Sit down with the highly accomplished members of Athena Alliance, an executive learning community for women leaders, to hear the personal tales behind their professional success. We learn the real story behind their inspiring executive careers — their fears, their failures, and what song they’re singing at karaoke. You don’t get to the top without creating some memorable stories along the way.
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Yasmin: In my family growing up, there are so many secrets all the time, and I wish somebody would have come and done an intervention. My goal is to become the woman that I wish would have intervened in my life and saved us.
Priscilla: Welcome to our very first episode of voices of Athena, thank you for tuning in. I’m your host, Priscilla Brenenstuhl. In this series, we highlight the incredible women in our community, all of which have impressive professional backgrounds, but I’m going to get to know them on a more personal level. What inspires them scares them? Most importantly, what song are they singing karaoke? Our first guest is Dr. Yasmin Davidd’s, president and CEO of the Dr. Yasmin, Davidd’s Leadership Institute, and CEO of Multicultural Women’s Executive Leadership Institute.
Yasmin: Can you hear me?
Priscilla: Yes. Hi.
Yasmin: How are you?
Priscilla: I’m doing great. I’m so happy. Look at that background.
Yasmin: Mines like that. I just, I got one. I just turned 50 this week. And I have one that says 50. Just like that.
Priscilla: Okay, so this is audio only, obviously. But she came at camera ready. Imagine your single perfectly poised woman flawlessly executed makeup and hair in front of a strong background with mostly gold accents. She came to slay. So let’s get to know her a little better.
Priscilla: Who is someone that inspires you? And why?
Yasmin: I would say I’ve only had honestly had two people in my life that inspired me first was Oprah. And the second one is Michelle Obama. And the reason why is because they have been true to who they are, no matter how powerful they’ve become, and have said things that most people aren’t willing to say. And Michelle Obama’s, you know, book and her latest story becoming I think we’re always becoming, because I can’t wait to see who I become next year. And year after, right? Because it’ll be a whole new year’s mean, and every year I’m getting better. As long as I’m committed to evolution of myself, then I’m only going to get better. Right? And I know I’m always gonna look good, come on to take care of myself. So hey, I mean, only because most women are afraid of aging, right? Or they don’t want to get older because of you know, how they’re gonna look. To me. It’s like, not we take care of ourselves. To me, it’s about the soul and evolving as a human being and becoming a better version of ourselves every year. And so Michelle Obama has been really committed after her husband’s presidency, is to really step into her own and take all that experience and be able to say, you know, I’ve sat at the table with the most powerful people in the world. And you know what, they’re not that smart. I mean, they’re not any smarter than you and I are like, that’s what she says, like, and it’s for, you know, the common person who feels these most powerful people are totally different. It’s like, no, they just a lot of them were born into privilege, or whatever it may be, and they’ve left or whatever. So being able to show the average or normal or just, let’s just say everyday person, this world that that they’re mystified by, and saying, Hey, you are like them, they are like you, meaning that you can be in these places to no one’s ever done that before, in a role that she’s been in and keeping it real and authentic. And to me, that is what I get inspired by because it just diminishes the separation of the haves and have nots have always had issue with that, because I worked with people at all levels. And I realized that at the end of the day, we’re all the same, and we all just want to be accepted and loved. And so that’s at the core. So I would say right now it would be
Priscilla: What song are you singing it karaoke?
Yasmin: What song Am I singing? Oh, my gosh, I would say um, the first one is I would say, Oh, I don’t know, I think that I would probably cry because even now when I sing it, I still cry. And I still don’t know exactly why. Right? I mean, I do but it’s called coming out of the dark by Gloria Stefan when she went through an accident, where she broke her back. They told us she would never walk again. It was a song that I would listen to every day when I was in rehab. That might be a little bit too much for karaoke, I would probably want to do like a fun song like, I don’t know, maybe you know, YMCA or something like..
Priscilla: to get everyone involved? (laughter)
So to not even think about it too much, but one that you’re comfortable sharing a life-changing or life-affirming moment, you know, one of those moments that, that sticks out for you?
Yasmin: When I was in college, my father tried to kill our family and I went into a deep depression, hit rock bottom wanted to die, instead of committing suicide, I started using drugs, and then ended up becoming addicted and then couldn’t afford antidepressants. I didn’t have health insurance, I was at USC, and I was this top student was keeping up by using methamphetamine every morning to get me out of bed, and then ended up in rehab. And when I was in rehab, I went in there and I asked the counselors, how long is it going to take to fix me because I need to go back, I was supporting my mom, while in college, my baby sister, I needed to go back and take care of them. And they’re like, you know, you don’t need to be here. Like you can leave. You’re here because you want to and I’m thinking to myself, while I already tried to do it on my own, I couldn’t, you know, here I am. And they said, you know, first you have to surrender you have to surrender because if it trust it program like AA and NA, you have to surrender and surrender to your higher power, whatever that may be, and, and admit that you have no control over this.
Priscilla: Whoa, let’s hit pause for a moment to digest, take a deep breath. That was a whole lot of story packed and into about 30 seconds of audio. And this struck me during our conversation, my mind wandered she running from those details, but she’s sick of talking about it. But when I reflected back on our conversation, my understanding became that this trauma was not her story. It was a catalyst of her story. And she was focused on getting us to the other side of it. Ultimately, the story..
Yasmin: it was about it’s about faith.
Priscilla: Yes, so let’s dive back in.
Yasmin: Now, I’m very spiritual. I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual. And my faith is what I lean on for everything. I’m a great believer in therapy, and my 25 years therapy in depending on what I need it for. I have different therapists, coaches, whatever you want to call them, because they’re all the same to me, meaning like they’re all helped develop. And I take each part of my experience in life and I take it apart and say, How did this impact me? What does it mean? What does it what do I have to heal in my life? What do I have to in order to not repeat certain patterns or behaviors? What can I use to teach? I believe that God put me through what he put me through in life so that I can use it help others, or else it would be in vain.
Priscilla: Or else maybe you wouldn’t be here.
Yasmin: I was doing just enough to get me through the day. When people say like $25 worth in like three weeks to me, it was stopped the body aches. But I think for me, it was once I knew that I tried to get off of it. And I couldn’t. That freaked me out. Because then I realized not only am I depressed, now I’m addicted, as as little as it may be that, you know other addicts might think like, it was enough. It was self medication.
Priscilla: It was self medication, but not in this way you’re talking about now with therapy, something that you you’re speaking freely about that feels good. It was self medication that you were hiding.
Yasmin: I was so ashamed because I was the I mean, I was the president of the DARE program throughout my entire, you know, say no. I mean, I was proud I even in high school growing up, even friends of mine, I was a person that they hid it from, because they knew I would lecture them. I was like they hidden me of like, they say no to drugs poster child. And then all of a sudden, I needed it to survive because I saw that it helped my friends stay up and I needed to be able to get out of bed and function. And so I was very conscious what I was doing, but I was very cheap. But I had I didn’t know any other way that and it was also economically because my father wouldn’t he everything happened with my father he disowned us financially. We went from having everything to basically practically being homeless, having to find a place for my mom having to, you know, self fund and everything. So I didn’t have health insurance. I didn’t have to be able to go to the doctors. They didn’t have help. It was two weeks in and I had to come up with a doubt how to come up with like $750 to stay this was 25 years ago. If not I would have to leave and I wasn’t ready to leave because it was helping me now. But yet I had no money, I had no one to call, I had nothing I was the day I had to leave. And they’re like, I’m sorry, we this is not a nonprofit, it’s not a charity, like this is a business. And I remember that I was devastated because I was like, I’m just gonna go back to using I don’t know how to stay alive or how to survive, right? Because it was a support system, right. And so going in there, I was there with like, a billionaire CEO and a homeless 16 year old, we were all the same. We were all just supporting each other, trying to get through at the end of the day, didn’t matter how educated you are, how much money you had, or anything like that. And it was the first time that I didn’t feel alone.
And that day that I was going had to leave, I was already packing my stuff. And I got a package in the mail. And it was it was a boy and ex boyfriend that had called my house and said, Ask for me. And my mom’s like, she’s on vacation because I was on rehab. And I was like, Mom, I’m gone for a month. And she’s like, she’s on vacation. And my mom gave him the address where I was at. So he sent me this box, I opened and it was a care box. And he’s like thinking of he had no idea about me thinking of you. And he sent me a bunch of candy that I like, some stuff he brought from Europe and an envelope. And I’m gonna get emotional because the envelope was $750 cash. He had no idea what I was going through, it could have been 100, it could have been seven, it could have been anything but it was 700 exactly what it was it I needed to stay. And I remember going to my counselor and I said look what I just got in the mail. And that was the first day in my life, that my faith that my belief in a higher power and I don’t know her, he whatever you want to call that was the day that I believed in miracles.
You know, I’ve had so many miracles after that in my life as what I call angels in my life, strangers or people that wouldn’t even know what I was going through and in the moment that I needed them, they showed up. And it may just be for a split second to to help me in that area of my life. And that’s why I think I’m so committed to doing this, to share my story because if any way I can contribute to someone and they may hear the story at that one minute that they’re going through something that that this can be a game changer for them, you know, to be like, Oh, I could go get help. Oh therapy’s okay. If this successful entrepreneur woman who’s doing this, said it’s okay then then maybe it’s, you know, it’s okay. So that’s why the things that most people would be ashamed of, if I’ve lived them, I will share them because shame, what I’ve learned over many, many years of empowering women for 20 years, shame is the most debilitating and most common force for women to carry in this world. And that is the greatest limitation of us women or people in general, especially women is the shame. Part of shame that we carry, that really doesn’t allow us to own our full power. Anything I can contribute to the betterment of women and just human, you know, human beings and, and being honest and truthful about a story that I think many people may be ashamed of in their lives, helping them free themselves from that shame by hearing me, be open about it, it can only help.
Priscilla: That’s such an incredible story, Yasmin, thank you for opening up and being so vulnerable with us. You are certainly courageous.
Yasmin: I’m curious to know what you would say is your biggest fear.
Priscilla: Ooh, my biggest fear is that, so I have fibromyalgia. But my biggest fear has always been that my body won’t keep up with my soul. Yhat I want to do so much, I want to get up and but there’s times that I’m just so physically exhausted that I can’t. So I have to manage my energy very well. So that’s why a lot of the I don’t put up with Bs. I don’t have negative energy or all that stuff because it sucks my energy. So I’m very intentional.
Priscilla: I appreciate that. Setting boundaries can be difficult. It’s important that you’ve honored yourself enough to be uncompromising with yours.
Now, will you tell us what’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
Yasmin: I would probably say at that time, I didn’t see it as daring. But I can see I can see it as daring now that I’m probably older and more mature is that when I was first started helping women and that was probably in my early 30s when people would come to me and and share with me that they were had been molested or something like that. And they wanted to confront like parents or something or wanted to get them back together. I wouldn’t go in there and I would be the one that would lead it with sometimes parents, fathers that we have no idea how they were going to respond. And the danger involved in that right. It was uust and I was just very gutsy, like, No, we’re gonna do, we’re gonna confront, we’re gonna do this. And I think that now I would probably get a whole team involved and I would be much more strategic than just my goal was to protect that person and get the truth on the table. And in my family growing up, there’s so many secrets all the time. And I wish somebody would have come and begin an intervention with us so that we, you know, the abuse would have stopped, but yeah, we ever did. So I’ve always my goal is to become the woman that I wish would have intervened in my life and saved us.
Priscilla: Sounds like you did that.
Yasmin: Hearing myself, I guess to me, I just I just when I hear it, I’m like, oh, gosh, I have been through alot. And to like, you know, the great thing is that that’s why I know this is my work to do. And this is my purpose in life, because it just comes natural.
Priscilla: So if not, Doctor yes means CEO and board member, what profession would you like to have?
Yasmin: Oooh what profession would I like to have? I’ll say a Congresswoman.
Priscilla: Oh, well, I can see it.
Yasmin: Because I think what, what other way can I single-handedly have the most impact in changing the lives of people, if not, globally, then nationally and it would be in policy that would help you know, change the way even with racism and equity and everything, you know, people sometimes don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart, it has to be a law and then maybe later they’ll understand why. But sometimes that needs to be done so would probably be in writing policy. I probably would hire very good people to write policy because I probably wouldn’t have the patience, but I would think about it.
Priscilla: Yasmin now devotes her time to helping other women. Dr Davidd’s established the Women’s Institute of negotiation which is dedicated to the teaching, instruction and development of negotiation skills and leadership competency and is primarily focused on women in professional academic and corporate settings. Dr. Davidd’s commitment to the empowerment and development of women leaders, has brought her recognition and acclaim from the US Congress, the California State Senate and the California State Assembly. She believes everything happens for a reason.
Thank you for joining me for our premiere. I invite you to tune in next week where I get personal with CEO and board member Yvonne Wassenaar. If you’d like to be featured on voices of Athena, please reach out to me at [email protected] Your story matters.
This podcast was created to unravel the stories behind the dynamic and inspiring women of Athena Alliance. If you’re a member and want to be featured, we’d love to hear from you. Your story matters.