Words Carry Power – Approaching Inclusive Language with Kate Marshall

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Building Global Love Bubbles with Anne Griffin


01:48 – Kate’s Superpower: Empathy

  • Absorbing Energy
  • Setting Healthy Energetic Boundaries
  • Authenticity
  • Intent vs Impact

10:46 – Words and Narratives Carry Power; Approaching Inclusive Language

  • Taking Action After Causing Harm
  • Get Specific, But Don’t Overthink
  • Practice Makes Progress
  • Normalize Sharing Pronouns
  • Gender Expresion Does Not Always Equal Gender Identity

21:27 – Approaching Inclusive Language in the Written Word

29:18 – Creating Safe Places, Communities, and Environments

  • Absorbing and Asking
  • Authenticity (Cont’d)
  • Adaptation to Spaces
  • Shifting Energy

42:34 – Building Kula While Working in Tech

  • Community Care, Mutual Aid-Centered Model
  • Using Privilege to Pave the Way For More People
  • Alignment

Reflections:

John: The dichotomy between perfectionism and authenticity.

Arty: Words carry power.

Kate: Having an open heart is how you can put any of this into action.

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Transcript:

PRE-ROLL: Software is broken, but it can be fixed. Test Double’s superpower is improving how the world builds software by building both great software and great teams. And you can help! Test Double is hiring empathetic senior software engineers and DevOps engineers. We work in Ruby, JavaScript, Elixir and a lot more. Test Double trusts developers with autonomy and flexibility at a remote, 100% employee-owned software consulting agency. Looking for more challenges? Enjoy lots of variety while working with the best teams in tech as a developer consultant at Test Double. Find out more and check out remote openings at link.testdouble.com/greater. That’s link.testdouble.com/greater.

JOHN: Welcome to Greater Than Code. I’m John Sawers and I’m here with Arty Starr.

ARTY: Thanks, John. And I’m here with our guest today, Kate Marshall.

Kate is a copywriter and inclusivity activist living in Denver. Since entering tech 4 years ago, she’s toured the marketing org from paid efforts to podcast host, eventually falling in love with the world of copy. With this work, she hopes to make the web a more welcoming place using the power of words. Outside of Webflow, you’ll find Kate opening Kula, a donation-based yoga studio, and bopping around the Mile High City with her partner, Leah.

Welcome to the show, Kate.

KATE: Hi, thank you so much!

ARTY: So we always start our shows with our famous first question. What is your superpower and how did you acquire it?

KATE: My superpower, I’ve been thinking about this. My superpower is empathy. It can also be one of my biggest downfalls [laughs], which I actually think happens more often than not with any superpower. I once heard from a child, actually, they always seem to know best that too much of the good, good is bad, bad.

[laughter]

So it turns out sometimes too much empathy can be too overwhelming for my system, but it has really driven everything that I’ve done in my career and my personal life.

As for how I acquired it, I don’t know that you can really acquire empathy. I think it’s just something you have, or you don’t. I’ve always been extremely intuitive and if you’re going through something, it’s likely that I can feel it. So I think I’m just [laughs] I hate to steal Maybelline’s line, but I think I was born with it.

JOHN: You talked about having a downside there and I’ve heard – and I’m curious, because most people talk about empathy as a positive thing and wanting more people to develop more empathy, but I’d to love hear you talk a little bit more about what you see the downsides are.

KATE: Yeah. As someone who struggles with her own mental health issues, it can be really overwhelming for me to really take on whatever it is you’re going through. Especially if it’s a loved one, you tend to care more about what they’re feeling, or what they’re going through and an empath truly does absorb the energy of what’s happening around them.

So although, it does influence a lot of the work that I do, both in my full-time career and opening my yoga studio and everything in between, it’s also hard sometimes to set those boundaries, to set healthy, really energetic boundaries. It’s hard enough to voice your boundaries to people, but setting energetic boundaries is a whole other ballgame. So it can tend to feel overwhelming at times and bring you down if the energy around you is lower than what you want it to be.

ARTY: So what kind of things do you do to try and set healthy, energetic boundaries?

KATE: Ah. I do a lot of what some people would call, including myself, woo-woo practices. [chuckles] Obviously, I practice yoga. I teach yoga. I’m super passionate about holistic, or energetic healing so I go to Reiki regularly. I’m in therapy, talk therapy. All of those things combined help me build this essentially an energetic shield that I can psych myself up to use any time I’m leaving the apartment. If it feels a high energy day, or if I’m meeting up with a friend who I know is going through something, I really have to set those boundaries is.

Same thing kind of at work, too. So much of the time that we spend in our lives is spent at work, or interacting with coworkers or colleagues and same thing. Everyone’s going through their own journey and battles, and you have to carry that energetic shield around you wherever you go.

JOHN: One way I’ve often thought about having those sort of boundaries is the more I know who I am, the more what the limits of me are and the barrier between me and the universe is. So the work that I do, which includes therapy and other things, to understand myself better and to feel like I know what’s me and what’s not me, helps me have those boundaries. Because then I know if there’s something going on with someone else and I can relate to it, but not get swept up by it.

KATE: Yeah. It’s so funny you say that because I was actually just having a conversation with a friend a couple weeks ago that has really stuck with me. I was kind of feeling like I was messing up, essentially. Like I was not fully able to honor, or notice all of the triggers of the people around me. I think especially at the end of the year and as a queer person who is surrounded by queer community, it can be really tough around the holidays.

So that energy can just be generally more charged and I was finding it difficult to reconcile with my idea of perfection in that I really want to honor every person around me who has triggers, who has boundaries that maybe haven’t been communicated, and it almost feels like you’re almost always crossing some sort of line, especially when you’re putting those perfectionism expectations on yourself.

My friend was like, “I don’t think it’s as much about being perfect at it as much as it is feeling like you’re being authentically yourself and really authentically interacting with those people.” I don’t know if I can really voice what the connection is between being able to honor triggers and boundaries of the people around you and feeling like your authentic self, but there’s something about it that feels really connected to me. As long as you’re trying your best and feeling like you’re coming from a place of love, or connection, or compassion, or empathy whatever feels most to you, that’s really all we can do, right?

JOHN: Yeah. I feel like that authenticity is such a tricky concept because the thoughts that you’re having about wanting to be perfect and take care of everyone and make sure you’re not triggering anybody and not stepping on any of your own things, that’s also part of you that is authentically you. You may not want it to be that way, but it still is. [laughs].

ARTY: Yeah.

JOHN: So I still don’t have a really clear sense in my mind what authenticity really is. I think probably it settles down to being a little bit more in the moment, rather than up in the thinking, the judging, the worrying, and being able to be present rather than – [overtalk]

ARTY: Totally.

JOHN: Those other things, but it is tricky.

KATE: Yeah. It can be tricky. Humans, man.

[laughter]

It really is like being a human and part of the human experience is going to be triggering other people. It’s going to be causing harm. It’s going to be causing trauma to other humans. That’s just part of it.

I think the more you can get comfy with that idea and then also just really feeling like you’re doing everything you can to stay connected to your core, which usually is in humans is a place of love. You’re rooted in love for the people around you. How could you criticize yourself too much when you know that you’re coming from that place?

ARTY: I feel like things change, too as you get feedback. In the context of any intimate relationship where you’ve got emotionally connected relationship with another person where you are more unguarded and you’re having conversations about things that are more personal, that have at least the potential to hurt and cause harm. Like sometimes we do things not meaning to and we end up hurting someone else accidentally, but once that happens—and hopefully, you have an open dialogue where you have a conversation about these things and learn about these things and adapt—then I think the thing to do is honor each person as an individual of we’re all peoples and then figure out well, what can we do to adapt how we operate in this relationship and look out for both people’s best interests and strive for a win-win.

If we don’t try and do that, like if we do things that we know we’re harming someone else and we’re just like, “Well, you should just put up with that,” [laughs], or whatever. I think that’s where it becomes problematic is at the same time, we all have our own limitations and sometimes, the best thing to do is this relationship doesn’t work. The way that we interact causes mutual harm and we can’t this a win-win relationship and the best thing to do sometimes is to separate, even though it hurts because it’s not working.

KATE: Yeah. I feel like sometimes it’s a classic case of intent versus impact, too. Like what’s your intention going into a conversation and then how does that end up actually impacting that person and how can you honor that and learn from that?

That’s actually one thing that I love so much about being a writer is that words do carry so much power—written word, spoken word, whatever it is. They hold so much power and they can cause harm whether we want them to, or not. Part of being an empath is caring a lot about people’s lived experiences and I really see it as more than putting – being a writer and doing this every day, I see it so much more than just putting words on a page and hoping signs up for the beta, or watches the thing registers, or the conference. It’s words can foster connection, words can build worlds for people; they can make people feel like they belong and I believe that I’m on this planet to foster that connection with each other and with ourselves.

So it all connects for me. It all comes back around whether we’re talking about being in a romantic relationship, or our relationship with our parents, or our caregivers, or the work that I do every day it all comes back to that connection and really wanting to make people feel more connected to themselves, to each other, and like they have a place with words.

ARTY: Yeah. It’s very powerful. Words and narratives, I would say too, just thinking about the stories that we tell ourselves, the stories that we tell one another that become foundational in our culture. It’s all built upon were words. Words shape the ideas in our head. They shape our thoughts. They shape how we reflect on things, how we feel about things, and then when people give us their words, we absorb those and then those become part of our own reflections.

KATE: Yeah.

ARTY: We affect one another a lot. I think that’s one of the things I’m just seeing and talking to you is just thinking about how much we affect one another through our everyday interactions.

KATE: Yeah, and I think a lot of this comes down to – there’s something you said earlier that resonated in that it’s really about the action you take after you cause the harm, or after you say the thing that hurts the other person and it’s less about – and that’s what made me say intent versus impact because you see the impact, you acknowledge it, and you make a decision to lessen that next time, or to be aware, more aware next time.

This is really at the core of all the work I do for inclusive language as well. It’s just the core principle of the words we use carry a lot of power.

And I was actually just chatting with someone in the No-Code space. We connected through Webflow a couple weeks ago and he said, “I think people are so scared to get it wrong when it comes to inclusive language,” and I experience this all the time. People freeze in their tracks because they don’t know how address someone and then they’re so scared to get it wrong and they’re like, “Oh, so sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” and they’re so apologetic. And then that makes it worse and it’s just a whole thing.

In this conversation, we were talking specifically about misgendering people. My partner is non-binary. They’re misgendered every single day when we go to restaurants, when we are just out and about. So this is something that is a part of my life every day. I told him that fear is so real and I carry that fear, too because I don’t want to hurt people because I want to like get it right. It comes back to that perfectionism, that expectation that I put on myself, especially as a queer person to get it right all the time.

But so much of the good stuff lies in how you approach it and then how you fix it when you mess it up. Like, it’s not so much about the thing, it’s about the way that you approach it. If you approach inclusive language with an open mind, an open heart, and a real willingness, like true willingness to learn, that’s what’s important going into it and then you’re already doing the work. You’re already an ally. You’re already however you want to put it.

And then when you use an ableist word, or you use a racist word, or you misgender someone, your actions for following that speak volumes. I think we can really get caught up in the action itself and it’s more about how you go into it and then how you try to fix it.

ARTY: So I’m thinking for listeners that might identify with being in a situation of being in the headlights and not knowing how to respond, or what to do. Other than what you were just talking about with coming at it with an open heart, are there any specific recommendations you might have for how to approach inclusive language?

KATE: Yeah. Yeah, I have a couple really, really good ones. So often, the way to speak more inclusively, or to write more inclusively is just to get more specific about what you’re trying to say. So instead of saying, “Oh, that’s so crazy,” which is ableist, you can say, “Oh, that’s so unheard of.” That’s a good example. Or instead of unnecessarily gendering something you’re saying like, “Oh, I’m out of wine, call the waitress over.” It’s server instead of waiter, or waitress.

You kind of start to essentially practice replacing these words and these concepts that are so ingrained into who we are, into society at large, and really starting to disrupt those systems within us with challenging the way that we’ve described things in the past. So just essentially getting more specific when we’re speaking.

When it comes to misgendering people specifically, it’s really important to not be overly apologetic when you misgender someone. I can give an example. If a server, for example, comes up to me and my partner and says, “Can I get you ladies anything else?” And I say, “Oh, actually my partner uses they/them pronouns. They are not a lady,” and they say, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Oh shit!” And then that makes my partner feel bad [chuckles] for putting them in that position and then it’s kind of this like ping pong back and forth of just bad feelings.

The ideal scenario, the server would say, “Oh, excuse me, can I get you all anything else?” Or, “Can I get you folks anything else?” Or just, if you’re speaking about someone who uses they/them pronouns and you say, “Yeah, and I heard she, I mean, they did this thing.” You just quickly correct it and move on. Don’t make it into a production. It’s okay. We get it. Moving on. Just try not to overthink it, basically. [laughs] Get more specific, but don’t overthink it. Isn’t that like, what a dichotomy.

[laughter]

JOHN: That ties back to what you were saying about perfectionism also, right? Like you said, you freeze up if you try and be perfect about it all the time, because you can’t always know what someone’s pronouns are and so, you have to make a guess at some point and maybe you’re going to guess wrong. But it’s how you deal with it by not making everybody uncomfortable with the situation. [laughs]

KATE: Yeah.

JOHN: And like you said, ping pong of bad feelings just amplifies, the whole thing blows out of proportion. You can just be like, “Oh, my apologies.” Her, they, whatever it is and then very quickly move on and then it’s forgotten the next minute. Everything moves on from that, but you’re not weeping and gnashing and –

[laughter]

KATE: Yeah.

JOHN: Well, it means you don’t have to keep feeling bad about it for the next 3 days either, like everyone can move on from that point.

KATE: Right. Yeah, and just doing your best to not do it again.

JOHN: Yeah.

KATE: Once you learn, it’s important to really let that try to stick. If you’re having trouble, I have a friend who really has trouble with they/them pronouns and they practice with their dog. They talk to their dog about this person and they use they/them pronouns in that. Practice really does make perfect in this – not perfect, okay. Practice really does make progress in this kind of scenario and also, normalize sharing pronouns.

JOHN: Yeah.

KATE: It’s more than just putting it in your Zoom name. It’s more than just putting it in your Instagram bio. A good example of really starting this conversation was during Webflow’s No-Code Conf, our yearly conference. It was mostly online and we had a live portion of it and every single time we introduced someone new, or introduced ourselves, we said, “My name is Kate Marshall, my pronouns are she/her, and I’m so happy to be here with you today.” Or just asking if you don’t know, or if you’re in a space with someone new, you say, “What are your pronouns?” It’s really is that easy.

Webflow made some year-round pride mech that we launched over the summer and we have a cute beanie that says “Ask me my pronouns.” It’s like, it’s cool to ask. It’s fine to ask and that’s so much better than unintentionally misgendering someone. It’s going to take some time to get there, but normalize it.

JOHN: Yeah, and I think there’s one key to that that has always stuck out of my mind, which is don’t ask pronouns just for the people you think might have different pronouns than you would expect.

KATE: Yes.

JOHN: Make it part of all the conversations so it’s not just singling somebody out of a group and saying, “I want to know your pronouns because they’re probably different.” That’s not good.

KATE: Right, because gender expression does not always equal gender identity.

JOHN: Yeah.

KATE: You can’t know someone’s gender identity from the way that they express their gender and that’s also another huge misconception that I think it’s time we talk more about.

JOHN: So we’ve been talking a lot about conversations and person-to-person interactions and inclusive language there. But a lot of what you do is it on the writing level and I imagine there’s some differences there. So I’m curious as to what you see as far as the things that you do to work on that in the written form.

KATE: Yeah. So this is actually a really great resource that I was planning on sharing with whoever’s listening, or whoever’s following along this podcast. There is a really wonderful inclusive language guidelines that we have published externally at Webflow and I own it, I update it regularly as different things come in and inclusive language is constantly evolving. It will never be at a final resting point and that’s also part of why I love it so much because you truly are always growing. I’m always learning something new about inclusive language, or to make someone feel more included with the words that I’m writing.

This table has, or this resource has ableist language, racist language, and sexist language tables with words to avoid, why to avoid them, and some alternatives and just some general principles. I reference it constantly. Like I said, it’s always evolving. I actually don’t know how many words are on there, but it’s a good amount and it’s a lot of things have been surfaced to me that I had no idea were racist. For instance, the word gypped. Like if you say, “Oh, they gypped me” is actually racist. It’s rooted in the belief that gypsy people are thieves. [chuckles] So it’s things like that we really kind of go deep in there and I reference this constantly.

Also, ALS language is a really big consideration, especially in the tech space. So instead of – and this can be avoided most of the time, not all of the time. We do work with a really wonderful accessibility consultant who I run things by constantly. Shout out to Michele. Oh, she was actually on the podcast at one point. Michele Williams, shout out. Lovely human.

So a good example is instead of “watch now,” or “listen now,” it’s “explore this thing,” “browse this thing,” “learn more”. Just try not to get so specific about the way that someone might be consuming the information that I’m putting down on the page. Stuff like that. It truly does come down to just getting more specific as just a general principle.

JOHN: So it sounds to me some of the first steps you take are obviously being aware that you have to mold your language to be more accessible and inclusive, then it’s informing yourself of what the common pitfalls are. As you said, you have consultants, you’ve got guides, you’ve got places where you can gather this information and then once you have that, then you build that into your mental process for writing what you’re writing.

KATE: Yeah, and truly just asking questions and this goes for everyone. No one would ever – if I reached out to our head of DEI, Mariah, and said, “Mariah, is this thing offensive?” Or, “How should I phrase this thing to feel more inclusive to more people?” She would never come back at me and say, “Why are you asking me this? You should already know this,” and that is the attitude across the board. I would never fault someone for coming to me and asking me how to phrase something, or how to write something to make it feel better for more people. So it’s really a humbling experience [laughs] to be in this position.

Again, words carry so much power and I just never take for granted, the power essentially that I have, even if it is just for a tech company. A lot of people are consuming that and I want to make them feel included.

JOHN: Yeah. The written face of a company is going to tell readers a lot about the culture of the company, the culture of the community around the product.

KATE: Yeah.

JOHN: Whether they’re going to be welcome there, like what their experience is going to be like if they invest their time to learn about it. So it’s really important to have that language there and woven into everything that’s written, not just off the corner on the DEI page.

KATE: Yeah. That’s what I was just about to say is especially if you’re a company that claims to prioritize DEI, you better be paying close attention to the words that you’re using in your product, on your homepage, whatever it is, your customer support. I’ve worked with the customer support team at Webflow to make sure that the phrasing feels good for people.

It truly does trickle into every single asset of a business and it’s ongoing work that does not just end at, like you said, putting it on a DEI page. Like, “We care about this,” and then not actually caring about it. That sucks. [laughs]

JOHN: Oh, the other thing before we move too far on from last topic, you’re talking about asking for advice. I think one of the keys there, a, being humble and just saying, “I would like to know,” and you’re very unlikely to get criticized for simply asking how something can be better. But I feel like one of the keys to doing that well is also not arguing with the person you’ve asked after they give you an answer.

KATE: Right. Yes. Especially if that person is a part of the community that your words are affecting, or that your question is affecting. It’s such a tricky balance because it’s really not the queer community’s job to educate people who are not queer about inclusive language. But when that person is willing to share their knowledge with the you, or willing to share their experience with you, you’ve got to listen. Your opinions about their lived experience don’t come into that conversation, or shouldn’t come into that conversation.

It’s not questioning the information that you’re given, but then it’s also taking that and doing your own research and asking more people and having conversations with your friends and family trying to widen this breadth of information and knowledge as a community. Like I said, kind of dismantling the things that we’re taught growing up by capitalism, by society, everything that kind of unnecessarily separates and then doing better next time.

I’ve actually had conversations with people who are very curious, who come to me with questions and then the next time I interact with them, they’re just back to factory settings. That’s so disappointing and just makes me feel like my energy could have been better spent having that conversation with someone who is more receptive. So I think it really is just about being open to hearing someone’s experience, not questioning it, and then really taking that in and doing the work on your own.

JOHN: Yeah, and part of that doing the work is also for the things that you can Google for the things where you can look at it from the guide, do that first before asking for someone’s time.

KATE: Yeah.

JOHN: So that they’re not answering the same 101 questions every time that are just written in 15 different blog posts.

KATE: Yes. Especially if you’re asking a marginalized person to do the work for you.

JOHN: Yeah.

KATE: Intersectionality matters and putting more work on the shoulders of people who are already weighed down by so much ain’t it. [laughs]

ARTY: Well, I was wanting to go back to your original superpower that you talked about with empathy. We talked a lot about some of these factors that make empathy of a difficult thing of over empathizing and what kind of factors make that hard. But as a superpower, what kind of superpowers does that give you?

KATE: Ah, just being able to really connect to a lot of different people. I mentioned earlier that I believe it’s my purpose, it’s my life’s work on this planet at this time to connect people to themselves and to each other. The more asking I can do and the more absorbing I can do of other people’s experiences, the better I am at being able to connect with them and being able to make them feel like they belong in whatever space I’m in. I can’t connect with someone if I don’t try and get it. Try and get what they’re going through, or what their experiences are.

That’s why I do so much time just talking to people, and that’s why I love yoga and why I want to start this studio and open this space. Because we live in a world where we don’t have a lot of spaces, especially marginalized communities don’t have a lot of spaces that feel like they’re being understood, or they’re truly being heard, or seen. Me being an empath, I’m able to access that in people more and therefore, bringing them closer to safer spaces, or safer people, safer communities where they really feel like they can exist and be their full, whole, and complete selves. It’s really special.

ARTY: We also touched this concept of authenticity and it seems like that also comes up in this context of creating these safe spaces and safe communities where people can be their whole selves. So when you think about authenticity, we talked about this being a difficult and fuzzy word, but at the same time, it does have some meaning as to what that means, and these challenges with regards to boundaries and things. But I’m curious, what does authenticity mean to you? How does that come into play with this idea of safety and creating these safe spaces for others as well?

KATE: Yeah. I feel like there’s so much in there. I think one of the biggest things to accept about the word authenticity, or the concept of authenticity is that it’s always changing and it means something different to everyone. We are all authentic to ourselves in different ways and at different times in our lives and I think it’s so important to honor the real evolution of feeling authentic.

There are times and days where I’m like who even am. It’s like what even, but there’s always this sort of core, root part of me that I don’t lose, which is what we’ve been talking about. This ability to connect, this feeling of empathy, of compassion, of wanting to really be a part of the human experience. That, to me, kind of always stays and I feel like that’s the authentic, like the real, real, authentic parts of me.

There are layers to it that are always changing and as people, we are also always evolving and always changing. So those different parts of authenticity could be what you wear that make you feel like your most authentic self. It can be how you interact with your friends, or how you interact with the person, getting your popcorn at the movies, or whatever it is. Those can all feel like parts of your authentic self.

That means something different to everyone. But I think that’s such a beautiful part about it and about just being human is just how often these things are changing for us and how important it is to honor someone’s authenticity, whatever that means for them at that time. Even if it’s completely different from what you knew about them, or how you knew them before. It’s this constant curiosity of yourself and of others, really getting deeply curious about what feels like you.

ARTY: I was wondering about safety because you were talking about the importance of creating these safe communities and safe environments where people could be their whole, complete selves, which sounds a lot like the authenticity thing, but you trying to create space for that for others.

KATE: Yeah. Well, the reality of safety is that there’s no one space that will ever be a “safe space for everyone,” and that’s why I like to say safer spaces, or a safer space for people because you can never – I feel like it’s all coming full circle where you can never meet every single person exactly where they need to be met in any given moment. You can just do your best to create spaces that feel safer to them and you do that with authentic connection, with getting curious about who they are and what they love, and just making sure that your heart’s really in it. [chuckles] Same with inclusive language.

It’s all about the way you approach it to make someone feel safer. But I do think it’s an I distinction to remember. You’re never going to be safe for everyone. A space you create is never going to be safe for everyone. The best you can do is just make it safer for more people.

ARTY: When I think about just the opposite of that, of times that I’ve gone into a group where I haven’t felt safe being myself and then when you talk of about being your complete whole self, it’s like bringing a whole another level of yourself to a space that may not really fit that space and that seems like it’s okay, too. Like we don’t necessarily have to bring our full self to all these different spaces, but whatever space we’re a part of, we kind of sync up and adapt to it.

So if I’m in one space and I feel the kind of vibe, energy, context of what’s going on, how people are interacting, the energy they put forth when they speak with whatever sorts of words that they use. I’m going to feel that and adapt to that context of what feels safe and then as more people start adapting to that, it creates a norm that other people that then come and see what’s going on in this group come to an understanding about what the energy in the room is like.

KATE: Yeah.

ARTY: And all it takes is one person to bring a different energy into that to shift the whole dynamic of things.

KATE: Yeah. The reality is you’ll never be able to change every space and I think that’s such a good point. It makes me feel like saying you have to be protective of your energy. If you go into a space and it just doesn’t feel right, or there’s someone who is in the room that doesn’t feel safe to you, or that doesn’t feel like they’re on the same page as you, it’s okay to not feel like you need to change the world in that space. Like you don’t always have to go into a space and say, “I’m going to change it.” That is how change is made when you feel safe enough. That’s why it’s so important to foster that energy from the jump.

That’s just a foundational thing at a company in a yoga studio, in a home, at a restaurant. It can be changed, but it really should be part of the foundation of making a safer space, or a more inclusive space. Because otherwise, you’re asking the people who don’t feel safe, who are usually marginalized people, or intersectionally marginalized in some way. You’re asking them essentially to put in the work to change what you should have done as the foundation of your space.

So it’s a such a delicate balance of being protective of your energy and really being able to feel out the places where you feel okay saying something, or making a change, or just saying, “No, this isn’t worth it for me. I’m going to go find a space that actually feels a little bit better, or that I feel more community in.”

ARTY: And it seems like the other people that are in the group, how those people respond to you. If you shift your energy, a lot of times the people that are in the group will shift their energy in kind. Other times, in a different space, you might try to shift energy and then there’s a lot of resistance to that where people are going a different way and so, you get pushed out of the group energy wise. These sorts of dynamics, you can feel this stuff going on of just, I just got outcast out of this group.

Those are the kinds of things, though that you need to protect your own energy of even if I’m not included in this group, I can still have a good relationship with me and I can still like me and I can think I’m still pretty awesome and I can find other groups of folks that like me.

It definitely, at least for me, I tend to be someone who’s like, I don’t know, I get out grouped a lot. [laughs] But at the same time, I’ve gotten used to that and then I find other places where I’ve got friends that love me and care about me and stuff. So those are recharge places where I can go and get back to a place where I feel solid and okay with myself, and then I’m much more resilient then going into these other spaces and stuff where I might not be accepted, where I might have to be kind of shielded and guarded and just put up a front, and operate in a way that makes everyone else feel more comfortable.

KATE: Yeah, and isn’t it so powerful to feel cared for?

ARTY: I love that.

KATE: Like just to feel cared for by the people around you is everything. It’s everything. That’s it. Just to feel like you are wanted, or you belong. To feel cared for. It can exist everywhere is the thing. In your Slack group, or whatever, you can make people feel cared for. I have never regretted reaching out to a coworker, or a friend, or whoever an acquaintance and saying, “Hey, I love this thing about you,” or “Congratulations on this rad thing you just launched,” or whatever. It’s the care that’s so powerful.

ARTY: I feel like this is one of those things where we can learn things from our own pain and these social interactions and stuff. One of the things that I’ve experienced is you’re in a group and you say something and nobody responds. [laughs]

KATE: Yeah.

ARTY: And after doing that for a while, you feel like you’re just shouting into the void and nobody hears you and it’s just this feeling of like invisibility. In feeling that way myself, one of the things I go out of my way to do is if somebody says something, I at least try and respond, acknowledge them, let them know that they’re heard, they’re cared about, and that there’s somebody there on the other side [chuckles] and they’re not shouting into the wind because I hate that feeling. It’s an awful feeling to feel invisible like that.

KATE: Awful, yeah.

ARTY: But we can learn from those experiences and then we can use those as opportunities to understand how we can give in ways that are subtle, that are often little things that are kind of ignored, but they’re little things that actually make a really big difference.

KATE: Yeah, the little things. It really is the little things, isn’t it? [laughs] Like and it’s just, you can learn from your experiences, but you can also say, “I’m not doing this right now.” You can also check out. If you are giving and giving. and find that you’re in the void essentially, more often than not, you can decide that that’s no longer are worth your time, your energy, your care, and you can redirect that care to somewhere else that’s going to reciprocate, or that’s going to give you back that same care and that’s so important, too.

JOHN: Yeah, and it sounds like starting a yoga studio is not a trivial undertaking and obviously, you’re highly motivated to create this kind of an environment in the world. So is there anything more you’d like to say about that because that ties in very closely with what we’re talking about?

KATE: Yeah. It’s so weird to work full-time and be so passionate about my tech job and then turn around and be like, “I’m opening a yoga studio.” It’s such a weird, but again, it’s all connected at the root, at the core of what I’m trying to do in this world.

The thing about Kula is that it’s really built on this foundational mutual aid model. So being donation-based, it’s really pay what you can, if you can. And what you pay, if you’re able to give an extra $10 for the class that you take, that’s going to pay for someone else’s experience, who is unable to financially contribute to take that class. That’s the basis of community care, of mutual aid and it’s really this heart-based business model that is really tricky. I’m trying to get a loan right now and [chuckles] it’s really hard to prove business financials when you have a donation-based model and you say, “Well, I’m going to guess what people might donate per class on average.”

So it’s been a real journey, [laughs] especially with today’s famous supply chain issues that you hear about constantly in every single industry. I have an empty space right now. It needs to be completely built out. Construction costs are about triple what they should be.

Again, coming from this real mutual aid community care centered model, it’s really hard, but I have to keep coming back. I was just telling my partner about this the other day, I have to keep coming back to this core idea, or this real feeling that I don’t need to have a beautifully designed space to create what I’m trying to create.

When I started this, I envisioned just a literal empty room [chuckles] with some people in it and a bathroom and that’s it. So of course, once I saw the designs, I was like, “Oh, I love this can lighting that’s shining down in front of the bathroom door.” It’s like so whatever, stereotypical. Not stereotypical, but surface level stuff.

I really have had to time and time again, return to this longing almost for a space that feels safer for me, for my community, for Black people, for disabled people, for trans people, for Asian people; we don’t have a lot of spaces that feel that way and that’s just the reality.

So it’s a real delicate balance of how do I like – this is a business and I need money, [laughs] but then I really want this to be rooted in mutual aid and community care. It comes back to that car and that inclusivity, creating authentic connections. It’s tricky out there for a queer woman entrepreneur with no collateral. [laughs] It’s a tricky world out there, but I think we’ll flip it someday.

I really think pioneering this idea, or this business model at least where I’m at in Denver, I think it’s going to start the conversation in more communities and with more people who want to do similar things and my hope is that that will foster those conversations and make it more accessible to more people.

JOHN: Yeah, and I think every time someone manages to muster up the energy, the capital, and the community effort to put something like this together, it makes it just slightly easier for someone else a, they can learn the lessons and b, they’re more examples of this thing operating in the world. So it becomes more possible in people’s minds and you can build some of that momentum there.

KATE: Yeah. And of course, it’s really important to note and to remember that I come from a place of immense privilege. I have a great job in tech. I’m white. I am upper middle class. Technically, I’m “straight passing,” which is a whole other concept, but it is a thing and this is the way that I’m choosing to use my privilege to hopefully pave the way for more people. I do not take for granted the opportunity that I’m given and like I said, intersectionality matters and all of that, but I still have a lot of privilege going into this that I hope turns into something good for more people.

ARTY: It also takes a special kind of person to be an entrepreneur because you really have to just keep on going. No matter any obstacle that’s in your way, you’ve just got to keep on going and have that drive, desire, and dream to go and build something and make it happen and your superpowers probably going to help you out with that, too. It sounds like we’ve got multiple superpowers because I think you got to have superpowers to be an entrepreneur in itself.

KATE: Yeah. I don’t know, man. It’s such a weird feeling to have because it just feels like it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s it. It doesn’t feel like I’m like – yes, it’s a calling and all of that, but it just feels like the path and that, it feels more, more natural than anything I guess, is what I’m trying to say.

The more people follow that feeling, the more authentic of a world, the more connected of a world we’re going to have. I see a lot of people doing this work, similar things, and it makes me so happy to see.

The words of one of my therapists, one of my past therapists told me, “Always stick with me,” and it was right around the time I was kind of – so I’d started planning before COVID hit and then COVID hit and I had to pause for about a year, a little bit less than a year. It was right around the time I was filing my LLC and really starting to move forward. It was actually December 17th of last year that I filed my LLC paperwork. So it’s been a little over a year now.

He told me, “How much longer are you willing to wait to give the community this thing that you want to give them? How much are you willing to make them wait for this space?” And I was like, “Yesterday. Yesterday.” Like, “I want to give people this space immediately,” and that has truly carried me through. This supply chain stuff is no joke. [laughs] and it has really carried me through some of the more doubtful moments in this journey. Yeah, and I feel like, man, what powerful words. Like, I just want to keep saying them because they are such powerful words to me. How much longer are you willing to make them wait? And it’s like, I don’t want to. [chuckles] So I guess I’m going to go do it.

[laughter]

Throw caution to the wind. [laughs]

JOHN: Well, I think that ties back into what you were talking about is as you were thinking about designing the space and what kind of buildout you’re going to need, and that can be a guide star for what actually needs to be there. What’s the actual MVP for this space? Does it need a perfect coat of paint, or is what’s there good enough? Does it need all the things arranged just so in the perfect lighting, or does it just need to exist and have people in the room and you can really focus in on what’s going to get you there? And then of course, you iterate like everything else, you improve over time, but.

KATE: Right.

JOHN: I love that concept of just cut out everything that’s in the way of this happening right now as much as possible.

KATE: Yeah, and what a concept, I think that can be applied to so many things. Who am I trying to serve with this thing and what do I need to do to get there? It doesn’t have to be this shiny, beautiful well-designed creation. It just needs to serve people. The people that you want to serve in the best way possible, and for me, that’s getting this space open and actually having it in action.

ARTY: I think once you find something that feels in alignment with you, you seem to have lots of clarity around just your sense of purpose, of what you want to move toward of a deep connection with yourself. One thing I found with that is no matter how much you get rejected by various groups in the world, if you can be congruent and authentic with yourself and follow that arrow, that once you start doing that, you find other people that are in resonance with you. They’re out there, but you don’t find them until you align with yourself.

KATE: Yeah. Community. Community is so powerful and I love that you just said alignment because that really is truly what it is. It’s finding the thing that makes you feel like you’re doing something good and that feels authentic to your core, to those core principles of you that never really change. The things that are rooted in love, the things that are rooted in compassion, or whatever it is you care about. Community, that alignment is absolutely key.

It’s also, when I say I was born with my superpower of being an empath, this desire to create this space feels, it feels like I was also born with this desire, or born with this alignment. So I feel like so many times it’s just going back to the basics of who you are.

ARTY: Like you’re actualizing who you are.

KATE: Yeah. Like full alignment, enlightenment, that all kind of falls into place when you’re really making the effort to be connected to your core.

ARTY: It seems like a good place to do reflections. So at the end of the show, we usually go around and do final reflections and takeaways, final thoughts that you have and you get to go last, Kate.

JOHN: There are a whole lot of different things that I’ve been thinking about here, but I think one of the ones that’s sticking with me is the dichotomy between perfectionism and authenticity, and how I feel like they really are pulling against one another and that, which isn’t to say things can’t be perfect and authentic at the same time. But I think perfectionism is usually a negative feeling. Like you should do something, you’re putting a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of anxiety around perfectionism and that is pretty much an opposition to being authentically yourself. It’s hard to be in touch with yourself when you’re wrapped up in all those anxieties and so, thinking about the two of them together, I hadn’t made that connection before, but I think that’s something that’s interesting that I’ll be thinking about for a while.

ARTY: I think the thing that’s going to stick with me, Kate is you said, “Our words carry so much power,” and I think about our conversation today out just vibes in the room and how that shifts with the energy that we bring to the room, all of these subtle undercurrent conversations that we’re having, and then how a sort of energy vibe becomes established. And how powerful even these really little tiny things we do are.

We had this conversation around inclusive language and you gave so many great details and specifics around what that means and how we can make little, small alterations to some of these things that are just baked into us because of our culture and the words that we hear, phrasing and things that we hear, that we’re just unaware of the impact of things. Just by paying attention and those little subtle details of things and coming at things with an open heart, regardless of how we might stumble, or mess things up, how much of a difference that can make because our words, though carry so much power.

KATE: Yeah. And the thing you just said about having an open heart is truly how you can put any of this into action, how you can remain open to learning about authenticity, or what it feels like to not fall into a trap of perfectionism, or how to speak, or write, or interact more inclusively with other human beings.

I feel like being open, being openminded, being open-hearted, whatever it is, is just really a superpower on its own. Remaining open and vulnerable in today’s world is hard work. It does not come naturally to so many people, especially when you’re dealing with your own traumas and your own individual interactions and maybe being forced into spaces where you don’t feel safe. To remain open is such a tool for making other people feel cared for. So if that’s the goal, I would say just being open is truly your superpower.

JOHN: I think that’s the quote I’m going to take with me: being open is the key to making people feel cared for.

KATE: Yes. I love that.

ARTY: Well, thank you for joining us on the show, Kate. It’s been a pleasure to have you here.

KATE: Thank you so much. This has been just the energy boost I needed.

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