242: Redefining Leadership and Building Your Career Insurance for Women of Color with Cynthia Pong

242: Redefining Leadership and Building Your Career Insurance for Women of Color with Cynthia Pong


In this episode, our guest, Cynthia Pong, joins us for a discussion on redefining leadership and building your career insurance for women of color.

Cynthia Pong, JD, is an award-winning career and leadership coach, speaker, and author of Don’t Stay in Your Lane: The Career Change Guide for Women of Color.

An NYU-trained lawyer turned career coach, she founded her company, Embrace Change, to help women of color—and people of color—secure the money, power, and respect they deserve.

In 2023, the flagship leadership training program she created and launched, the Leadership Accelerator (which was 134% funded through one month of crowdfunding), won an Anthem Award. Graduates of the Leadership Accelerator have gone on to land prestigious fellowships at the White House, Harvard, and Stanford, as well as paid speaking engagements, promotions, and raises.

Cynthia has been featured in The Atlantic, NBC, CBS, and NPR. She has shared a virtual stage with Magic Johnson and is a LinkedIn Top Voice for Job Search and Career.

Cynthia is a proud introvert, a classic middle child, and an unapologetic Rottweiler enthusiast.

She shares insights on the significance of visibility, challenging societal norms, and creating one’s own path beyond the constraints traditionally set for women of color.

Cynthia also shares her journey from being an NYU-trained lawyer to a celebrated coach and emphasizes the importance of finding one’s community, understanding personal values, and taking initiative as key components of effective leadership.

You can connect with Cynthia and check out her resources below:

Discover your inner leader quiz: https://www.embracechange.nyc/blog/discover-your-inner-leader-a-quiz-for-women-of-color-and-nonbinary-people-of-color

https://embracechange.nyc/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/embracechangenyc/ https://www.instagram.com/embracechangenyc/ https://www.youtube.com/embracechangenyc https://tiktok.com/embracechangenyc

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242_ Essential Leadership Skills for Women of Color with Cynthia Pong


Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:00:00] Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. This is your host, Dr. Yvette, and today we are discussing the topic of effective leadership skills, or I should also say essential leadership skills for women of color. Our guest today is someone who I, um, actually really admire and care for this person.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And this person, I consider them a femtor of mine. So this is all about femtoring. But this person's also a business coach of mine, so I should just be very clear and transparent. And I've learned a lot from her guidance and from her leadership thus far. And so I thought it would be perfect to bring her in to talk about this important topic.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Her name is Cynthia Pong, JD. She's an award winning career and leadership coach, the speaker, the author of Don't Stay in Your Lane, the Career Change Guide for Women of Color. [00:01:00] An NYU trained lawyer turned career coach, she founded her company, Embrace Change, to help women of color and people of color secure the money, power, and respect they deserve.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: In 2023, the flagship leadership training program she created and launched, called the Leadership Accelerator, won an Anthem Award. Graduates of the Leadership Accelerator have gone on to land prestigious fellowships at the White House, Harvard, and Stanford, as well as paid speaking engagements, promotions, and raises.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Cynthia has been featured in The Atlantic, NBC, CBS, NPR, let's keep going. And she has a podcast. Yes, this podcast. Yes, grad school femtoring. I love it. And then the other thing that's, I love this part of her bio that she's actually shared the virtual stage with Magic Johnson and is a link in top [00:02:00] voice for job search and career.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So, anyway, I don't really feel like I have much else to say. I just want to say welcome to the podcast,

Cynthia Pong, JD: Cynthia. Thank you, Yvette. I am so, so hyped for this and thank you so much for inviting me and congratulations on everything that you have built with this podcast and all the lives that I literally know you have transformed.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So I'm just very honored to be sitting down with you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Thank you. Thank you. I know the folks that know me and who are in communication with me, I rave about you all the time. I couldn't not keep you away from my audience. They get They should or they deserve to get a little bit of Cynthia as well. So for folks who maybe are new to you and your work, I love for folks to start us off, just telling us a little bit more about what you do in your own words, and also I do think it's very important to hear how folks get to where they are.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So whatever [00:03:00] you're comfortable sharing about your backstory would be great to hear.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Love it. And I'll just let everybody know too, I can be very non linear with these things. So we'll just fasten our seatbelts and see what happens, right? Life is non linear. We're good. Yes, absolutely. So, I mean, you already covered it, but I'm the founder and CEO of Embrace Change.

Cynthia Pong, JD: which is a career coaching and training company. And we do focus and specialize in working with women of color in particular, but we also do work with people of color more expansively in general. Um, and our singular mission is to get all women of color, the money, power, and respect that we deserve. in the workplace.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So a lot of work to be done there, if anyone has, you know, has looked around and seen where we're at right now. So that's what keeps us kind of going and, and driven towards advancing that mission every single day of every single week. You know, in my business as a CEO of a walk, run, owned, led small business, I wear a lot of hats like [00:04:00] you do as well.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So it can be a real fun adventure from week to week, but I love that because it's. It's always something different, keeps you on your toes, keeps you sharpening your skills in leadership and other things too. Um, and then backstory. Well, I am from Delaware, actually, born and grew up there. Which is often a fun fact for people because they're, a lot of times people are like, Oh, I never met anyone from Delaware before.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So that's me. I am a middle child. So I tribute that with being, you know, kind of psychologically how I am. And also I'm very oppositional defiant, which is what led me to my first career as a public defender. Um, cause I'm just very like, you know, fight the man kind of person, anti authoritarian. And I'm also a big introvert, which people don't realize a lot.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I have a lot of public facing stuff, you know, I have a lot of, you know, press media things, outward facing things, keynotes, et cetera. Um, and so people are often really shocked [00:05:00] and I love to use that as a chance to explain, yes, introverts can do everything experts can do. It's really a matter of, which is maybe something you can relate to, you know, professionally with the work you do.

Cynthia Pong, JD: It's like, it's just a matter of, I have to have enough time to like, not necessarily recover, but yeah, to kind of regroup and, you know, like ramp down after doing something like that or doing a lot of networking. I'm just careful with how I budget my time so that I can, you know, have enough time where I then don't have to talk to anyone for a while.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And I love a podcast, you know, because it's so introvert friendly for me. It really is. I know. So I just love it. And the last thing I'll say is, I'm based in New York, in Harlem, on the Lenape land, but we do, at Embrace Change, we work, we're all, we're fully remote, so like, we work with folks everywhere, which I love too, because, You know, I love to be hyper local, I also think there's a lot of things where it's artificial boundaries and a lot [00:06:00] of the lived experience and all the challenges that women of color face in the workplace and people of color generally, it's the same in a lot of different locales because it's all based on systemic systems.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah, and it's these systems that make it difficult for a lot of us, especially women of color, to advance professionally, personally. Yeah. And, you know, lead a life that really feels like our purpose and calling. But I, I, you know, know from working with you and getting to know you a little bit better that you have helped so many women of color with developing their leadership skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And I would love for you to tell us a little bit more about, like, starting out, what even is leadership? Like, so Leadership 101, like, how do you define leadership? What does, what does that look like?

Cynthia Pong, JD: I love that question, because it gives me the opportunity to let you know that, as with many things, [00:07:00] I define it very broadly, because I don't, and, I mean, Yvette, you'll know this, but it's, it's pretty on brand, I would say, for me, and embrace change is, we're not very, like, narrow and limited in our views.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I really think it's an opportunity always for us to be more expansive, to question things that we've been told. It's not only ever one white, one right way, which is a very like white supremacy culture concept, right? That you've got to do it this way and whatnot. So as part of like, kind of our values of around resistance of that, I define a lot of things very broadly, including leadership.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And we talk about this in the Leadership Accelerator, but the way I define it is leadership is simply taking initiative to solve a problem. And it can involve galvanizing other people to work with you towards a solution to that problem. So to me, it's not about a title or a role. It's not about status or where you sit in the org chart.

Cynthia Pong, JD: It's something that. [00:08:00] We can all strengthen and exhibit and demonstrate and model for other women of color and people of color, even as an individual contributor, someone who's a frontline staff person, um, someone who's entry level, someone who's an entrepreneur and a freelancer, even when you don't have like a team beyond yourself.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And also for us just as people in any community, we can be leaders, we can exhibit leadership, we can model leadership. Really just blow the, that box wide open on that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: That's interesting. I wasn't going to go here, but the way you defined leadership as a means of solving problems reminds me of how some, I've heard some folks define the word value, like how do you generate value for yourself or for others is as solving problems for people.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Huh. And so I find that, I, I find that definition of leadership really, really interesting because it, I [00:09:00] feel like. It's, it's so widely applicable so everybody can benefit from gaining, you know, whatever, whatever we want to call our leadership skills. Yep. But I'm now I'm curious. I'm like, what does that have to do with also like generating value because leadership is often thought of in relation to roles and in relation to specific career tracks.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah. Um, and there's definitely, yeah, value in that too. Yeah. For just kind of continue on talking about. Leadership and value and in relation specifically to women of color, non binary folks of color. I'm curious though, what are the barriers that come up for folks in, um, stepping into not just leadership positions, but also stepping into their own sense, innate sense of

Cynthia Pong, JD: leadership?

Cynthia Pong, JD: Hmm. Okay. So I had like a set answer for this, but actually what you just tied in about value really got [00:10:00] me thinking too. Well, it's weird because people say, okay,

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: you generate value in this way, like by solving problems. But then we also talk about values as in what are the core things that are, that like keep you moving, that are part of your like calling or sense of purpose.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And I wasn't going to go here at all, but somehow we landed here. I know, this is great. I mean, I love an organic. Now I want to talk

Cynthia Pong, JD: about leadership related to that as well. Yeah. I mean, so I think you've picked up on something that is also a theme and a brace change like You know, the cohort you're in, Business Foundations, we've talked about values and the importance of centering that and using that to ground your entrepreneurial leadership.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Also it totally comes up in the Leadership Accelerator in our one on one coaching, all the things. Um, because I do think that being really clear about what our values are and what is also valuable both to us and to who we care about serving, working with, you know, [00:11:00] however you want to be in relation to that.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Those are important things to give some thought to because, and I'll loop this right back to your question just now. I think one of the challenges for all of us, wherever we are in our journey with leadership, but as women of color, we're constantly doing and being asked to do like five billion things, right?

Cynthia Pong, JD: Like there's always so much on your plate. You're, you know, there's, there's all the things that work. You're probably also doing 10 other people's jobs because of just other people's incompetence You know, the blowback that happens. It's, I've heard that so many times, like, like every single week I hear another version of that story.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Um, so we're always being asked to do so much there. We're always being asked so much to do, to do so much in our communities, in our family units, nuclear and then multiple family units and multi generational family units. That there's often not an ability to carve out time and also mental and emotional, psychological bandwidth to even ask yourself these [00:12:00] questions, like, what do I actually want?

Cynthia Pong, JD: What is actually important to me? What are my values? You know, like, so that's something that is a real challenge just by function of, like, the world that we live in and the constant onslaught of, like, so much noise, everything's coming at you, everyone's trying to sell you something, like, everyone wants your money, everyone wants your time, everyone wants your attention, and it's just, like, a lot, right?

Cynthia Pong, JD: So even that practice of being able to say, you know, I'm choosing me, even though there are a hundred other things that are, and people who are, kind of, jockeying for my attention and time right now. I'm choosing me because I need to actually think about something, which is so critical because it's so easy then to get caught up in all the doing that you, you like, you got your head down working hard or whatnot for like five years, you suddenly look up and you're like, what just happened [00:13:00] in the last five years, you know?

Cynthia Pong, JD: So, yeah, that relates to another thing that I had thought of to this question, which is a lot of times when we are. evolving our leadership to really look, you know, a different way or we want to really step it up. There's a lot of doing that we're used to because that's how we got to where we are. The doing through school, the doing through grad school, the doing through the early stages of your career.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And then the shifting to leading, like you really have to actually do a lot less so that you can lead more. That part's really tricky.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I mean, there, there are two things that you just shared in terms of challenges or barriers. So the first was you talking about, there's just a lot, a lot on our plates, a lot of external things coming up that get in the way of the internal work.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah. So that is one thing that comes up and also even, you didn't necessarily say this directly, but thinking about how a lot of people [00:14:00] view leadership as a very, like, they have a very specific. Person in mind or trait or skill set in mind of what like the typical, which is very white supremacist, like what the typical leader is like or looks like.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And then the second thing that you said is that once you actually start to advance professionally, in a lot of cases, it requires doing less than that. Yeah. I feel like just in general, to do the deep, heavy lifting work, you have to do less to have that time and space to, to think through and, and lead, to do the leading.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Exactly. And you also have to figure out a way to support, enable, and I use enable in like a neutral way, or coach up other people to do. The doing better, you know what I mean? Cause it's, that, that's how it works with kind of the, the delegating and, and the, the leadership, like it's more than simply managing.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Um, and there's a saying I, I like [00:15:00] that's kind of just like you manage a project, but you lead people. Mm hmm. So What's

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: the difference? Can you say a little bit more about that? Managing versus leading?

Cynthia Pong, JD: Yeah. This is kind of really just thinking more about the, like, the feeling and the connotation and the meaning of the words, right?

Cynthia Pong, JD: But like, manage feels like, oh, it's a problem that I have to manage, or it's like a timeline, a budget, something concrete that's like a thing that you have to manage because you got to keep it within. whatever confines it's supposed to be in. But you could sort of think about when you say that about a person, it feels like, feels a little dehumanizing to me anyway.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So I don't, I know that there's a lot out there about just like, you know, first time manager, management training, management skills. I get that that's kind of the key word that's out here. But personally, when I think of it, I think of it a little bit more as, as something different. That's, to loop it back to what you said about value, it generates value for both sides.

Cynthia Pong, JD: It's It's challenging the [00:16:00] person who's in the leadership role to really, and like, again, that may not be an official role, right, but I'm just using that loosely, someone, cause you could also lead someone who's like in a higher title than you as bizarre as that might sound, right? But yeah. I

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: wonder. So you said you can also lead someone who's above you in the hierarchy.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah. It reminds me of that phrase, manage up. So can you lead up? It's not a thing. I don't see

Cynthia Pong, JD: why not. I honestly think, and like. For women of color specifically, and I also want to make sure I don't forget to tell you this, Yvette, because, like, for women of color, we have this idea of what a leader should look like, and we're, it can be so deeply ingrained that, like, that's not us.

Cynthia Pong, JD: That's not inherently who we are. There's deficits that we have, there's gaps that we have, we gotta make up the ground, we have to learn the skills, we have to get another degree, like, there's always this feeling that there's a gap we have to close and that the problem is us. I don't, I don't really subscribe to that.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I really think and approach [00:17:00] everything in a much more generative, like, asset based way. And, you know, sure, like, if you're early in your career or whatnot, you may not be the leader that you're going to be in 20 years or whatever, but you still could be a leader to, like, your past self or someone who's coming up or, like, to your very point, someone who actually is in a different, maybe, like, more in a different place in their career than you, you can still demonstrate and model leadership to that person.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Like, you know, I can think of many young leaders who are leading people who may be older than them, who maybe have more years of experience. Like, I don't think it's like a linear thing and it's only top down. But the real thing I wanted to say also, because we don't often Think of the intrinsic leadership skills and qualities that we bring to the table.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I actually made a, like, BuzzFeed style, personality style quiz that I want everybody to know that they can take too if you're struggling with finding the [00:18:00] language of how to describe the way that you already lead as you are. It's called Discover Your Inner Leader and it's based on, like, all of our experience coaching hundreds of women of color and people of color over the last seven, eight years.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So I'll give you the link if people want to take that quiz. It's just a very helpful rubric for thinking about your leadership in, in a way that actually I think will reflect you and, and speak to folks.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We'll definitely include that in the show notes. But for some of us who maybe have not thought about the, the concept of leadership too much or this expansively.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah. We might struggle to even. know what it looks like in practice. So like, what does a leader look like? What does that feel like? How do you know when you're leading? What are leadership skills in particular? Like how, yeah, if you could just tell us a little bit. I know it looks [00:19:00] Just if there are certain essential skills that you could pinpoint that would help someone on their path to becoming a better leader, what might they be?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I love it. So, you know, if, if we think back to what I had said about how I define leadership, which is very broadly taking initiative to solve a problem. usually with other people kind of working with you, doesn't have to be, then, you know, you can already parse that out into a couple different places.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I mean, the first part is like that taking initiative or taking ownership piece. And this can be a struggle for us too, because part of our conditioning, our socializing is like, just do what you're told. Just do what the teacher says. Just do what the principal says. Just do, you know, what your boss says.

Cynthia Pong, JD: But then, like, where are you in that? You know, it's very easy to get lost and, again, not have that time to be like, well, what do I want? What am I trying to do here? What is my responsibility? What can I take ownership over and actually move forward on my own without having to wait for someone else's permission or [00:20:00] to wait for someone else to delegate it to me?

Cynthia Pong, JD: So, there's like a balancing act there, you know, and I know this is a bit abstract, but I'm also trying to put a little bit of edges on it, too. So, there's just that, you know, Being like, you know what, I, I am going to, it's, it's a way of actually, it's very meta because you're demonstrating leadership by like, taking a stand that like, this area of work or this particular piece of thing, like, I am leading that.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Even if it's not like in an official capacity, you can still lead it by being the person who drives it forward and the person who's like making sure that people are getting what they need and like all that kind of thing. So there's that piece of the taking initiative and then it's like to solve problems, right?

Cynthia Pong, JD: In solving problems, you have to have good analytical skills. Like, you gotta be able to see something and be like, this is a problem, this is not a problem. Or like, this is a challenge, this is not a challenge. Um, and that also involves discernment. I was about to say that as soon as you

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: said that. That word came in my head, discernment.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Which not everybody else, you know, for some [00:21:00] people it comes easy. For some folks, they really struggle with discernment.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Yes. And I think that that's because at a root level, because we're not clear on something. I mean, I literally experienced this myself this morning. I, I just had some analysis paralysis around something because I couldn't decide if it was something that actually where it lay, lies, laid, whatever, where it is in my list of priorities.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And so I couldn't come to a decision because I was like, Is this important? Is it not important? I actually really had a struggle with that and that is because I know at some root level I haven't clarified where is the line and what are actually the boundaries on what is important and worth my time versus not right now.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So that's where discernment comes from. It's really like a downstream, like, Ability based on upstream. If you're clear about something, then like things flow easily and you can quickly tell, not that, yes to this, yes to that, [00:22:00] maybe later for that, you know? So yeah, the discernment. And then when, once you've identified what are actually the problems or not, then problem solving skills, you know, resourcefulness, being able to think through possible things that can happen.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And. I think also some level of, like, risk taking, which, again, is a challenging one for us because we've often been punished for taking risks, for stepping out of line, for doing things that are not the norm, you know? So I get that. There's a lot of, of pushback around that, but this loops back to the beginning, which is the taking ownership, taking initiative part, and, yeah, you know, like, so it's all It's some kind of, like, messy circle there, but to me, those are some of the, the core things.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And it just goes back to, we have to, we have to put the time in and invest the time intentionally to figure these things out because that's actually how we build what I have started to think of as our own [00:23:00] insurance for our career. Can you say more about that? I would love to. Yeah. So, I mean, this is actually something I've thought of, but not quite in this term.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So I'll give the backstory of how I got here. So in the, the accelerator, you know, there's a bunch of modules of content that we teach and go over and do group coaching around and all of that. And there's a, a two, a pair of modules towards the end that are about visibility. And I talk about visibility, and I go hard on it for women of color, especially because we've been so conditioned to hide, you know, to like, make ourselves small, to not be heard.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And this is not a self blaming thing, for sure. Like, there's the systems, and they've taught us certain things, and then also at some point, we do have agency and power to decide. You know what, I'm gonna, you know, take that initiative, take that ownership, and I'm gonna do something, take that risk, and, and speak up, or be more visible, etc.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So, I explain why we need to care about [00:24:00] visibility, and the first part of it is, one, it's never only about you. Everybody who looks like you, everybody who feels that they can relate to your same lived experiences and your story, they need to see you. Like succeeding to the max because otherwise they will, they won't know that it's possible for them.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So there's a communal responsibility, I feel. Two, we talk a lot about big goals in the Accelerator. I'm like you, you absolutely, whatever your goal is, you absolutely need visibility to get there because you need, it's people power. And then as a kind of third thing, Visibility is actually the insurance that we have for our career and it's like our safety net in a way.

Cynthia Pong, JD: It's like the social safety net that society hasn't built for us. And it's also the social capital version of F. U. money. So all of these are kind of like a different way of looking at the same concept. Because, and it's counterintuitive, I know, because we think if we're more visible, that's more people who will, more [00:25:00] haters, more people who will drag us, more internet trolls, right?

Cynthia Pong, JD: More texts. for saying that. Yeah. It is what a lot of us think. Yes. That was my fear starting this podcast. Yeah. Yes. Right. And like, also, let's just take a pause and be like, if you hadn't started this, what a loss that would have been for everybody, right? Like, anyone who's ever gotten any iota of positivity or any idea, any piece of inspiration.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Like, that would never have happened if you were like, you know what, this is hard and I'm scared and like rightfully though, right? And you didn't do this. That's like just case in point of our, our responsibility communally to push our comfort zone on some of these things. And so, yeah, like the, the insurance for your career, we think that, oh, being more visible is just going to bring bad things, attacks, like put myself in danger, all of that.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I get it. It is real and it will happen, however, if you get over that hump of visibility so that you are then visible to enough people [00:26:00] and enough of the right people, then when they come for you, because they will, I actually have a whole module on that. When they come for you, your people are going to be there to defend you and advocate for you and you will be actually better off.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And so let me explain concretely how this could happen, right? Let's say you went through this past year and you experienced the layoffs, the mass layoffs, wave after wave that happened. So if you're visible to enough people and enough of the right people, you're going to find your next job faster.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Because people, you could put out a call, publicly, privately, doesn't matter. You could just tell people, Hey, I'm ready for my next opportunity. You have those people ready and you can activate them, find the next thing. If you're not visible, nobody knows to help you. Nobody knows you need support. And that's a waste not only for you, but for whoever else could use your skills, you know?

Cynthia Pong, JD: So that's one example. There's business examples. Just any single [00:27:00] thing that we're actually afraid of, we actually just have to get over that hump so that there's, in fact, then enough people who will functionally come to your defense when those things happen, because we all already have a target on our back.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Like, let's not pretend we don't. That's true.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Whether we hide away or not. Yeah.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Yeah.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Okay. All right. I know a lot of hot takes. Have a nice week. Opinions. I'm, I'm, I'm also an introvert and I also, I'm someone who needs a little bit of time to process what I Me too. Just heard. Yes. And so I'm just gonna like, let that simmer and while I let that simmer ask you another question, which is talking about your book.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Your book is called Don't Stay in Your Lane. You just talked about, you know, creating your own form of insurance for your career. Can you let us know a little bit about why you use that title, Don't Stay in Your Lane? And perhaps, can we tie it back into this conversation [00:28:00] of leadership and the setting yourself up, you're creating your own social capital and Yeah.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Social version of F you money to make sure you're okay.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I love it. And it absolutely does tie back. So the title, Don't Stay in Your Lane. I mean, I wrote my book first and I should like totally have had it visible there, but I don't have the nice board that you have, which show your board to the folks in case they haven't seen it.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I'm so excited for your book to come out. For the folks on YouTube, look at this. It's grad school for me. Everybody

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: get your copy. Spring 2024. Is that right? Yes. April 27th. Get excited. She's such a good coach. Just always promoting. I get excited.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I mean, listen, we got to amplify, right? We got to amplify ourselves.

Cynthia Pong, JD: We have to amplify each other. And I do believe in that people power because we have the numbers, you know, it's, it's really a matter of like, you know, as we're able just more and more taking increasing agency and ownership over the power that we [00:29:00] do have. Yeah. So I love that. But, so I wrote my book. Don't stay in your lane, and I didn't know what to call it.

Cynthia Pong, JD: And for a little bit of background, the book is really, it's, it's more than kind of like a book. It's kind of like a career encyclopedia and a mix of like an interactive, you know, workbook journal for your career, plus woven in with my own career journey and story. So you can kind of see like how it played out, and then also how you can use it.

Cynthia Pong, JD: you know, self coach yourself to everything that I did to land here. So that's what the book is about in a nutshell. I'm not great with marketing copy. I mean, I bet you know this. Like, naming stuff is not my strength, to be honest. So I was struggling, struggling, struggling. And then, like, of course, one day I was, like, laying in bed being like, what am I going to call this?

Cynthia Pong, JD: And it came to me, don't stay in your lane. Um, and I think it was a reaction to how so many of our clients, so many of the folks in our accelerator, in, you know, all of our orbit at Embrace Change. So many [00:30:00] women of color have been told implicitly or explicitly, stay in your lane. Like, don't, don't try to do that.

Cynthia Pong, JD: It's too ambitious. It's too this. You're too loud. Whatever. All of the, like, negative things and those have been, those kind of insults or critiques have been unfairly lobbed at so many of us that it's, it is really hard to not internalize some of that over time. Like, It's really hard, and it really sucks, and that is exactly the system, like, doing its work by design.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So, so, the don't stain your name part was really more of like a call to action for all of us to be like, you know, F what everybody tells us, you know, I don't know if you keep your podcast clean or not, but like, don't, don't focus. Oh, you can

guess. Yeah, it's

Cynthia Pong, JD: like, fuck what everybody else is trying to tell you to do, what's more important is that you You know what it is you want and you're willing to put in the work that it will take to do that deep inner self discovery work to get where you want to go and line up the supports that you need to get [00:31:00] there and invest and build that career insurance and the social safety net for yourself.

Cynthia Pong, JD: So that was kind of where the title came from. And also, you know, I just. At the top, I said how I'm kind of anti authoritarian, right, to begin with, so it's, it's also a lot of that and when I left my job as a public defender, it was because I burnt out, you know, like I didn't leave it for other reasons. It was because I literally couldn't do the job the way that I wanted to anymore and I just had to go.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I had no idea what I was doing. I took an unpaid sabbatical because thank goodness we were unionized and we had those great benefits. I Um, and then I just had to like, well, it took two months for me to just recover from the burnout. And then That's quick, by the way. Yeah. Yeah.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: For some folks, it can take a year or more.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Yeah. Or years. Yeah. Right. And

Cynthia Pong, JD: it, it may not be linear as well, that process, right? Yeah. So I, I, I take that point and it probably did take longer. I just mean like, that purely me just, you know, I don't know, not being able to, like, [00:32:00] do anything else. And I know this is very capitalistic, like, production language.

Cynthia Pong, JD: It was just, like, two months of just free flowing, like, what I, like, I just, I did all the things that I had mortgaged and put off. Like, I took, took a Spanish class. I took a woodworking and carpentry class. I took a lot of long walks to nowhere in particular, you know, that kind of thing. So then I started to get an itch of, like, um, what am I going to do next?

Cynthia Pong, JD: And yeah, I started a business having no business, starting a business, if you will, like, I don't have a true, and I talk about this in my keynote about entrepreneurial leadership, but I don't have a tradition of business in my family. Like, I'm a first gen entrepreneur, I don't have an MBA, I don't have any training, I didn't take any of these accelerators or incubators, none of that.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I just was like, I think I would be good at working for myself. And then I just like, kind of went for it, failed forward a whole bunch of times, and then eventually I figured it out. I'm still figuring it out [00:33:00] at a different level now, but You know, so if, it's just that call to like, don't confine yourself and don't let other people confine you.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Take control, like, get your own career insurance, get that FU money, like, do what you need to do for you instead of like, making our decisions and always strategizing from a place of being defensive against everything lobbed against us.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I was going to ask you, what advice would you give to women of color, non binary, BIPOC folks?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: But I feel like you've already been doing that. Is there anything else? I know I have a lot of things to say. What, what else is, anything else that you maybe you want to say? It doesn't have to be related to leadership, it can be related, you know, to career or life insights.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Ooh, well, I've got one that really applies and kind of lays over all of those, which is that, find your people.

Cynthia Pong, JD: You know, like, get your people in place, find your people. [00:34:00] We actually have a networking guide that's called Find Your People because I'm like, you know, introvert. We all hate networking. You create the things that we, that we need. Yeah. Because I'm like, I can't say it to every single person, so I got to get it out there so people can access it, you know, but, but I, I do these things also intentionally because it is.

Cynthia Pong, JD: We hear a lot, like, where, where are my people? Where are the people like us? And it is really hard for us to find because A lot of us are in, you know, predominantly white institutions where like we're the only, we're the first, we're one of a very few. And so it may not look the way you wanted or you imagined, which is like the great community at your main job or in your main academic life situation, like we actually have to exercise more ownership and leadership over that to, I'm not going to say cobble it together, but yeah, kind of cobble it together.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Like, I've created this for myself and I think that we all just, [00:35:00] it's hard cause I also hear from a lot of people where like, I'm looking for other women of color who do A and B and C and D and they live over here and they have this, it's a very very specific thing and I get it, we should strive for that and also, don't look for unicorns, just make your own.

Cynthia Pong, JD: You know, from what you have and, and allow yourself to be a little imaginative and creative and experience something without that perfectionistic, oppressive feeling of like, it has to look a certain way. Yeah, your, your friend that you met at, you know, yoga class could totally be part of your personal advisory board, as well as somebody from your book club, as well as, you know, somebody from your leadership cohort or your whatever.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Like, you can make it work for you. And none of us is an island, so the sooner that folks do have their people, you know, supporting them, like, The more you're going to propel your success forward and the easier it will be, not only for you, but [00:36:00] we all benefit from that. So find your people.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I love that. I love that.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And you know, I'm not going to go into the details of like, how do we do that? Because you already shared some of it and we're also going to include the resource. You know how to find me. But actually, no, yes, for folks who want to hear more from you, who want to learn more about your work, um, who potentially even might want to work with you or your team, how can they reach you?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: How can they connect with you and learn more about your work?

Cynthia Pong, JD: A hundred percent. And thank you for that. I will just say the short answer, which is go to our website. EmbraceChange. nyc. Couldn't get the com, but there's a silver lining story about that. That's great for another day. So EmbraceChange. nyc.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Everything's linked from there. All of our socials, um, as well as the, you know, free resources too. We have a bookstore. It's called Cynthia's Bookstore, where all the different items can be found and the one on one coaching people can get matched with one of our coaches through there too. Um, and then I'll just do a final.

Cynthia Pong, JD: plug [00:37:00] for the Discover Your Inner Leader quiz, because I do think it's very illuminating for people to just take that quiz and be like, Oh, I can talk about my leadership in these terms, and people will see the value. I'm going to take that quiz,

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: too. I don't think I've taken it, so I'll see

Cynthia Pong, JD: it. You're so complimentary, like, that I'm good at telling people what I'm actually really bad at remembering to tell people, which is a case in point.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Well, you were really good this time. Thank you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So I'm going to check it out. I'm going to take it. I'll probably put it in the show notes and be like, I'm this type of leader. What type of leader are you? Yeah. Oh my God.

Cynthia Pong, JD: I love it. Oh my God. And I also forgot, obviously, our newsletter, the trajectory. People should definitely get on that because that's where people find out the first about any specials we have or.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Launching new things, early bird specials, VIP things. So people can sign up for that at embracechange. nyc slash sign up. Forgive me for that a bit. I forgot.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Oh, no, no, no. You're good. You're good. Well, I just want to say thank you. I, I always learn something new and different or gain [00:38:00] a different perspective on something when I have conversations with you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So I'm glad that we were able to, um, You know, I, I'm, I'm very much like anti gatekeeping and I'm always curious what kind of conversations people are having behind closed doors. Oh, yeah. And I always rave about you and I'm glad that like folks got a little bit of a sneak peek into all the gems that I get from being in your presence.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So thank you once again Cynthia for being on the show today and sharing your story. Your wealth of knowledge and resources with this dish.

Cynthia Pong, JD: You are so welcome, and everybody's listening, like, watch out for Yvette's Academy, because that's, talking about find your people, that's where you will also find your people, so check out the Academy, get your pre order book, copy of the book.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Um, I mean, listen, this is, this is what the work is about, and The, the knowledge is there, you're always so generous sharing your wisdom and what you've learned too and your story and like, we all just need to [00:39:00] stay more like, immersed in that because that's the stuff that's actually supportive versus every, all the toxicity coming at us from every other direction, so.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Right.

Cynthia Pong, JD: Get in the academy, folks. Thank you.

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