By Lauren Ash. Photos by Zoe Rain.
This past weekend marked the start of a new, thrilling chapter for me. Nike Chicago launched a new initiative: Air Society Chicago. As I recently shared, I'm a founding member of this Nike Women driven collective that exists to ignite creativity, fuel ambition, and inspire greatness in all women of Chicago. In addition to being a founding member of this small group for incredible women who think and dream big and energize other women to do the same, I am also the newest addition to the Nike Training team! As a Nike Trainer, I provide athletes* (Nike views ALL of us as athletes) with yoga as an essential part of the training journey. I'm so proud to be a part of this expansion, and glad I can represent women of color in fitness and health.
As I look back at the past year, I can identify distinct ways that I acted and moved in alignment with achieving this opportunity, although it was never a goal of mine, never a possibility that even crossed my mind.
I get asked this question alot: Lauren, how do I go about working with big brands? We live in an influencer-driven society. Everyone wants to be an influencer. Not as many people want to be truly influential. It is my truth that to be truly influential, you have to be authentic. To be truly influential, you have to be moving in alignment with your values and your desires. To be truly influential, you only say yes to that which is in alignment. (Re-read the past two sentences, they are important.) What's the value in being solely an influencer? Constantly selling yourself and your community just to make money and gain visibility doesn't sound like my jam.
So I'm going to create a new question, one that I wish more people, especially young, aspiring women of color asked me: Lauren, how do I go about manifesting the desires of my heart and inspiring others along the way? Because that is the question that matters. When you're acting in alignment with your truest, highest self and most authentic life you envision for yourself, opportunities will arise, supportive individuals will show up, and you may even receive some amazing partnerships. And as you step into this space and rise within your purpose, so many more women of color are impacted by your story. And that's what matters to me.
Here, I share ways I manifested becoming a Nike trainer, by living in accordance with my values and desires. It is my hope that you can apply some of my best practices for manifesting into your own life and that you watch yourself flourish into your most authentic YOU!
1. Ditch goals, embrace intentions.
Okay, maybe not ditch altogether, I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. What's important, however, is that you first create intentions for your life. Intentions are different from goals in that you can start living them now. They aren't attached to a particular outcome. Here's an example:
Goal: I want to make 60,000 a year.
Intention: I am well supported financially and make choices that lead to financial sustainability and financial health.
The goal is fine, I suppose. But what if you don't reach it? Will you be salty? Will you justify poor financial decisions, like overspending and not saving, based off of the fact that you aren't making 60k? And what happens after you reach 60k? Is that your limit? Dream higher, boo!
Intentions are everything, for me, because they operate independently from an outcome. They affirm that right here, right now, you have everything you need to move in accordance with what you want to see in your life. With this perspective, goals are actually quite limiting.
For a deeper dive into some of what I'm talking about, order Danielle LaPorte's The Desire Map. She shares how crucial it is to get in touch with your values, your desires to truly know what you want. Creating intentions rooted in those values and desires will ensure that you are on a journey toward self-actualization, rather than self-destruction. We all know someone, or perhaps are that someone, who decided to work toward a goal because we THOUGHT it would make us happy. Any of this sound familiar:
I'm studying pre-med because my parents want me to.
I'm losing 20 pounds because then I'll be happier.
I'm moving to NYC with my partner because they got a job.
None of these things are inherently wrong. But if the person acting on them isn't doing them in alignment with their values and desires then they could end up miserable. Life's too short to be miserable.
I by no means had a goal of becoming a Nike trainer. I didn't know that was in the cards for me when I started cultivating a relationship with Nike Chicago one year ago.
Every single time I said "yes" to an opportunity to partner with Nike, I was acting in alignment with one, or more, of my intentions.
Here's an example, friends. One of my intentions is: I reach more women of color through sharing my story. I have found, again and again, that in simply sharing my personal story and journey of creating Black Girl In Om, all of the triumphs and all of the challenges in doing so, that I inspire women of color in profound ways. So, when my Nike Chicago colleagues reached out to speak at their Equality event during Black History Month, I said yes. Knowing that it was an event that was open to the public, and knowing that I was the only woman speaking on the panel, I said yes. My decision to show up allowed me to act in alignment with my intention. And after I shared my story, women approached me telling me how much it meant to them. This past weekend, in fact, months after that event someone told me that they attended that event and it inspired them.
Creating intentions, rooted in our values and desires, ensures that we're always living by our truth. Reaching milestones while living in that truth are simply like cherries on top of a big, bowl of ice cream.
2. Say YES to opportunities in alignment with your intentions.
Sound like a no brainer? For too many people, especially women, this isn't the case. Doubt, lack of self-worth, fear, all try to slide in and get in the way when a good opportunity comes knocking. In the past three years of my journey as a creative entrepreneur, as founder of Black Girl In Om, co-founder of Party Noire, and co-founder of Lifestyle with Ivory + Ash, here are some things I've said yes to without having done something like it before:
Starting a podcast (in our second season, the Black Girl In Om podcast is now among the top 100 listened-to health podcasts on iTunes)
Starting an online publication (when I first conceptualized Black Girl In Om, I was thinking of it primarily as an in-person space offering yoga sessions for women of color)
Applying to an artist residency (two years ago, when I first heard about the Arts & Public Life artist residency at the University of Chicago, I thought "oh, nice, I should recommend some friends for it"; last year, I was recommended to apply, applied, and now I am sharing my final exhibition project this Thursday at the Arts Incubator after my 10-month long residency)
Conceptualizing and creating tangible lifestyle goods (Deun Ivory and I are now on our third collection for our brand Lifestyle with Ivory + Ash which creates affirmations and illustrations for women of color)
Producing an epic New Year's Eve party (after our first year as Party Noire, Nick Alder, and DJ Rae Chardonnay and I were asked to produce what would be The Promontory's biggest production yet: New Year's Eve 2016. It was lit. It was beautiful. It was Black Joy.)
Ya'll. Yes, I'm special. I got magic powers and special sauce. But so are you. The list above is there because I decided to say YES, rather than shrink back in fear when opportunities were presented to me AND because I decided to create my OWN opportunities thereby saying YES to my own self. You might think that only confident people put themselves out there. Not the case. First of all, confidence isn't inherent to any of us: it is a practice (thanks, to my love Freddie Harrel, for discussing this with us in the first season of our podcast)! Some of us have more practice than others. Like my mentor-in-my-head Shonda Rhimes shares in her incredible book and New York Times Bestseller Year of Yes:
"I am only just beginning to understand that the very act of saying yes is not just life-changing, is is life saving. I now see two paths—a ragged rocky one that goes up to the top of the mountain and a nice easy one that heads down under it. I can fight to make the rocky climb, get a few bruises, risk getting hurt. And I can stand on the mountaintop and breathe the rare air in the warm sun, taking in the whole world before me. Or I can take the easy route underground. There's no sun down there. No air. But it's warm. It's safe. Oh, hey and there's a big supply of shovels. But really there's no need to work that hard. The dirt is nice and soft; if I just curl up on the ground, I'll slowly sink deep enough to form my own grave.
The years and years of saying no were, for me, a quiet way to let go. A silent means of giving up. An easy withdrawal from the world, from light, from life. Saying no was a way to disappear. Saying no was my own slow form of suicide. Which is crazy. Because I do not want to die."
Please read her book. Prior to reading, I thought that Shonda Rhimes was always confident. I mean, she has quite literally taken over the most popular segment on television with her shows. She has snatched our edges again and again with Scandal and even if you think that Scandal's recent season did the absolute most (me), or are appalled that Gray's Anatomy is still on (me), or can't believe she killed off Wes (me), you're probably still watching one or more of those shows. Still.
Shonda has inspired greatness in television, pop culture, and media more broadly. Shonda has represented marginalized people in ways never before represented to a global audience. And she did all of this because she loved it, not because she was confident. The first few chapters of Year of Yes make this painstakingly clear as she details her anxiety, her persistent refusal, and/or her lack of enthusiasm to do things that others would only dream of doing (like: meeting the Obamas, talking with Oprah, being on the Jimmy Kimmel show, the list goes on).
CONFIDENCE IS SOMETHING TO BE PRACTICED. And saying yes to opportunities strengthens this practice.
So, with Nike, I said yes. I first said yes to partnering with them last spring in the launch of their BraHaus, even though I hadn't previously been a part of an activation like that. I knew that in doing so, I would be able to invite my community of women of color to get involved with fitness and wellness, which I find to be deeply important. And I continued to say yes. This leads me to my next point...
3. Own your yes! Own your wins. Stop minimizing them.
I was consulting my friend and fellow badass Randi Gloss of GLOSSRAGS about personal branding about two months ago. Pre-Nike training gig. Pre-Nike partnership. She asked me a question similar to the question that I shared at the beginning of this post (the question that I don't like being asked). Interestingly enough, she specifically asked me about how I have gotten to a place where I'm working with Nike. I don't recall specifically what I said, but I remember minimizing my relationship with them. At the time, I think I was comparing myself to others. I knew of people who had formal ambassador relationships with brands. And, as my sis Deun Ivory shares comparison stifles creativity, and is also a joy killer! Also, rejecting and minimizing someone's affirmation isn't a good look.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson
Write that down and OWN it! I try to be as mindful in my speech as possible. The Four Agreements, mandatory reading for everyone on the BGIO team, has taught me that much: to be impeccable with my word.
Our words have power, as does our non-verbal communication.
In her chapter "Yes, Thank You" in Year of Yes (this is becoming a book review of Year of Yes and I don't care because that book is EVERYTHING), Shonda shares an astonishing phenomenon she witnessed at a dinner celebration for women in TV hosted by Elle magazine and its editor in chief Robbie Myers:
Before dinner was served, Robbie Myers welcomed us. She was smart and funny as she called our each name and pointed all of us out. Then, explaining why they were chosen for the magazine's list of great women in TV, she named each woman's accomplishments. The accomplishments were innovative, bold and impressive. A staggering number of powerful, accomplished women sat at that table. And yet, as the editor in chief pointed to each woman and named her powerful achievements, without fail—without fail—every single woman named did one of three things:
1. Shook her head and looked away, waving of the words and ensuing applause as if to say, "No. Nooo. Not really. Look. It's not as great as she's telling you. I maybe really was just mopping the floors and I tripped and fell, and accidentally typed that whole script."
2. Ducked her head, an embarrassed look on her face. "Me? She's talking about me? Don't talk about me, nobody should ever talk about me. Talk about someone else." If there were any kind of cheers when her name was called, she covered her face with her hands. Almost as though she was trying to shield herself from a tragedy unfolding before her.
3. Laughed. A mortified, embarrassed stunned "I can't believe I'm even sitting at this table with all of these awesome people because what she is saying about me is the world's biggest lie but they let me in the door anyway" laugh. Everything about her says, "WOW. Just . . . WOW."
Ya'll. Don't nobody have time for shrinking! Shonda admits that she "chose Door Number Two" but later reflected on how she started to put into practice saying thank you, accepting the affirmation about REALITY, and how she stopped calling herself "lucky." "Lucky implies I didn't do anything. Lucky implies something was given to me. Lucky implies that I was handed something I did not earn, that I did not work hard for ... I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don't call me lucky. Call me a badass." AMEN, Shonda!
May you own your next win proudly. I know I'm owning my latest win! As a Nike trainer, I get to do what I love and do it even bigger.
Guiding yoga this past weekend at the Air Society Chi HQ was unbelievable. I curated my own playlist (listen here!) featuring some of my favorite Chicago women including Jamila Woods, Noname, and Ravyn Lenae. And I watched women join me under the gorgeous clear blue sky and hot sun on the mat again and again to empower themselves through strengthening their breath, bodies, and souls in an affirming space. Being a part of the Air Society, with inspiring women like my girl DJ King Marie, Filipina baddie who owns her unique contributions to the world of music, Chicago, and style; and Hayet Rida, who inspires confidence and soul as a Ghanian-American blogger exploring everything from body positivity and minimalism to abuse and love.
I witnessed and was apart of inspiring conversations. I soaked up good vibes with some of Chicago's leading ladies: from Autumn Merritt, of Sir & Madame, and Shani Crowe, to Angela Brantley and Rhea Fernandez of Hero/Black.
Which leads me to my final point...
4. Surround yourself with people, especially women, who inspire excellence.
And I don't just mean excellence in your career, although that's clearly important. Excellence takes many forms. For example, to truly kick ass in your career, you must prioritize your health. Identifying sustainable systems so that you can maximize your potential is so key! I practiced that this past weekend to be able to guide 5 yoga sessions in two days, and co-host a Party Noire x Everyday People party. When people claim that they don't need sleep, praising the hustle-and-work-hard-til-I-die-mentality, I say a little prayer for their wellbeing. I'm particularly grateful for my Black Girl In Om team, including Deun Ivory, Chelcee Johns, Dro Hiraldo, Akudo Mez, Chante' Dyson, and Tiffany Hardin, for our constant support and exchange of resources with one another. Yes, our "work" matters, but so do we as individuals. And I'm so very grateful to my close friends who remind me that taking a breather is only going to help me refill my cup so I can continue to be giving to those I serve.
I'm inspired by my circle of friends and colleagues in Chicago who push me creatively and intellectually to be excellent. I'm inspired by anyone who has supported my vision, affirming me that prioritizing black and brown women in wellness matters, and that we can have an excellent space within which to do so.
Manifesting requires a steady output of excellence, faith, and trust. Surround yourself with people who vibe on that same frequency and support your excellence holistically.
This past weekend was so magical. The Nike Air Society launch was one of the most creative experiences I've been a part of and reflected the beautiful diversity of Chicago as it stands right now. Thank you to Nike Chicago and Nike Women, particularly Maya, Kathy, Erica, and Heter, for folding me into your dope tribe!
I'd love to hear your thoughts! How do YOU manifest? What supports you in being excellent? How do you practice and hone confidence? Share below. And tweet me!
Lauren Ash is a multifaceted creative entrepreneur and visionary most-recognized for her leadership prioritizing black women in the wellness and editorial fields. As the Founder and Creative Director of Black Girl In Om, she promotes holistic wellness for women of color through BGIO’s online publication, podcast, creative agency, and award-winning social media platforms. As co-founder of Lifestyle with Ivory + Ash, Lauren creates inspiring and educational affirmations on lifestyle goods for women of color. And as co-founder of award-winning Party Noire, she celebrates black womanhood through Black Joy centered parties and community gatherings.
Lauren currently sits an artist-in-residence within Arts and Public Life and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago, and is a consultant for women of color led startups. Her dedication and sustained attention to representing and unapologetically centering black women across all of her projects has garnered the attention of NYLON, Saint Heron, Vice’s i-D, Thoughtfully Magazine, ESSENCE, and many other platforms where she is recognized as a trailblazer and creative to watch. Lauren earned an MA in American Studies from Purdue University and a BA in Psychology from the University of St. Thomas. Visit her website: www.laurenash.co.