Why Our Collective Obsession with Productivity Keeps Us from Rest with Valerie Friedlander

Why Our Collective Obsession with Productivity Keeps Us from Rest with Valerie Friedlander

Part of taking up space is valuing our own time. Part of valuing our own time is giving ourselves a break and not having to do all the things.

Are you obsessed with productivity? If you’re like most Notable Women I know, you are, but also, you’re not alone. In fact, I’m sure I’ve got at least a dozen pieces of content on this very site designed to help you be more productive (but I have an entire section of the site devoted to self-care so I’m going to forgive myself a smidge), but – WHY? Why do we have this constant need that everything we do be productive, every opportunity to enjoy a book or watch a show plagued with “I should be doing X, Y, Z” – enough!

In last week’s first episode on rest, I spoke with the ever wonderful Sneha Jhanb from Stress Less with Sneha J. on how slowing down to rest actually helps get more done, rather than working ourselves down to slivers of our formal selves. In this episode, I speak with coach Valerie Friedlander about why we have that obsession to begin with. Why, oh why, are we so obsessed with productivity that we do real harm to ourselves? Why is one of the best ways to get people to rest is to let them know that rest actually helps them get more done?

I turned to Valerie to discuss this very topic. Who is Valerie? Valerie Friedlander is a Life/Business Alignment Coach with a background of over 20 years of science and spiritually based personal development. She is passionate about helping high-achieving women with children shift patterns that aren’t serving them and confidently create their life by their own rules. In addition to her coaching and Energy Leadership certifications, Valerie draws on her 10 years in corporate management and studies in sociology, neuroscience, addiction recovery, and spiritual discernment to help her clients get off the emotional roller-coaster, connect their head and their heart, and increase focus, follow-through, and fun in all areas of their life. When she’s not working with clients you’ll find her hanging with her husband and 2 sons, working on an art project and nerding out with a sci-fi, fantasy, or comic book movie. She’s also host of the podcast, Unlimited.

Valerie’s been part of the summits before, but this was her first time on the podcast. And what a joy it was to have her!

In this second episode focused on rest, we talk about:

  • the social dynamics in play around productivity,
  • how the pandemic has affected those dynamics,
  • why our brains like routines,
  • how defining what is “enough” will help us get rest,
  • how allowing ourselves the opportunity to pause and have space will give us an opportunity to rest, and
  • questions to ask ourselves so we can decide how we want to be in this life.

Valerie’s free gifts for you:

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I was a fan before I was a guest. Now I’ve been a guest and I’m an even greater fan! Cristin Downs is an amazing interviewer and host. She is insightful, professional and just a pleasure to work with. What comes across in the stories is as much a product of Cristin’s fierce talent in conceptualizing the episodes and finding the stories as it is the a reflection of her interesting and engaging subjects. Fantastic, Notable Women. Listen and enjoy!

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[00:00:00] Cristin: What is up, Notable Women. Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode of the Notable Woman Podcast. My guest today is Valerie Friedlander. Valerie is a life and business alignment coach with a background of her 20 years of science and spirituality based personal development. She’s passionate about helping high achieving women with children shift patterns that aren’t serving them and confidently create their life by creating their own rules. In addition to her coaching and energy leadership certifications, Valerie draws on her 10 years in corporate management and studies in sociology, neuroscience, addiction, recovery, and spiritual discernment to help her clients get off the emotional roller coaster, connect their head and their heart and increased focus, follow through and fun in all areas of their life.

You know how I feel about alliteration. So I love that. Now when she’s not working with clients, you’ll find her hanging out with her husband, who I had the pleasure of working with in California many years ago, her two sons working on an art [00:01:00] project, or nerding out with a sci-fi fantasy or comic book movie.

She’s also the host of a podcast Unlimited. Valerie, thank you so much for being here today. 

Valerie: Thank you for inviting me. 

Cristin: So why why did I invite Valerie? I decided that I wanted to focus on specific topics on the Notable Woman Podcast, things that I thought that people had an interest in, something that I was interested in.

And so I wanted to talk about rest and I thought that Valerie would be the perfect person. So thank you for joining me. And so do you think that women have such a hard time getting rest? 

Valerie: Besides children which is a thing in and of itself. From my sociology background. I love looking at how the social dynamics influence [00:02:00] our individual dynamics and vice versa.

And there’s a lot of energy around doing and productivity as being tied to our value. Like how much you get done, how productive you are, how busy you are, not even productive, but just how busy you are, how hard you’re working equates to your value and your value to society. But intrinsically we internalize that as our intrinsic value.

And so a lot of us have this push to be busy and do and accomplish partly because we like accomplishing things; that feels good. But also because there’s this subconscious trigger around being valuable and needing to be valuable and valued and work hard. 

Cristin: Now, do you think that the pandemic has shifted this in [00:03:00] any way?

Valerie: That’s a great question. I think in a lot of ways it has both magnified it. And by doing so, made us a lot more aware of it. I think that the pandemic has done that across the board with all the things; naturally, anytime you have stress added on you experience all the other places that you have stress more fully, it just exacerbates things.

The, idea of being hungry or tired, we tend to be a lot more reactive it’s because there’s actual stress on our bodies that trigger all the other things. So something that might, you might have been a little annoyed about, but like you could totally show up to it in an intentional way.

Like your kid saying something or doing something that normally I’d be like, [00:04:00] alright, this is a teaching moment. We’re going to engage this calmly. If you’re hungry or you’re tired, it’s much more likely that it’s going to bypass that frontal cortex, that things creatively and go straight to your limbic system and go, this is a threat.

And then we show up in defensive mode or victim mode. And so I think the pandemic is such an immense amount of stress in so many different ways and areas that it naturally emphasizes all of the other things that are stressed, that aren’t working well in our society and not resting and working hard and being busy is one of them for some, because they’re really they’re, like searching for things to be busy with because they don’t have anything to be busy with.

And others who are burning out with the amount of busy that they have, that they’ve infused their life [00:05:00] with. And now throw in. Also being a co-teacher and having everybody on top of them and all of the things of caring for other people in the house without breaks, you start to see where, Oh, I’ve boundaries take on a whole new meaning and need a whole new exploration, including those self boundaries and boundaries around our time and, our ability to rest.

Cristin: So many things from that made my brain go [whirrrr]. 

Valerie: Where do you want to go? Next? 

Cristin: I know what, I just want to I’ll bring up something I had heard. So, early in the pandemic and it was an interview with Anderson Cooper and NYU professor, Stern professor Galloway. And is his name last name? I don’t know his first name.

Scott Galloway. And he said that [00:06:00] coronavirus was an accelerant. It was not a disruptor that it was an accelerant and all these things that were already happening with just happened so much faster. And I’ve really felt that to be true in so many ways. And that. So many of the disparities that already existed just got fire added to gasoline essentially that was already there.

And so that really stuck out for me. Your comments made me remember that and think that it’s so very true. And then one of the things I wanted to ask you about is that, how do you think that the, amount of executive functioning that has to go into your everyday life in a pandemic as you navigate your workload around your.

Child’s school schedule around your [00:07:00] grocery pickup time around your masks. And do you have them ready? And are they securely fit? How do you feel like the executive functioning of all of that combines or compounds even to affect people’s need for rest? 

Valerie: It, definitely does the. Reason we like routines.

We like habits so much in part, at least is because it’s easier when you have a habit. The part of our brain that is like the executive functioning part, the frontal cortex, the one that does all of the figuring things out and creative thinking and putting pieces together and making decisions is the part that burns the most amount of energy.

Anytime you’re utilizing your frontal cortex. You’re going to burn more energy. Our brain is designed to put as much [00:08:00] as possible into the and I forgetting the word. There’s like a scientific word for this, but like the, those low, slower burning parts the ones that don’t need as much energy.

So those more habitual parts, the autopilot parts. So anything that it can put there, it’s going to put there that is beneficial because it means that we can think faster on our feet. We can do things more quickly. We can get more things done. We can be more productive. And efficient. That’s the word I was looking for efficiency.

That’s one of my words and I totally forgot it, but it means that we can be more efficient energetically, biologically. It has a downside in that so much of what we think is subconscious. We think a lot of stuff, but that’s only about, I think like 5% of what we actually are thinking like what our brain is actually doing.

So [00:09:00] a lot of my work often is helping people bring to consciousness. Some of those automatic patterns in terms of interaction with all areas of their life, in this case, because there are so many decisions to make with situations being so new and. The fact that some of them are life and death, and we’re not even sure exactly which ones for a good part of this cause science is all learning new things and getting new information.

And so we’re waiting for new information that waiting for information and the potential of it being a life or death decision puts a lot more pressure on the energy expended by our bodies. So it certainly impacts how much bandwidth we have. There’s a term within the community that has [00:10:00] chronic illness of spoons.

If you’re familiar with that, but like you only have so many spoons to give. And that I think is something that would be a beneficial thing for most of us to take on is to recognize that we all. Only have so many spoons. We may have more spoons than other people or less spoons than other people, or at different times we may have different amounts of spoons because hormone cycles and things like that.

But. We need to know. Once we run out of spoons, we’ve run out of spoons. 

Cristin: I was actually to the concept of spoons and spoon theory with Julie Morgan lender in episode two of the notable on podcast, she actually was just on episode 41 talking about her book that she just published. And so I think that’s a, great connection.

And something that, that makes me think [00:11:00] about, because obviously there’s a lot here around all of us being at this weird capacity that we’ve never been at before. And I have had long conversations with people, hours long about things like. Do I get my hair cut. Do I go to the dentist? Do I take my kids to the dentist?

Am I a bad parent? If I think that we should hold off on this annual cleaning because of X, Y, Z am I, is that neglect or something like that? Because I don’t want them to die in a pandemic. So many complicated things where normally you just go to the dentist or you get a haircut or. You go see your family member at Christmas or whatever, a holiday or someone’s birthday, or you go to the baby shower or you go to the wedding, whatever.

It’s not this complicated where it’s now it’s obviously very complicated, but these are the sort [00:12:00] of questions that people with chronic illness have been facing for a really long time. Julie herself talked about in her episode and we also have she, and I talked about this one on one about the.

In many ways, the pandemic helped limit the decisions that people in chronic illness used to have to make, where she has to. She used to have to think about, okay I want to, do something tonight. There’s these four options available to me, this one has an elevator, but the parking is really far away.

But this one, the parking is really close, but it’s stairs and she didn’t make decisions like that. Whereas now she had these four. Wonderful options that were all online and she could go to anyone and she got to actually pick the one she wanted to go to instead of the one that was easiest and most accessible to her, which I thought was certainly interesting interesting point and one that I would not have thought of myself.

And that all makes me think back to the very [00:13:00] first thing that you mentioned when we talked about how society tells us that we have to have a certain level of productivity. Which in many ways has not translated to predictive productivity, but it’s translated to busy-ness and that people are just busy for busy-ness busy-ness is sake.

And so what are your thoughts about how societal structures and systems keep us from getting rests? 

Valerie: I think one part that you just said, there’s a certain amount of productivity. Part of the issue there is that there isn’t a defined amount of productivity. So it ties into that idea of what is, perfect, right?

How much is enough anytime you have like that idea of not enough, that lack mindset as it were. There’s. This push to do more or be more, or [00:14:00] this pressure and fear that leads us to do things that are not intentional things. They’re not chosen things they’re not aligned necessarily with our real values.

They’re fear-based of trying to be enough, which is one of the reasons why I always recommend for people to define what enough actually is for them and take a look at well. And if you actually define enough in this context, what does that look like? How do you feel if you’re enough and what are you doing if you’re doing enough and how reasonable is it?

What you set out would you say this to another person like to your friend, to your spouse? What, does enough look like for somebody else in this? Because oftentimes. We’re going to that subconscious not enough, trying to fill a bucket that we haven’t even decided what size it is. So it’s just like pouring [00:15:00] on the floor basically instead of filling a container.

That’s so good metaphor. 

So, we don’t want to just be sprayed. It’s just like with stress, like we don’t want to just spray it everywhere. We want to actually focus it because it can be helpful if it’s focused. Doing things is helpful. We don’t want to not do things, but it needs to be focused and intentional.

Like I have this spoon, I’m going to use it here. I have the spoon. I’m going to use it here where we’re, choosing consciously and giving space for discernment because that, as I mentioned takes energy. I don’t think we give very much recognition too. Discernment as also being part of the productivity process.

So, societaly speaking. One of the things that I love to explore is feminine cycles and [00:16:00] how looking at hormone cycles for women, there are different. Dynamics within productivity at different points in our natural hormone cycles. And this is true for men too, but their hormone cycle is shorter. So I’ve heard anywhere from like 24 hours to three days, something like that.

Theirs it’s a much shorter hormone cycle. Whereas ours is what like 30, 28 to 32 days. So because we’ve devalued the feminine in our society and we’re out of balance with. That though those two dynamics, we value this fast turnaround, masculine energy that has a different experience of productivity for women.

There’s more of a, there are times when we’re planting seeds, when we’re maximized to. Think of [00:17:00] things to have ideas, to generate thoughts and ideas and, all of that. And it’s usually when our estrogen is going up, then we get, to this point where, they could get stuff done. Like we have this power boost probably about three days to a week or so, where we have like this the fertility period where like we can do all the things and that’s comparable to that masculine energy of doing, like doing, going all that.

And then it drops off as our progesterone goes up and our estrogen goes down and progesterone says, slow down, we’re getting ready to grow a human. And we need that energy to grow a human whether or not you’re growing a human, but like it’s tells us to slow down because that energy is going to be used differently.

So that energy is. We’re going to pull in. Now we’re going to start assessing and analyzing. This is when I look at business stuff. [00:18:00] This is like the time where you sit and you look at your analytics and you go, okay, what worked, what didn’t in that burst of energy, where we were super productive and we’re getting all this stuff done.

What it’s like, Charting the course. And I was using this analogy with someone else the other day of a, with a client who was talking about setting a deadline for her. And it’s there’s this time period where it’s good to decide where you want to go. There’s this, creative time of like, all right, I’m going to go here and I’m going to plot this course.

And I’m going to outline the route. And then I can go to Lightspeed. You don’t want to go Lightspeed before you hit the go on. Like until before you plan out the route you go to Lightspeed before you plot out the route, you could end up in a wall, anyone who watches any of those, I find that you don’t want to do that.

You want to, have that plot and then. [00:19:00] You go there, you hit Lightspeed, do all the things and then you stop and you assess, okay, what worked, what didn’t, how did that experience go of actually getting things done? Did that feel good to me? Did it have the impact that I wanted it to make? Did it actually match with where I thought I was going?

Once I got there was that really where I wanted to go to, what about that? What I want to change? And you do that assessing period. And then you go into the creative thinking of okay, now what, how, what do I want to do? How do I want to take that information and feed it into the next thing?

We, as a society only value the Lightspeed part. And that means that we don’t take time to assess where are we going? How are we getting there? Is that a way that actually matches with the life that we want to live? What could we do differently? Like we have choices, we could do things [00:20:00] differently. We don’t have to just survive life.

We could enjoy it. What would make this more enjoyable? What would have an actually engaging that space. If we don’t value that we don’t make space for it. And if we don’t make space for it, we end up just zipping places all the time and not being intentional with where we’re actually going. And it’s less effective because we ended up going places we didn’t actually want to go.

Cristin: Yeah, absolutely. I thought that metaphor around would you go into Lightspeed before you find course is I’m certainly not as, a cooler into all of that stuff as you, but I have watched a little bit of it in the pandemic with my husband and my 10 human. And certainly it would be very silly to that.

So I have a lot of clarity around that in my brain. Now you’ve given us a number of different ways to think about this, about rest as you’ve, answered [00:21:00] my questions, you’ve brought up this other thing that someone could do thinking about what is enough was one example, thinking that if you only have so many spoons, how do you want to spend them another example and then to think about your energy cycles and to think about when are you thinking and idea generation and when are you acting and then what are you testing?

And then I would say probably like, when are you resting is another good place to another thing to add into there, but what would you say if. For the wonderful, Notable woman audience who are listening to this, how can they incorporate some of these ideas into their life right now? 

Valerie: So that’s, that is where the rest part comes in is allowing for pause.

A lot of times we have this urgent need to respond immediately. To do something right [00:22:00] now. And most of the time it’s not actually necessary. So one of the things actually, the very first thing is, anytime you have something, come up to practice the pause. And, just checking in on what’s going on, what is necessary right now?

And this is true in just about every area, whether it’s work, whether it’s interaction with other people, practicing pausing, instead of engaging right away. Because when we engage right away, it tends to be more reactive. It tends to go to the autopilot part of our brain. That’s the part that triggers first.

If we already feel stressed, So most of the time, it doesn’t have to happen right away. So you can take a moment and check [00:23:00] in what do I need right now? I like to encourage people to give yourself a little bit of space to decide how do you want to show up to life? How do you want to experience life? Those are similar, but they’re a little bit different.

And what impact do you want to make? It’s essentially what I would call your vision. It’s not like where you’re going to. Are you being, so how do you want to experience life? How do you want to show up to it? What does it look like when you’re showing up and what impact do you want to make and what are, say three?

I like threes three non-negotiables to support you in doing that. What are those things for you? And maybe they’re daily things, maybe they’re weekly things. Maybe they’re a monthly things. Maybe they’re all of those things. Like you can pick three for your day three for your week three for your [00:24:00] month, that are the things that will help you most align with your vision.

For some people that might be meditating for five minutes in the morning. Or journaling for five minutes before you go to bed. Like it doesn’t have to be a ton of time. But what helps you align with that vision for yourself so that you’re able to engage and allowing space for that is one of the key things that we don’t do.

We don’t allow space for ourselves. We don’t allow ourselves to take up space. Feminist probably heard about that. Taking up space, we deserve to take up space. And part of that is using our voice. But part of that is valuing our own time and valuing our own time also looks like valuing our own [00:25:00] being, which means.

Giving it a break does not have to do all the things. And some of our most powerful connections happen when we’re sleeping. When we are giving ourselves rest. I like to a phrase that I came across in a spiritual community was urgent need is my will calm, certainty is God’s will. And for me, that basically means the urgent need is my, self preservation, my survival mode.

And God’s will means when I’m aligned with my higher self, being present to the moment can’t be present to the moment. If I’m not allowing myself to pause and actually be present to that moment. So what are those three things that need to be non-negotiables for you to honor who you want to be and what your vision is?

Cristin: I like that so much. I love this [00:26:00] idea of who you’re being. It’s a conversation that I have with people often, which is are your actions matching what you say? You believe right? Or we’re not. And very often they’re not right. And it’s because I think of one of your earlier points, which is that something like only 5% of your thoughts are unconscious and everything else.

You’re just pre-programmed. To already be believing something. And so that’s why it’s so important to do this work, particularly around rests because you are programmed to believe that you are not valuable unless you are productive and productivity is undefined in my opinion, purposefully. So you are just constantly striving and always trying to achieve and never succeeding because it doesn’t exist.

There is no actual. Level [00:27:00] that you’ll then get to take a break. 

Valerie: You have to do decide it. That’s the thing. If you don’t choose it, it’s not chosen. It’s like that whole idea of and not making a decision is still making a decision, not deciding what enough is, deciding that there isn’t enough ever, no matter what.

So you have to define what enough is otherwise. You’re always going to be chasing enough. It’s I like the, to think of like a horse that is dangling a carrot. It like somebody is dangling a carrot in front of the horse to try and motivate the horse to move forward. And if the horse never gets the carrot, eventually the horse will die.

Like you can only go so far without feeding the horse. We are taught to believe that we have to always incentivize ourselves in the future. What if you could [00:28:00] munch on the carrot and walk in the direction that you chose, you have to choose the direction and then eat the carrot as you go. You can make the direction and the walking enjoyable.

Cristin: Yeah. Oh man. So much there too. Talk to you all day. It really makes me think a lot about I’ve. I very much feel like our society, trains people to need external motivation for everything so that you don’t ever you, Probably started life, enjoying certain things and having internal motivation for them.

That’s one of the things I always say to my husband, do not provide an external motivator for the child for things that he enjoys. He enjoys it. Just let him enjoy it. You don’t need to cookie or I don’t know, give them a snack [00:29:00] or whatever, or let him play his game after like he enjoys doing this.

Just let him enjoy it. Because we don’t need to provide an external motivator for things that people already enjoy doing. And I think that is it’s just present in parenting guides and styles discipline information that parents receive it’s in schools and all the parts of curriculum.

That we don’t just let people enjoy the things that they enjoy. 

Valerie: It’s to get people to buy into rules that serve other people. 

Cristin: Biggitty bam. That’s a meme if I ever heard one. That’s so true. And so painful. Oh. 

Valerie: There’s a, lot in there and I think that it ties to if, you don’t feel enough, you are going to search for things to make you feel better and you will spend money.

[00:30:00] To get those things and it applies in so many different areas. If you’re not enough, then Oh, I’ve got what will help you feel enough? I think it’s part of what plays into our various epidemics, like the opioid epidemic and the amount of depression that we have. It’s, constantly reinforcing, not being enough.

In and of yourself that doesn’t feel good. And there’s a belief that if it’s what’s necessary to make us motivated to do things and it’s a lie. 

Cristin: I think the first thing that popped into my head when you started to talk about that was the fact that now self care is like an industry, right? And now it’s, a word that even people get, they don’t like it.

Yeah, there you go. You don’t like it. I [00:31:00] think that I certainly don’t mind it. Cause my self-care doesn’t need to be like a pedicure or anything of the sort, but I am always conscious of words that get commandeered.  

Valerie: Yes, my industry does a lot of that. 

Cristin: Yes. Embarrassing experience. When I first went on Instagram, cause I’m a little bit of Instagram, grandma not going to lie about it.

And when I first got an Instagram and I was doing hashtags and I had not done, I didn’t do any hashtag research of any kind, which I do not recommend because of the story. And so I did hashtag something around feminism and then I went to check. And see how I was ranking on that hashtag was I showing up or anything?

And it turns out that whole hashtag had been commandeered by anti-woman white supremacists. It was a whole Instagram feed of some of the most horrible, hateful things I’d ever seen. And I was. Terrified [00:32:00] that I had accidentally used this hashtag, which was a normal phrase that didn’t have anything to do with any of these things.

But in, in the Instagram, it was not used to talk about women empowerment. It was used to talk about anti woman topics that are then also related to many other horrible things. And words can get commandeered self care has definitely gotten commandeered as a topic. And I think that it’s become an industry where you have to spend money, that you can take care of yourself rather than just taking care of yourself.

Valerie: Yeah. I look at money as energy and so it’s an energetic exchange and it’s important again with the assessment part of was that exchange equitable? Did I get the equal amount of energy back from what I spent [00:33:00] and how could I better spend that energy? Whether it’s financial or time back to the spoons?

How much do you have? And it’s one of the reasons why I get, I never liked the we’ll just put it on your credit card or just invest more than you have for some people that’s okay. Some people that does not trigger additional stress for them, because they’re, there’s just a different relationship, but for people who that triggers more stress for.

You’re not going to get an equal exchange for the amount of stress. Like you’re, paying both in money, but also stress. And if you’re not going to get a return on that, which is hard to do, because the more stress you have, the harder it is to do anything then you, have to factor all of those things in.

Cristin: I think there’s a lot there around [00:34:00] you’re going to, let’s just say your self care is Go and get a Manny petty. There’s, you’re spending the time to do it. You’re paying for it. You’re traveling to get there and back and whatever, however, that works wherever you live in the world.

And then there’s all the interactions around that. Which could be very pleasant for you. I’ve taken my mom to get a Manny petty and it’s a lovely experience. We have such a nice time. And then I know people that do it. Particularly when I’ve gone in New York city where it’s just, another chore on the list of activities and that that is what I think it seems to me that people have been taught that this activity will help you achieve a certain level of whatever that mythical thing is that you’re trying to achieve.

But really it’s just a way for you [00:35:00] to spend money. 

Valerie: It gets tied to our, face, our and that’s a sociological term of like how we present and what we want other people to perceive us as something that starts out as caring for ourselves, especially if it’s a visible thing, but especially for people who are influencers in the self-care space, if certain ways of.

Being perceived and actions get tied to what they believe. Other people perceive them as and how they want other people to perceive them. Then the disruption of that becomes problematic for their social face their, interaction with these spaces. And so it becomes a should. Anytime self care is a should.

It’s not self care anymore. The purpose of self care is to show love [00:36:00] for oneself. It’s just support, loving yourself. If it’s playing into an industry or a space that tells you’re not enough, how loving does that sound to you? If it’s a, should you should do the, got it. Don’t should on yourself. 

Cristin: I just love that.

Valerie: Oh, I got to thank my mom for that. She always used to be like, stop shoulding all over yourself. 

Cristin: It’s good. It’s good. One of my Voxer friends says it and I enjoy it. And so I think that it’s a, it’s such a good point, right? It’s such a good point that if, self care becomes a should, and it’s what it’s making me think of is when certainly when the pandemic first started, I know a lot of people were like, but how are we gonna do soccer, karate, ceramics swimming I don’t know, or a gummy, whatever the activities were that they had with their kids.

And so the [00:37:00] idea that. This sort of carefully crafted existence that they had created further they’re small humans or mid-sized humans. Was it going to be different? And I just thought. Or like a Dyna pandemic, you want to do it’s it just is what it is. And I think that you can create fun experiences for your tiny humans in other ways.

And certainly many people have brought these programs online and fabulous ways, not so much, but a lot of people have done really good work. And the nice thing, like Julie mentioned, About things coming online. This is in many ways it can be more equitable 

Valerie: It calls into question, the purpose. What is the purpose of the activity?

What is the purpose of the doing? Because our doings, oftentimes when they go into that [00:38:00] autopilot part of our brain, and this is just what you do, and maybe it’s because this is just what I do, or this is just what you do. And we’re socialized dynamic of this is the, what the people in my community do.

This is what. Americans do you know, if it goes into that space of, this is just that face of this is just what you do. We lose a connection to why, do we do that? What is the purpose of it? Is that a purpose that I agree with? Does that align with the person that I want to be in the world?

And that’s why I was say w going back to what you brought up before of what actions can we take? It’s okay. Tapping into what actually is important. And that is who do you want to be? What impact do you want to make? Because we’re social creatures. So impact is part of that. Like how do you want to impact other people?

How do you want to experience life? And what are the things that you [00:39:00] need to support? That it’s just a basic way of checking in. Does this support that. How does this support that? What do I need to support that? And it may be a lot simpler than it’s been built up to be. And when things get super disrupted and we have to be flexible, it gives us the opportunity to check in and go, okay, how do we discern what the things that we need to do are.

Outside of the sugars that are reactive brain, our survival brain will kick into gear that also takes in all these social dynamics. What actually is important. 

Cristin: Amazing such, good questions. I appreciate them so much. Now, if people listen to this and they just thought, Oh my gosh, I am loving Valerie.

How [00:40:00] could they learn more about you and follow you? 

Valerie: You can find me at my website, which is valierfriedlander.com. I have my podcast, which is Unlimited. And on there, I share things. I actually have an episode called rest. So there’s more about resting on there. And also examples of coaching with me.

And if you want to coach with me, then we can chat. I do individual coaching and group coaching, and I would love to talk about that and see if it’s a fit. 

Cristin: Excellent. So that’s Valeriefriedlander.com. The podcast is Unlimited. You are on all platforms, I believe. Excellent. And so I appreciate you taking the time to talk about this topic. I think it’s always important, but especially important right now. So I really appreciate it, and I hope that you have the most beautiful day. 

Valerie: Thank you. You too. 

[00:41:00] Cristin: Thank you.

COVID-19 and Public Health Communication

COVID-19 and Public Health Communication

In this episode of The Notable Woman Podcast, I interview Dr. Karen Hilyard, a public health communication expert, on COVID-19.

This is our second episode focused on COVID-19. I wanted to start with Amy Simpkins and exponential growth because I felt like that was the first thing people were having a hard time wrapping their heads around, and now that you know how contagious this disease is and why that matters so much, Karen’s the next person we should all be listening to.

Karen’s an expert in public health communication and just so happens to be my friend. She was happy to get on and explain to me what we should be hearing from our local, state, and federal leaders, and what we should actually be doing.


  • What it’s like in Georgia, both personally for Karen and her larger area, which is rural and suburban (quite different than me in NYC, but also similar in how our healthcare systems will respond)
  • Briefly discuss exponential growth (check out Amy’s episode for more information on that)
  • What people are still doing that they shouldn’t be – like block parties and play dates
  • Plain language guidance about what we should be doing instead
  • History on the US pandemic response plan from George W. Bush’s administration
  • Amazing tips for organizations not sure how to communicate about COVID-19
  • What we can be advocating for in our own communities, like funds for people who are food insecure and halting evictions
  • Why we should be concerned about civil liberties and the best way to make sure we maintain our rights
  • Who is doing a good job communicating right now
  • The testing debacle

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did creating it. You can listen now, right here from this webpage by clicking the play button below.

Prefer Apple Podcasts? Android user? Go to Overcast here or Google Podcasts here. Pocket Casts? Radio Public? Something else? And of course, if you loved the episode, a review is always appreciated! 

EPISODE RESOURCES INCLUDE (affiliate links included):

Today’s Guest

Karen Hilyard

“Without testing in place, we weren’t able to do that. And we were not able to sound the alarm, and it was a critical missed step in which we will never know how many people have actually had the virus. And we certainly missed some opportunity to take action when we could have perhaps slowed the spread.”

Welcome to our community for leaders connecting to our already existing power so that we can remake the world through our work – whether that be for someone else or our own creations.

We help those who are looking to get a seat at the table or build their own in a way that matches their values so that they can use their powerful voices for good while also living lives that they love.

Sound interesting? We’d love for you to join us.

Join the free book club

About Karen Hilyard

Karen Hilyard, Ph.D. is a behavioral scientist and communication strategist who trains and advises state, federal, and global clients on both routine and crisis communication.  Beginning in 2006, she was part of a CDC-funded team that spent three years training public health communicators how to implement the federal pandemic preparedness and response plan.  She has written extensively about social distancing and other government directives during a pandemic.   

Connect with Karen:

Support the podcast

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People who support my work through their work:

Leave a voicemail for The Notable Woman!

Call my Google voice number at (213) 340-4231 ‬and leave a voicemail, and you might just find yourself in the next episode of The Notable Woman!

The Notable Woman Website

If you’re viewing these show notes from one of the platforms the podcast is distributed to, head on over to the website at www.yournotablelife.com for more resources, additional episodes, and more!

COVID-19’s Exponential Growth with Amy Simpkins

COVID-19’s Exponential Growth with Amy Simpkins

In this bringing the podcast back episode, I interview self proclaimed data nerd Amy Simpkins about COVID-19’s exponential growth.

I’ve been personally off the grid due to the death of my father. He was one of my favorite people to walk the earth. A good egg. He went on hospice in December and then passed away in January. While we sat together each evening, with my mother too, we saw reports about a virus in Wuhan which eventually became a global pandemic.

Not quite sure what to do – who really knows right now? – I decided to create a series of resources Notable Women might need to get by right now, and they’re all housed in “The Social Distancing Summit.” You can find that in The Society of Notable Women right here. 

We’ve got experts on fear. anxiety, and stress; activities for tiny humans, and interviews like this one here with Amy Simpkins.

Amy is the CEO of muGrid Analytics, and she and her husband Travis created a data project looking at the exponential growth of COVID-19. You can find their work at humansvsvirus.com. The more we flatten the curve, the more likely we can beat the virus!! (I always see Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day in my head at this moment.)

One of the things I’ve noted as I talk to people about this virus is that don’t understand why people freak out when there’s 3, or 7, or even in the case of New York City, 300 cases in your community. Ah, my friend, that is what Amy is here to explain.

  • Why Amy’s the right person to talk to about this
  • Why Amy’s personally interested in the data around COVID-19
  • An explanation of some of the terms you’ve been hearing – R naught value and CFR
  • What COVID-19’s doubling time is
  • How we can #flattenthecurve

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did creating it. You can listen now, right here from this webpage by clicking the play button below.

Prefer Apple Podcasts? Android user? Go to Overcast here or Google Podcasts here. Pocket Casts? Radio Public? Something else? And of course, if you loved the episode, a review is always appreciated! 

EPISODE RESOURCES INCLUDE (affiliate links included):

Today’s Guest

Amy Simpkins

“Seriously, get your head around – it’s going to be awhile. And if it’s less than that while, we’ll all be super duper happy.”

Welcome to our community for leaders connecting to our already existing power so that we can remake the world through our work – whether that be for someone else or our own creations.

We help those who are looking to get a seat at the table or build their own in a way that matches their values so that they can use their powerful voices for good while also living lives that they love.

Sound interesting? We’d love for you to join us.

Join the free book club

About Amy Simpkins

Amy Simpkins is the Chief Executive Officer of MuGrid Analytics, and has over 15 years of experience in technical engineering and project management of complex systems and software.
Prior to joining muGrid, Amy was an engineer and spacecraft systems architect with Lockheed Martin, where she worked on advanced R&D and design integration for earth observing and manned spacecraft. In this capacity, she assessed architectural choices based on design performance, operational power constraints, and program finance. Amy also spent several years in flight operations for unmanned scientific exploration spacecraft, where she helped monitor and manage the solar array performance, energy storage systems, and power budgets of long duration deep space missions. Her technical expertise includes system and software architecture, system-level performance modeling, and design tradespace analysis.
Amy has coached and consulted on product innovation, business strategy, marketing, and sales for startups and small businesses in the renewable energy, healthcare, and SaaS sales spaces. She is an internationally recognized speaker on innovation and integration for entrepreneurs and is author of the book, Spiral: A Catalyst for Innovation and Expansion (Amazon). She holds an MS in Astronautical Engineering from the University of Southern California and an SB in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Connect with Amy:

If you liked this episode, check out:

Support the podcast

People like you keep The Notable Woman alive through your Patreon support! There are great perks at every level, starting from just $2/month.

People who support my work through their work:

Leave a voicemail for The Notable Woman!

Call my Google voice number at (213) 340-4231 ‬and leave a voicemail, and you might just find yourself in the next episode of The Notable Woman!

The Notable Woman Website

If you’re viewing these show notes from one of the platforms the podcast is distributed to, head on over to the website at www.yournotablelife.com for more resources, additional episodes, and more!

Intimate Partner Violence with Kelley Rainey

Intimate Partner Violence with Kelley Rainey

About this episode
Intimate partner violence. No matter what walk of life you come from, no matter how educated, intimate partner violence can affect you. Woman, man. Gay, straight. Black, white. Intimate partner violence does not discriminate.

In this episode of The Notable Woman Podcast, I interview Kelley Rainey, Director of Domestic Violence Programs for Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland, Inc. Kelley and I went to college together, and I have been impressed from afar in how committed she is to improving the lives of women through her work. When I asked her if she would do an interview with me, she immediately said, “YES!” and also that this topic, intimate partner violence, was what she wanted to speak with me about.

I truly love doing this podcast, and this is my favorite interview to date. We talk about a heavy, important, and impactful subject in a way that I think can help, not harm, while also being respectful and still having a laugh and a chuckle because that’s what we do.

This is an excellent resource for people who want to be better prepared for how intimate partner violence is already affecting their lives, if they’re concerned about someone they love and don’t know what to do, or just want to experience solidarity with a woman who cares about you and makes it her life’s work to say, “I see you.”

About Kelley Rainey
I see you.
Kelley Rainey , LGPC, is the Director of Domestic Violence Services for the Domestic Violence Unit with Family and Children’s Services (FCS). In her position with FCS, Kelley oversees the victims and offender programs offered by the Carroll County and Baltimore County offices as well as works one on one with clients for domestic violence education and support. Before this position, Kelley worked as a Court Advocate for victims of Intimate Partner Violence and assisted with presentations and training for the Lethality Assessment Program. Kelley has worked in a number of different positions in Carroll County since 2005 that have all been non-profits and community wellness related. Formerly, Kelley was a board member for Sylvia’s Acorn (great article here), a group that raises money for low-income families with atypical needs, and was President of the Westminster Carroll County Chapter of PFLAG, Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, from 2010 to 2014. In the Fall of 2015 Kelley was elected to the sit of the Board of Director’s for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.  Kelley is a 2008 graduate of McDaniel College, receiving her MA in Community Mental Health Counseling.
Episode Resources
Family and Children’s Services
Westminster Carroll County Chapter of PFLAG, Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence
McDaniel College
Pennsylvania case of intimate partner violence mentioned in this episode (story here)
Alabama case of intimate partner violence (story here)
http://www.thehotline.org/ > website can hide the fact that you’ve ever been there + safe escape
The hotline to call > 1-800-799-7233
Violence Against Women Act (drafted by Joe Biden’s office)
One Love Foundation
If you loved this podcast, check out…

Get involved with Feygele Jacobs

Get involved with Feygele Jacobs

About this episode
Fall in love with notable woman Feygele Jacobs in this episode of The Notable Woman podcast. Her main takeaway of this interview is “Get involved!” and she truly lives that mantra. I met Feygele when she volunteered at a jazz performance fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy at The Riverside Church, and we have stayed friends ever since. I even took this fabulous headshot of her when she started as CEO at RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF).

In this episode, we talk about Feygele’s job at the foundation and how a repeal of the Affordable Care Act might affect them, particularly because she and the organization focus on policy. We also talk about her beautiful mother, and how her mother influenced Feygele’s decision to go back to school. There’s also the beautiful love story of how Feygele’s mother and father met when they tried to return to their homes after the Holocaust. It’s a great story, and you know I’m a sucker for love.

This is a great episode for advocates, folks going back to school, boss notable woman, and anyone who loves a good story.


About Feygele Jacobs
Get involved. Get involved, get involved, get involved, stay involved. Pick your cause, pick your passion, it doesn’t matter what it is.
Feygele Jacobs is the President and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation (RCHN CHF). She provides overall leadership and management of Foundation programs, sets the Foundation’s strategic goals, and oversees program development. She also buys the coffee.

She came to RCHN CHF as EVP and Chief Operating Officer at its founding in 2005, after serving as executive vice president and chief of staff of the Ryan Community Health Network (RCHN) and CenterCare, Inc., a health center owned managed care plan serving low-income people across New York City. Prior to joining the RCHN family of organizations in 1997, her early career included positions in New York City’s and Boston’s public health care systems, and in hospital administration at the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, a major teaching hospital network in New York.

She is a graduate of Oberlin College (B.A.) and Columbia University (M.P.H., M.S.U.P.) and pursued post-graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also holds a certificate in Public Health Informatics from the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health, where she is a candidate for the DrPH in in Public Health Leadership. She presently serves on the boards of directors of National Center for Farmworker Health, CALL FOR HEALTH/UNA VOZ PARA LA SALUD and Community Health Ventures.

If you loved this podcast, check out…

“I Celebrate Myself”: An Interview with High School English Teacher Nicole Mustaccio

“I Celebrate Myself”: An Interview with High School English Teacher Nicole Mustaccio

Where did Nicole and I get the title of this interview? I’ll give you a hint. Nicole’s a high school English teacher! Still not sure? You’ll get the answer at the end of the interview…

When I was a kid, my Mom would always go through our religion workbooks at the beginning of the year. My sisters and I went to a Roman Catholic school. She probably went through our other books too, but I don’t remember that. What I do remember is that one year, her perusal of our books ended with us, my Mom, my older sister, and myself, in the living room together while she explained something I had never heard before. She said that we were going to start to hear that being gay was a sin in school, but that wasn’t something that we as a family believed. We, my mother firmly stated, know people are born that way and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My mother. The original Lady Gaga.

This conversation fascinated me for a number of reasons. People being gay wasn’t one of them. Mostly, I was fascinated that we could learn something in school that might be false. My little mind was blown.

Fast forward to a group email my high school friends and I were sending around while we were all in college at different schools. (This was before Facebook… You know, in the Stone Age.) My one friend, a smart, savvy lady, was playing what I fondly call “the pronoun game” in our email. She was telling us about the person she was dating and using “they.” My dear, I know you know your pronouns. I talked to my good friend Jackie on AIM and said, “She’s pronoun gaming us! What should we do?” And we decided that I would reply back to her alone and say we know what you’re doing and we love you whomever you’re dating. We always want your happiness and aren’t even remotely concerned or fazed or whatever you think we might be. And wasn’t she relieved that she didn’t have to play games with her oldest friends?!?!

And just a few years after that, I had the privilege of officiating the marriage of that friend to her love Nicole Mustaccio.

Nicole Mustaccio is an English teacher in the New Jersey public school system, and she is out about her sexual orientation. She is married to a wonderful woman and mother to two delightful sons. One is named after one of her favorite literary greats, Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet known for the epic Divine Comedy, and her second son, Austin, is an amazing young man who is attending Nicole’s alma mater West Chester University. Nicole loves Hamlet, coaches softball, and gets writers’ cramp every Fall as she writes out hundreds of college recommendations. She is (unfortunately, according to me) a huge Cowboys fan! I talked to Nicole about her experience as a teacher in the United States public school system.

Good day, Nicole! Thank you for chatting with me today!
The pleasure is all mine!

When did you first know you wanted to be a teacher?
Most teachers say that they always wanted to be a teacher since they were a little kid. They would “play school” with their friends and would always be the teacher, assigning homework and such. I was not one of those people, actually. I always loved literature and it really wasn’t until my Junior year of high school when I entered Mrs. Magro-Croul’s British Literature class that I thought about being a teacher. She had a way of teaching that engaged her students, made them passionate about the works of literature, and most importantly, taught her students how to be good people. All of those were things I wanted to do as well. I’ve always had a passion for helping people and figured I could do that and teach literature at the same time! After graduating high school, I actually was a Physical Therapy major for about a semester, until I realized that teaching was my calling and my passion. I changed my major, to English Literature and went on to get my Masters in English Literature and my Masters in Secondary Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction.

What are the best and worst parts of being a teacher?
The best part of teaching is helping the students make connections to works of literature through the characters and their actions. I also have an amazing opportunity to teach my students about the importance of being themselves, compassion, sympathy, empathy, acceptance, and to “do good in this world.” One of my former students truly summed up what I think the best part of being a teacher is when she wrote to me, “”The lesson I learned in Ms.Mustaccio’s class was one I don’t know if she meant to teach. But with two years with her I started to pick up on little things she taught us that I would use in my everyday life. She unconsciously taught me how to believe in myself more. That I am more than what I feel I’m worth. I am more than my past and more than what people tell me I am. I am worth it. I should be more confident in myself. My writing is better than I think and so is my art. She taught me to be myself and love who I am. I cannot change who I am. I’m weird, I’m silly, I’m loud, I’m protective, and I can be rash. But I learned to love that. I learned I was not meant to be invisible. I was meant to be me. I really don’t know how Ms. Mustaccio did it, but she helped me become comfortable with who I am. And once I learned that, things started to fall into place for me. I’m still awkward and silly, but I love that about myself. And she taught me others will love that about me as well. I thank her for teaching me this.”

This right here is the best part of teaching!

The worst part about being a teacher has to be the lack of respect from not only my friends and family, but also the community and society. People think that teaching is easy, teachers get paid way too much, and they don’t work “full-time.” Honestly, not sure what is so easy about teaching Hamlet to 17 and 18 year olds, but anyway. And for the record, I work 3 jobs during the school year and then tutor in the summer and many of my colleagues do the same.

Oh, and my enormous class sizes aren’t fun when I have essays to grade in a short amount of time.

What is the biggest misconception your students’ parents have about you and their children’s teachers?
I’m not quite sure how to answer that one as I’ve been lucky to have very supportive parents whether it’s in the classroom or on the softball field. I can say that I think that, in general, I think that many parents think that teachers don’t work hard enough, or grade fairly. Those are just guesses though.

Did you come out as a gay woman after you were already teaching at your current school or were you already out?
When I first started teaching at my current school in 2008, I did not come out at all. I was coming from teaching at a Catholic High School, where I definitely could not come out as well. I chose to wait until I was tenured to come out about my sexual orientation. My biggest concern was not being tenured if I came out. When you’re a non-tenured teacher, your contract cannot be renewed and the school board and administration does not have to tell you why, so I chose to wait until I was tenured. Only about 2 or 3 of my colleagues knew before I came out.

And, how awkward a question is that for me to even ask? Certainly, I don’t announce my straightness in my job interviews. 
I agree, it’s a shame because being tenured should be based on my teaching abilities not my sexual orientation. I’m hoping one day, this question won’t even need to be asked.

How do your students respond to your sexual orientation? Does it even come up?
Honestly, it does not come up much now, thankfully. The students in the school know because I will talk about my wife as casually as straight teachers talk about their spouses. In fact, on the first day of school, I will bring up my wife and sons and tell my students if they ever have any questions, to just ask. I’m open about it because I want them to realize that I’m no different than anyone else. And I believe asking questions takes away stereotypes and opens the door to true understanding. Every once in a while, I’ll get a student who will react but it’s almost always in a positive way. I do remember one time I had to “come out” in class. We were discussing, Dante’s “Inferno”, of course, and I was talking about how Dante was banned from the Catholic Church for a long time because he put popes and priests in Hell. One of my students said that all priests should be in hell because they were gay and mentioned the news about many priest and their child abuse scandal. This kid was associating the gay community with child abusers. At that point, I had to out myself so that he could understand that there is clearly no connection at all between being gay and child abuse! The class reaction was positive and we ended up have a meaningful discussion about stereotypes, stigmas, and other things. It was definitely a teachable moment. After class, the student approached me and apologized and told me I was the only gay person he knew. His family was not as accepting and he was just spewing what his family said. However, after talking to me he realized that what he said was hurtful and he will look at the gay community differently and accept them with love and compassion.

Another powerful teachable moment I had was in 2015. My school had an assembly with the family of Tyler Clementi. (Cristin’s note: Learn more about Tyler’s story here.) The assembly focused on bullying, especially bullying of the LGBTQ students. It was a very powerful assembly and I knew I wanted to discuss this with my class. With every class I had, I talked to them about how horrible my high school experience was with bullying. I was constantly pushed into lockers and called horrible names, all by one person. I felt it was important to tell my students this so that they realize the impact of their actions. I then let my students ask me anything (within reason) about me, my family, and anything else. Their questions were thoughtful, and we ended up having such a tremendous discussion and I truly believe that it affected my students in a powerful and positive way. One of my students told me that that class discussion had more of an impact on her than the assembly because I am someone who she respects and admires and hearing about what I went through made her want to step up and stop bullying.

How about your colleagues, fellow teachers and administrators?
I’ve been very lucky that once I came out I have been welcomed by my work family. My colleagues love my wife and sons. We are treated no differently than a straight couple. It’s very nice to be able to not worry about being targeted for being gay. It allows me to focus on my students and my lessons.

Do you and your family attend school events together?
Yes, my family and I attend as many school events as possible. My students get excited to see Dante because there’s always a different picture of him on my computer constantly. They always greet my wife with open arms and end up talking to her more than me. When I’m coaching, my wife will bring Dante to the games and my softball girls will invite him into the dugout, give him high-fives and play with him after the game. The parents are amazing as well. They have welcomed my wife as part of their group and love to sit and talk with her and play with Dante while the game is going on. I’m extremely lucky to have such loving and accepting players, students, and parents. The families even threw my wife and I a baby shower! It makes doing my job about a million times easier.

I’m not too familiar with the laws over in NJ land. Were you able to take leave when your wife had your son? 
I could have taken a family leave for about 6 weeks but would have lost some of my pay and with my wife on maternity leave, we couldn’t afford it. However, since Dante was born in May and that is right in the middle of my softball season, I could only take 5 days off. Definitely not enough time but I signed a contract to coach so there was nothing I could do.

I work while my husband stays at home with our son, and I get a ridiculous amount of stupid assumptions followed by even stupider questions. I have to imagine the same happens to you with Dante having two moms. Am I wrong there? Are people even more socially aware than I think they are? 
There are tons of assumptions people make about us. While most people don’t even react when I say “my wife and I,” I do get a lot of negative comments since Dante is not biologically mine. Some of the most ignorant are the ones that say that “So, Dante is not truly your son then?” Or “Ok, it makes sense since he isn’t biologically yours, because he doesn’t look like you at all!” Look, both of my amazing and awesome sons are not biologically mine but that doesn’t matter. Being biologically related to your child doesn’t automatically mean you’re a mom. I’m a mom because I love my sons with every ounce of my being, I’m protective of them, although Austin would say I’m a bit “too protective” at times, and would do anything and everything for them. I always say, “You don’t have to be blood to be family.” When I hear comments like that, I realize that there is still a lot of work to do to stray away from the stereotypical Mom and Dad family. We always tell Dante that he has two mommies and some kids have only one mom or one dad, or two dads, and none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that we love you very much.

What’s great or maybe sad, not sure, is that these negative comments always come from adults not kids. Kids don’t care as much. We were at one of my softball games and Dante and my wife were playing on the swings and a kid came up to her and Dante and here’s the conversation:

Kid: Dante is here with his mom right?

My Wife: Yes.

Kid: Then, who are you?

My wife: I’m Dante’s mommy too. Dante has two mommies.

Kid: Oh, that’s cool. I only have a mom and I help her out around the house a lot. Can Dante come play on the slide with me?

Sometimes I wish adults thought more like kids, there would be a lot less hatred in the world.

What would be your advice for someone who wants to come out at work? 
Do it when you’re ready. There’s no timeline for when you have to come out IF you choose to come out at all. The choice is completely yours and yours alone.

I know that my experience is different than someone else’s but you’ll be glad when you do come out. You’ll be more confident in yourself and your ability at your job and there will be a sense of relief that you don’t have to hide things anymore. Of course be careful too, not every school district or work place is as accepting as mine so make sure you don’t put yourself in danger or jeopardy. If that’s the case, maybe start looking for new job.

Overall, do you think we as a society are heading in the right direction when it comes to equal rights? 
I want to believe we are but then again we are still dealing with the ignorant and hateful law in North Carolina and many other states. And just recently, the Pulse nightclub shooting where the LGBTQ community was targeted for just being who they are. There is a lot more fighting to do. That is one reason why I am so openly out at school. I want to change people’s perceptions, to go against the stereotypes and most importantly show my LGBTQ students that it’s ok to be who you are and as cliché as it sounds, “It can and does get better.” Your true friends and family will love and accept you. And if they don’t, then you’ve got a teacher right here who will.

I can’t not ask you this. I am a bookworm for heaven’s sake! What’s the one book/work/play we should all revisit from our high school days?
HAMLET!!!! There’s so much in it about exploring identity within yourself, within others, morality, mortality, justice, revenge. I could go on for about 15 minutes about it.

Also, 1984, that book is so especially relevant within our society today.

Thank you so much, Nicole. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.

“I celebrate myself” is a quote from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.

About Nicole Mustaccio

Nicole Mustaccio is an English teacher in the New Jersey public school system. She’s an alumni of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown with her BA in English Literature and also has two Masters degrees, one in English Literature and a second in Secondary Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, both from West Chester University. She is married to a wonderful woman and mother to two delightful sons. One is named after one of her favorite literary greats, Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet known for the epic Divine Comedy, and her second son, Austin, is an amazing young man who is attending Nicole’s alma mater West Chester University. Nicole loves Hamlet, coaches softball with 2 years as the Junior Varsity head coach and now 2 years as the Varsity Assistant Coach, and gets writers’ cramp every Fall as she writes out hundreds of college recommendations. She is a huge Cowboys fan and has an obsession with the Golden Girls, as she notes, “People need to be aware of how awesome this show is.”