When I first met Susanna Dawn, I was struck by her incredible strength and courage to embrace her true self as a trans woman, moving beyond societal labels and boxes. Her powerful journey of reinvention, which began at the tender age of seven, is one that will inspire you to be your authentic self and hold your head high, no matter the obstacles that come your way. Susanna joins us in this enlightening conversation, sharing her experiences and insights on creating a safe workspace for trans individuals where trust, understanding, and psychological safety are paramount.
Join us for this powerful and authentic conversation as Susannah shares her journey with us that freed her from the labels, boxes, and heartache to living an authentic life where she gets to do her best work.
Connect with Susanna on LinkedIn here.
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Hello, my friends, i must have written this podcast introduction at least a dozen times. I take great pride in making sure I present my guests in their best possible light. I respect them and their time to come here and share their stories with you. Today's guest is someone I've wanted to talk to for a while. We've probably had three conversations leading up to today's episode, and I'm bringing you this conversation because you may never get a chance to hear a conversation like this. I invite you to listen and be open to my guest's powerful message. Let's get started. This is episode 162 of the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I'm your Jo hn Neral. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, by using my proven four-step formula. My guest today is Susanna Dawn, and she says quote I'm not what I used to be, yet I am who I've always been unquote. Susanna Dawn entered 2022 with a total reinvention and now looks at life and business from a vantage point that is set beyond labels, beyond boxes, those places in which our fears work hard to confine us as they try to keep us from seeing how we are so much more than the boxes and labels could ever express. Susanna Dawn's experience and leadership role spans a diverse group of industries, including US Army Cavalry Officer, construction Management for Design and Commercial Projects, managing a $20 to $30 million budget for energy efficiency programs and writing for renewable energy firms, and she was also part of a campaign for Sephora. A motivational speaker, storyteller and business consultant, susanna Dawn no longer fits the proverbial box, and never did. She speaks at length on the importance of being our authentic selves and how to turn the obstacles of pivoting of reinvention into speed bumps. Susanna works with women, groups and organizations as they consider their own reinvention processes so they, too, can move beyond their boxes and labels. However, you have moved beyond the boxes in your life and career or still find yourself stuck. I hope you will listen to this episode with tremendous respect, empathy, grace and pride. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Susanna Dawn.Susannah Dawn:
My name is Susanna Dawn and I'm a writer. I'm a speaker. A lot of what I do is focused on the importance of being our authentic selves. I've done my own personal reinvention. That's another topic I deal with And one of the big pieces of that is just moving beyond boxes. So speaking, writing, it's basically trying to lift other people up.John Neral:
And you do that by your work and by your story, and one of the reasons I invited you on to the podcast was at the end of every episode, i always say to people remember how we show up matters. And for you and your life, how you show up has certainly been a huge part of that being a very authentic person as well. So, susanna, i want to turn the mic over to you for a moment, because I normally begin with tell us what your mid-career moment was, but you have a much more powerful moment, and I'd be honored if you would share that with us today.Susannah Dawn:
So for me, when I think about everything that's happened, I kind of have to start back as early as age seven, because all my life I knew who I was, but by the age of seven I was essentially rejected by my dad And over the next few years, through high school, i lost my confidence I was having. I mean, i was successful in whatever I did, but the confidence was there, wasn't there because I wasn't, i wasn't me, and things started turning around within the last five to six years. So the way, the way I tell my story is, i get tired of being put in boxes And that was one of the things that my dad did was telling me who I am, what I am, people telling me I'm supposed to niche down and I'm the type of person who can't. And then doors started opening and for people that don't know me and I don't, i don't promote this part of me and there's a reason for that. The face that people are gonna see right now today is only about three years old, and the box that I dealt with all my life was everything around being trans, because I never I never saw myself as anything other than a girl when I was a kid, as a woman now, but I had to. I had to identify as a shell of a person when I knew my soul was female and has been my entire life. So that's kind of where I'm at right now.John Neral:
First, and foremost, thank you for sharing that with us. Secondly, when we think about our journey, and as a member of the LGBTQ plus community as well, i can relate to some parts of your story when you talk about being put in boxes and being told to be something different than how you identify. One of the things that I am curious to hear from you about, though, is you have this quote and you say I'm not what I used to be, yet I am who I always been. I love that quote from you, right and so when you were growing up and you were having to deal with the hurtful words and the venom from your father, what, what was it that got you through those moments to where you are now? I know that's such a broad question, but motivate us a little bit. what was the thing that got you through on on your journey today?Susannah Dawn:
Well, this is this is where I'm good at breaking boxes, because when I think about it, i think about the question the way that you asked it. I mean, my first thought is I withdrew. I withdrew from my dad, i withdrew from my friends by before I was done in elementary school. I really didn't have any friends and and that's how it went from there With through society I, but there was still something in me that just wouldn't give up. I could think about giving up at times and there are times that I kind of wished giving up but I couldn't do it. And what really turned out to be kind of my foundation through everything, it was there in the beginning. It feels like it kind of disappeared in the middle, but then it came back and it's stronger than ever is my faith. Faith is something that it's. It's it was created to be who I am and each of us is unique. Each of us is created uniquely, created in a way that you're given your own gifts and you, just if you embrace those gifts, you can start to do almost anything that just adds good and lifts people up around you.John Neral:
Susanna, how old are you today? 58. Alright. When did you believe you knew that your gender identity was? I don't know if I'm saying this right, but like when was it different than how you were born or how you identified?Susannah Dawn:
Thank you Because, again, you're gonna hear a whole lot of different things. Within this community of people that are talking about, they identify as this. There are that it's like everybody's unique and this is why I'm gonna take a side step. When people stick us in these boxes, they expected everybody that has that label is the same and the reality is, within that box, everybody is as diverse as the rest of the country. So nobody in that box can speak for everybody in the box because each of us has a different experience. So, to go back to the question, i knew who I was at the age of three. By the age of three, i was. I still vividly remember going to bed every night and praying to God to wake up a girl. The thing is, at the age of three, i don't know what the difference is, i just know who I am. It's like this is what my soul is. The soul cannot change. So many people talk about other aspects. It's like, no, i don't go down that path, i'm not gonna talk about that. Stuff is like to me again, it's faith, my soul. I've known who I am.John Neral:
I've known what I am my whole life what you just said is so real, it's relatable to me in a parallel to my own experience, because I remember going to bed and praying to God. I wish I was straight. I felt like I knew when I was around seven, couldn't explain it, but I knew. And yet, as we're talking and as we have talked over the last few months, the thing that I I want us to be able to communicate to anybody who's listening is that there is no way, there is no way in my own experiences that I can specifically relate to your journey. I might have a parallel, i might have a quote, unquote similar experience, but I can't specifically relate to what it is that you specifically went through. It would be the same thing if another gay man said to me oh, i know exactly what you're going through. No, you don't, because you don't have my. You don't have the exact same experiences as that. I do believe, without question, that it is my job and responsibility as a human being, as a leader, as an empathetic individual, to do my best to understand and appreciate the journey that you have gone through your entire life. Is that fair?Susannah Dawn:
Yeah, and let me take this a little bit different too, because we've talked a very specific direction and we've talked about a very specific box. In many ways. When I do my posts on LinkedIn, the way I approach everything, i don't highlight this piece of me, because I'm so much more than this piece. When I write, i will talk about how, especially because a lot of what I focus on is women, the issues around being neurodiverse, the issues around mental health, the issues around overcoming addiction And, like you said just, we don't have the same experience, but we have parallels. It's the exact same thing. All of these other issues. They have parallels. People are hiding these pieces of themselves for fear of what might happen. If somebody finds out, if somebody finds out that the CEO, she's got a tattoo, she's hiding it because she's afraid of what could happen. They're that person who's got a mental health, their borderline, and they don't know how other people are going to treat them. But the reality is a lot of these differences in people. For many of them, that is their superpower. They're not allowed to show their superpower because they're hiding it for fear of judgment. And the reality is, if we would stop judging and let people be their authentic selves. So many things can happen in this world that aren't happening right now because people would rather fight each other than realize they have more in common than they don't.John Neral:
Their point about fears is so well taken, because they are the things that we build up that story in our mind that hold us back in some ways And whether it's a limiting belief or it's an assumption or an interpretation, there typically is something that roots that fear in, what causes it and what, to your point, holds us back in that regard. When you think about the workplace and you think about the fears that typically a mid-career professional might have, right And I'm curious from your point, what advice do you have for us in terms of breaking through some of those fears, the reservations that might be holding us back, that hold us back from being unauthentic I can't talk right now More authentic or excellent selves. What would you say to that?Susannah Dawn:
Some of that's going to be how a person can engage with their peers in the company, in the organization, and some of it will be on the organization's shoulders to make sure that it's a workplace where people do feel safe. If I take the business approach to this, just to sidestep a little bit a lot of companies, they may talk about being a safe place and wanting people to be authentic, but they don't really promote it. And what they don't realize is when people are hiding a piece of themselves. They're not And, just like you just said, it's hard to engage with other people fully because you're afraid they'll find out something And then what's going to happen? And you're depending on this job. You become a depreciating asset for the company. When everybody can feel like they have a place, they're in a safe place, the company cares and they can be open. Because here's the thing. To be authentic does not mean you go around telling everybody what it is you were afraid to tell them. Being authentic is not me walking around telling everybody oh, i'm trans, right, no, being authentic means that you own it. You own the fear. The fear no longer owns you, and so when you own that fear, you decide who you will tell what. You will tell them, when. You will tell them where. You will tell them how. You will tell them. It's like the who, what, when, where's and why's why you're going to let them know. Most importantly, if you're going to tell them, this is still you.John Neral:
A million thank yous for that, because when we think about what we choose to share with people and what came to mind as I was listening to you was, you know, as members of the LGBTQ plus community, we have a coming out story. The last thing we want is for somebody to out us. That's one of our biggest fears. Right For me to own the story and to your point, and you said, own the fear. Right That's me taking ownership and claiming my story and choosing who, when, what, where and why I choose to tell it. And most, importantly, yes. And if thank you, yes, correct. And if The thing that also came up for me was that there needs to be trust there. Right, we think about who we, who we tell. Right, there needs to be trust there. One of my nearest and dearest friends I remember the exact, i could tell you the exact night place where we were and everything And I told him and I said I'm gay, and he looked at me and he went I know, and it was just his way of telling me that that I was like okay, but I felt safe enough that I could do that. Susanna, when we think about psychological safety and we think about workplace safety, i'd love for you to spend a few moments talking with us a little bit specifically to that mid-career leader or manager who may have a trans man or woman on their team, and what advice would you have for them to be more sensitive and respectful to members of the transgendered community in creating that safe workspace for them?Susannah Dawn:
So this, this type of situation each person is different. So if you're involved with somebody who's in the trans community in the workplace, you're gonna you kind of have to understand where you're at as well as where they're at Now. hopefully it's a place that's open and and then it is just kind of understood. If it's not, it's part of it is just kind of listening and understanding what they're willing to open up about, how open they are about anything. The last thing anybody should do is point blank ask the question because that's for the other person's side, even if it's like so obvious If they're not, if they're not telling others. it's almost like if you go up and you start asking, are you trans? that can have its own psychological impact, because now that person is worried about how other people think about them as opposed to just doing their job, and that's really all most people want to do. is they want to do their job. So it's I know it's like it's like walking over thin ice in some ways, and the community, the organization's community, is really what's going to play a strong role in this. How do they allow people to be?John Neral:
Well, and I appreciate you being very specific and calling out and saying don't ask the question right, because there's so many things wrong with that. But in addition, it is about how do you build that kind of safety and trust And for people who were listening, a few episodes ago I believe it was episode 156. I had a conversation with Carolina Reese from a boutique DEI firm called the Ready Set. The topic of the podcast was called Let's Talk Everyday Inclusion, avoiding Microaggressions and Using Pronouns, and I invite my listeners to go back and take a listen to that episode as well, because things that people could say that they might think they're being well-natured may actually end up being a microaggression and actually be hurtful or harmful And, in a leadership role, that can actually damage the relationship that you're trying to build with people on your team.Susannah Dawn:
Well, and another piece of it is the first thing anybody does. It's how does somebody look, what do they look like? And the snap judgment is made of what box they're going in. Well, the reality is there are women who look like they could be men, there are men who look like they could be women, and suddenly you ask somebody these kind of questions And then you find out that no, they are. It is a woman, and you're asking if she's a trans woman. That's not a position I would want to be in, right.John Neral:
Yeah, of course, yeah, yeah. And it's one of those things where how many times have you and I said, right, if we can just pause for a minute and think about what you're going to say and maybe rework it a little bit. It's like I remember people saying to me like, oh well, you don't act gay. I was like, well, how does gay person act? Right? Again, it comes back to your point about the boxes that we're placed in right, the perceptions, the assumptions, the interpretations or beliefs that people are, the beliefs that people have about their own experiences in that regard. So I appreciate this conversation. I'm going to take it one step further with you in the workplace though, if that's okay. In a conversation leading up to our interview today, we talked a little bit about guidelines or guidance over policies, so the listeners can't see this. Susanna just gave me this big smile when I reminded her of this part of the conversation. Tell us a little bit more, when you're talking to companies and organizations, what you mean specifically about advocating for guidelines over policies.Susannah Dawn:
So I know a lot of people will think that this policy is this concrete thing and it's equal for everybody and it's great. The thing is, and we'll just take, let's say, this company is putting together this, it's going to go with the policy for how they're going to treat people that come out as trans And the first one to come out in the company is, I'll just say, they're like under 30, they're so happy to be out and they're willing to tell everybody everything and the policy is spotlighting that this is who this person is. They're in the spotlight, they're soaking it up And everybody knows. It's like so obvious, everybody knows and that's the policy. So the next person to go through, that's what it's going to be. Everybody's going to get this, maybe even a canned email or they're going to get something. Everybody knows. It's the same. It's cookie cutter Policy. Is your kind of cookie cutter is the word I would think of. Person number two this might be a 45 year old executive in the company. All they want to do is walk into the company as their authentic self And the only reason I use they at this point is I'm not going to say I'm not going to sign a gender to which way it is, because it goes always. It could be a trans man, it could be a trans woman, it doesn't matter. They see all the attention is put on this person. They don't want that attention. They've already held onto this for so long. They're not looking to burst the dam for attention. They just want to be their self. They want to walk into the building, be addressed as who they are and keep going about business as usual. The knowledge hasn't changed. There's really nothing about the person that changes after a transition, Except physical. Now, if this person no longer feels safe in the company because of the policy, suddenly they're either going to hold everything back in which could be harmful to them, or they're going to up and they're going to go somewhere else. This could be an important person to the company. To lose that person is like oh my goodness, If you do a guideline, it's more focused on meeting people where they are. A policy might give you like a race track here's the finish line and everybody has to cross the finish line by a certain date in terms of employees and how they're treating people. Well, that curmudgeon who's doing everything they can and they're a great worker and they're trying, they'll never cross the finish line, Does that mean that they're no good, that they have to be fired? Meet people where they are, Meet the employees where they are, Meet whoever. Whatever this guideline is designed for if it's mental health, if it's LGBT, if it's got to do with neurodiversity, disabilities, all of these different topics The most important thing is to meet people where they are and treat them as individuals because they are. Each of us is unique. I'll take it right back to that box, because the thing about that box when somebody places you in a box, they pick a subset of a subset of a subset out of that box and that's how they will paint everybody in the box, Which is why I say everybody in that box is just as diverse as the rest of the country. You can't do that.John Neral:
Yeah, for the people who are listening, and I would offer this to them. this is so applicable to everybody on your team. Get to know them, get to know their journey, get to know what they like, what they don't. As you continue to build that relationship, show up for them as the best leader that you can be, because you're taking time to get to know them. I had a conversation recently with somebody who was very, very strong about how there's workplace guidelines and there's personal guidelines. You may never know, when you network and connect with somebody, where that connection may lead. It happens because you take time and getting to know them. I think that rings very true to your point about not putting people in boxes based on our own fears, perceptions, beliefs and assumptions and truly getting to know them as the authentic individual they are.Susannah Dawn:
Well, susanna, we are going to start wrapping up here. I could continue this conversation. I hope someday that we will. As we start to wrap up here, as I ask all of my guests what advice would you have for somebody listening to help them build their mid-career GPS?Susannah Dawn:
Be your authentic self, know yourself, know who you are. Then find those ways that you can let your true self be your guide. The more that we hide things about us and this is why, when I talk about these topics, i will take it down to neurodiversity, and for some it's having an accent that doesn't fit the local region. It's so many different topics If we could be our authentic selves, if we can let some of these walls down, then we can engage more. We can engage better with people, and then collaboration has a real chance of working. The more that you can be your authentic self, the more you can listen to people, and if there's something you don't like about them, then just work around it, because they are not. That's not who they are. We can't say that that person is trans and that's all they are. That person is borderline or has ADD, and that's all they are. We are each so much more than whatever box we can be put in, and because we're human, we can be put in a lot of different boxes. Well, reality is you are so much more than all of those boxes combined. The best you can do is be authentic and move beyond boxes.John Neral:
The powerful message for everyone and I thank you for that. I thank you for this conversation. So, susanna, if people want to connect with you, they want to follow you, learn more about you and what you do. I'm going to turn the mic over to you now to share all of those things in the great places where people can connect and follow you.Susannah Dawn:
Thank you, John. The one place that most people will be able to find me where I'm at the most is on LinkedIn. Just look up Susanna Don. I think I'm about the only one that's on LinkedIn, but that's where I spend most of my time. A lot of what I do is speaking, it's writing, and I have some programs that are coming up that I'll be offering ongoing, which will include a Power Word workshop, which is focused on finding that. It's like a mini vision board finding that word that really speaks to you and will spark you. And when you hit these tough points, you can just pull that word out, have a couple of pictures on there and go okay, I'm grounded, again, I can move forward. And then after that, probably in June I will have, or in July I will have, vision boards, And again, it's intentional. It's being intentional about what your vision is, what your word is, what's important to you. It's being authentic, which is why I'm adding these to everything. So that's a lot of the stuff that I'm working on right now.John Neral:
I will make sure that the link to your LinkedIn profile is in the show notes and I'll share that whenever I post on social media so that people can connect and follow. When you do go to reach out to Susanna, please mention that you heard her today on the mid-career GPS podcast. I'm sure we'll both appreciate that. So I want to thank you for listening, But more importantly, Susanna, thank you for being such an amazing guest. I am honored that you took the time to come on here and share your very powerful story And I certainly look forward to us staying connected.Susannah Dawn:
Well, thank you. Thank you for having me, john, it was great, and for everybody that's listening, thank you for your time to listen, because that's the greatest gift that we all have to give is our time.John Neral:
I think that is the perfect way to end this conversation and to thank everybody for their time, and so, my friends, i'm just going to leave you with this. We build our mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time And, as Susanna demonstrated so clearly today how we show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform And, if you have a moment, i'd love to hear your comments on Apple podcasts. Visit JohnNarrowcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you and your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. Don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at JohnNarrowCoaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters.