Emily Goodson: How one woman found her voice and the courage to embrace her whole self
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In honor of Women's History Month, we present to you the stories of three women who are dedicated to making work a better place and inspiring us by fully embracing their true selves.
On February 27, 2022, the Los Angeles Times published Emily’s article: I’m a disabled woman. Is that a dating deal breaker? The response to it was overwhelming. Emily was flooded with messages from friends and strangers showing immense love and support. A lot of people shared how they felt seen and heard in this piece of writing that flowed right from Emily’s heart. Even a year later, at the time that I was interviewing her, someone had dropped her a message sharing how he felt seen, all thanks to Emily’s heartfelt article.
“But it wasn’t easy”, chuckles Emily, as she recalls how much she agonized over whether to hit the submit button on the article or not. “Except for a few really close friends, I had never shared this part of me with anyone. So, I was worried -- really worried about how my friends, family, and ex-colleagues would react. Not just that, being a business owner and an HR consultant, I also worried if I’d face any backlash from my clients for talking about dating and sex.”
But despite all the fears and worries that plagued her, Emily went ahead anyway. She sent the article to LA Times in September 2021; heard nothing from them for four months and then in February, her article was published.
“That article is MY VOICE, who I truly am. After all these years, I felt like I had finally found it. And getting to see the power of it was truly gratifying. Now, I hope to write more and share more with the world. But I didn’t always feel this way about my voice”.
A voice subdued and lost in the noise
As a little girl, Emily had a brain injury that left her partially paralyzed on the left side of her body. She also lost her ability to speak. Over the years, she worked hard to regain much of her mobility and speech but despite all that, continued to spend her childhood and adolescent years without making a big deal of her disability. She went on to do her Masters in Education and landed up in Washington DC, taking up her first job as a teacher and subsequently becoming an HR professional. But through all of these years, Emily never had the chance to fully acknowledge and embrace all parts of her, including her disability, nor did she know how to access her true voice.
“I struggled to find my voice at my earlier workplaces. I didn’t know how much to advocate for myself or as an HR professional, to advocate for my employees. Trying to strike a balance between the needs of the employees and the business was tough, to say the least. And to not have whatever it took to have that strong voice of advocacy made me feel miserable.”, recalls Emily.
“I then took a huge leap of faith in 2019. I moved all the way to California to start my business. And then the pandemic hit. I only knew one person in Los Angeles at that time and I had no idea how challenging starting out on my own would be. It was a time when I still hadn’t found my voice, my true self. I struggled financially and emotionally.
And that’s the moment -- and after all these years -- that forced me to reflect on my most authentic self. What does it mean to have a disability? What has it taught me? What can I share with the world that I’ve learned from having this disability?”
Today, Emily is a successful entrepreneur, speaker, writer and startup advisor. She is the Founder and CEO of CultureSmart, a consultancy that helps startups build their workplace culture. She also helps startups hire their first talent professional and mentors them to build successful HR practices within small and medium-sized companies.
Embracing her true voice
For Emily, embracing her true self meant embracing every single part of her. A quote on her website beautifully describes this journey:
“One of the things I learned in recent years is I can own all parts of my identity without being stuck in a box. I can walk differently than others, be the CEO of my company, and be a super feminine woman all at the same time. And in reality, I limit myself when I ignore pieces of my identity versus embracing all of them.”
She shares the credit of having found herself to a few things she’s been religiously committed to over the years.
The first is her work with a coach. “The first startup where I led Talent & People had mandatory one-on-one coaching sessions for all its leaders. And that’s when I realized how beneficial coaching is. It may not be for everybody and I don’t believe in forcing it on yourself or anyone else. Finding the right coach is also extremely important. I’ve been lucky and the time and money I’ve invested in these different modalities of self-work including meditation and yoga have helped me immensely in accepting and fully embracing myself.”
One of those things that Emily learned through her coaching journey was to fully embrace her feminine and masculine energies with no shame for either. We all have both the energies within us regardless of our gender and sexual orientation. At the workplace, Emily observed it was far easier to express a lot of her masculine energy but eventually, she learned to express her omega/feminine qualities at work too. She learned to allow whatever was coming up for her to flow through without judgment.
The second is Emily’s ‘hug-ee’ team. Interestingly all of their names start with a ‘J’ and they are people who she knows will always have her back no matter what. So every time she is overcome by the fear of failure or self-doubt, she hugs herself and says ‘this person has got you’, ‘this person has got you’ and so on, no matter who else is on her side or not.
“There is one other thing”, she recalls. “I was in Mexico and on a trek up the pyramids. There were no hand railings making it really challenging for me. Plus, I knew very little Spanish. Once I was on the top of the pyramid and looking down, I had this moment where I thought - OMG! How am I ever going to make my way down!! In moments like these, I look back and think about the long way I’ve come. The 8-year old Emily struggling with her speech and mobility wouldn’t have imagined being able to do this. I may not be perfect but I’ve come a long way. And that gives me a lot of confidence.”
Her experience with a disability has hugely informed Emily’s mission for herself. She wants to help people be happy within and outside the workplace. Today, she talks, writes and consults on a number of topics including workplace culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, employer branding, resilience and more.
She also serves as the entrepreneur-in-residence for Verizon’s Accelerator Program for startups. “It is a huge honor to have been invited twice to be the entrepreneur-in-residence for this program. The program is also particularly close to my heart because we collaborate with startups working on social issues. Last time, it was around disability innovation and this time, it is health equity. I go in and work closely with the founding team on their work culture and recruitment.”
Emily also feels she is finally closer to her lifelong dream of living between Los Angeles and New York City.
But does that mean she has finally stopped agonizing about publishing her work, speaking to an audience, having a vulnerable conversation with someone or living a big life?
“I am definitely much more confident now. But that doesn’t mean I’ll never again agonize over putting myself out there. I most probably will but I’ll continue to do the work that’s close to my heart despite it”, she said before bidding goodbye to me, ending the video call and getting ready to head off to New York.