laughs]
Christa: For sure. [laughs] Awesome. So yeah, FreeingShe is my lifestyle blog. I started FreeingShe back in–around November, December 2016, and it started, once again, from a place of–I just felt that my creativity was blocked. I felt so blah around that, you know, that [inaudible] of my life, and I wanted a place where I could express my creativity, or actually to restart exercising my creativity, as well as provide career resources and career perspectives on how to be–how to be success-minded, but how to also be well behind–how to stay well behind your ambition for women of color. And so I started the blog as well as a meet-up group, and so we were meeting monthly, me and the women who would come out, and we were having just really great conversations, Q&A sessions. We would talk about books and articles that we read and just–you know, we had just really formed that community, but the meet-up group eventually started morphing and transforming into something bigger where now it’s, like, full-fledged events. So bringing in panelists, having wellness days where we can go do yoga and then have girl talk afterwards instead of partaking, for instance, in Black Friday festivities. So let’s do something productive for ourselves. And so one day I’m at happy hour, and I’m, like, thinking to myself, “Wow, I really enjoy cocktails,” but I’m also, like, very career-driven, and when I’m at happy hour I, like, really feel like I’m at this equilibrium. I’m, like, being the most authentic. Even if the conversation is about career, I’m still completely enjoying it. And so, you know, as women, especially women of color, we’re often–if we’re in a traditional workplace in Corporate America, the environment is sometimes sterile, often times sterile. It’s very white, very masculine, and it can even be hostile towards us. And so we kind of, like, find ourselves shrinking away from being able to express ourselves in a way that we feel is authentic. We find that there is, like, a lack of outlets for us to have authentic conversations or even conversations that are a little bit more intimate as far as being able to move forward in the career–up the career ladder or being able to connect in a way that we feel is genuine to our coworkers. And so, you know, Cubicles to Cocktails came from a place of intention where I wanted to create an environment where women of color are able to, like–[inaudible]–let me dial back some. Like, imagine drinking a glass of wine or enjoying a very, very well-crafted hand-crafted cocktail. Your sensory–it’s, like, a full sensory experience. What are you listening to? Who are you talking to? What does your environment around you look like? How does the drink look? How does it smell? How does the glass feel in your hand? You know? And so I kind of come from planning those events where I want it to be a full sensory experience of us being authentic, being able to be boldly ambitious, being able to embrace what makes us unique as well as being able to invest in our careers and our lives. And so the Cubicles to Cocktails series is just really fun, but it’s, like, a really fun way to come back and to just embrace the fact that you’re a success-minded career woman of color.
Ade: Can I just say that, number one, you are a perfectionist. I can hear it in the level of detail and the level of attention you paid to that entire experience, and I love it. [laughs] Like, I love the passion behind it, and I just can tell that you enjoy what you do. You enjoy one cocktails, but two also owning every aspect of your life, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. But before we get out of here, do you have any final shout outs? Any parting words? Any words for the people? How you feelin’?
Christa: Yes, right. Definitely. So I just want to give major shout outs and props to you and the Living Corporate team. I think–you know, I listen to NPR and public radio all of the time, and there was definitely a lack of this narrative surrounding minority communities or marginalized communities in traditional workplaces, so Corporate America and more corporate-like environments, and so just to hear our point of view being reflected out there is just such an incredible thing, and it makes me so happy, and so I’m really excited to see the growth of Living Corporate.
Ade: Thank you.
Christa: Yeah, you’re welcome. And as far as final words, you know, people can connect with me over on Instagram. I’m pretty active on Instagram. My Instagram name is HeyChristaClarke, and to follow the event series Cubicles to Cocktails they could also connect on Instagram @CubiclestoCocktails. But thank you so much, Ade, for having me.
Ade: Awesome. Most certainly, and please pop up with, like, an event in D.C. Know that I’ll be there rocking out.
Christa: Nice. [laughs]
Ade: [laughs] Well, that does it for us today, guys. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Please make sure to follow us on Instagram at Living Corporate, Twitter at LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through www.living-corporate.com. We also have a Patreon, so if you can spare a dollar a month to sponsor content that explores the perspectives and experiences of black and brown people in Corporate America, go ahead and show us some love. If you have a question you’d like us to answer and read on the show or some experiences you’d like to share, please make sure you email us at email@example.com. My name is Ade, and you’ve been here listening to Christa, founder of FreeingShe and Cubicles to Cocktails. Peace.
Kiara: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.