Miki Agrawal and Alex Lieberman recently shared stories about fighting shame and finding success through overcoming shame. Speaking on the Imposters podcast, the duo discussed the concept of creating a meaningful impact in your own life and being your own biggest motivator.
As the host of the Imposters podcast, Alex Lieberman regularly interviews celebrities, athletes, and entrepreneurs about the things that often go unsaid – shame, insecurities, and their personal journeys to greatness. Serial entrepreneur Miki Agrawal shared her own brushes with insecurity and finding her own voice as an industry disruptor. Below, read about their experiences:
Miki Agrawal Explores The Raft Parable
Miki Agrawal: I’m reading this book by Will Smith right now called “Will”. I don’t know if you read it.
Alex Lieberman: I just read it and that’s what I was thinking about and asking you that question.
Miki Agrawal: It’s amazing. Yeah, and he talks about that story of the raft parable. I remember that, and basically, he basically shares the story where this guy has to cross the river in order to live and get himself this raft to basically get across the river. He lives and he’s so proud of himself. He’s like, “I built this raft and I lived”, but then he was like, “I have to take this raft and now carry it on my head through a dense forest and now the raft is getting caught in trees because the forest is dense.” So, he has this conundrum; I have to like let this raft go but this raft just saved his life. But if you don’t let it go, then you’re going to die.
So, I didn’t realize for the longest time that I was still holding on to the raft in my own life. Where it’s like, I have to keep going. Even if I sold my first company, huge exit. It was amazing. I was still holding on to the raft. I think finally, it’s like the work the weekly work with my coach and my somatic therapist. Doing this deep deeper work has led me to be like let go of the raft like you’re safe. You don’t have to do it way anymore. So, I think I’ve had to learn in such a deep way how I don’t need to be like constantly like guard up, ready to fight back, or ready to constantly prove, prove, prove, prove, prove for love.
Alex Lieberman: I love Miki’s interpretation of the raft parable here. For me, when I first read this story, the raft represented the deeply held narratives that have such a big impact on how we behave in our lives. Whether or not we’re conscious of those narratives and while it can be a beautiful, beneficial thing. It can also come with immense tradeoffs, and determining when to let go of our rafts. AKA, our long-held beliefs can be incredibly difficult. For Miki, her raft was the belief that the only way to earn love was to succeed professionally. And this story she told herself played out in her early days of entrepreneurship. For example, when she began raising money for her businesses.
Miki Agrawal On Facing Professional Rejection
Miki Agrawal: I think I felt so ashamed when I would get the rejection. It was just such a blow, because I’m so achieving-based my whole life, up until starting a business with a sort of like, you could, if you just did the work and put your head down. You graduate from college; you can do well. You can get a great job. Then, when it comes to fundraising it’s so based on people’s opinions, their experience, what their portfolio actually invests in, and what their strategy is, and yet, in the very beginning, you kind of spray and pray. You just kind of meet everyone you can and you pitch everyone you can. And then, as rejections start coming in, it’s just like it was really hard.
I think it was the same way for me when hiring or, like not as much firing but having like employees that I’ve nurtured over time move on to get another bigger job or start their own companies. There was that deeper feeling of like, oh you don’t love me anymore. Things like that, where I’ve had to learn that it’s not about me. It’s about their own stuff, their own strategy, their own whatever they’re doing in their life. It’s their dream, or it’s whatever it is, it has nothing to do with me, but I internalized those very porous. I think I would just let energies get to me, and I think that all came from that sort of that deeper wound of wanting to be loved.
Alex Lieberman: As a CEO, unfortunately, or fortunately, like Miki Agrawal, you have to deal with rejection all the time. Whether it’s feeling rejected by the people that decide not to work for your business or the people you have to fire or investors that say, no we don’t think you’re going to build as big of a business as you think you are. So, like as related to both your career and your personal life, how did you navigate the depth of emotion that you felt from rejection, because of your deep-rooted need to feel loved?
Miki Agrawal: Yeah, I mean, at the beginning, super immature, not having the tools in the beginning to just kind of like feel the traction. Allow it to be there. Totally give it permission to be there. I also didn’t feel like I had the permission to feel shame or hurt. So, it would come out in anger. Anger was so much more accepted in society. Especially in the business world. Whereas, feeling shame or hurt or sadness or tearful is just not acceptable. Especially trying to be a woman in this society.
I never thought of myself as that anyway, but just from the example of being in business. It’s like strong, angry if you need to be but otherwise, just straight and narrow, go for it. “Have no fear”, that kind of attitude. I kind of adopted it falsely in the beginning, just being like, “I’m fine”, and then it would leak out in little spurts of anger or in ways that were leaking out from the core of my heart. So, I think over the last now nearly like 9 years, I’ve seen someone at least once a week, where a person that can help, kind of purge the feelings inside of me. They can actually come out in an immature way and they can come out in messy and just sort of like unconscious, and then we get to kind of sit with it and sip through it and look at it. And just be like, what’s real, what’s not, what’s coming from your negative love patterns from your parents and like what’s the root of it.
Ultimately, the root always kept coming back to wanting to be loved. That is just, I think, everyone’s deepest root and it’s the core.
Alex Lieberman: You know, that resonates with me so much because for the longest time I think what especially in the early days of building Morning Brew, I was a really bad manager. I think the reason was that I was such a people pleaser. I think the biggest challenge that people-pleasers face is you don’t always kind of the hard but necessary truths in a respectful way because you’re afraid of hurting others and then not feeling loved. So, I’m interested in, I’ve seen you talk about kind of your decision to even within Tushy, right. I believe you’re the chief creative officer, not the CEO. Like talk about your decision to not be in a day-to-day management role and why you made that decision.
Miki Agrawal On Empathy
Miki Agrawal: Yeah, I think because of the learning that I had that I am deeply empathetic, that I’m an empath at heart and I also, I’m kind of a literally split down the middle between my mom and my dad, probably a little bit more like my dad than my mom. My mom is a total loving people-pleaser giving you the shirt off my back whatever you want. I’ll give you anything. My dad is stern, Indian, like get the job done, make it happen. Don’t fail at any cost and just put your head down and work kind of mentality. So, I feel like one of the challenges earlier on was I would be whiplash from people-pleasing to getting things done.
I think from an employee perspective, that was hard to manage up, because I would people-please, and I would get like, you know if I wasn’t getting the job done, then my stern dad would come out. Then, it would be a bit too far this way versus, like so then it would be like a whiplash a little bit. What I realized about myself is I’m sort of a creative explosion of ideas and sort of just campaigns and constantly just drinking in the world around me and just finding really cool ways to kind of express a business idea, a campaign, a thing. But when it comes to really disseminating doubt in a constantly level way, that’s just not me, and in fact, I’m actually much better suited to be the cheerleader and not have to be the person to have to like lay down the law.
I would be probably too, I would like skew too much like my dad. So, finding somebody who has executive experience is key. So, I brought in Jason Urjavo, Amazon executive of 10 years. A really amazing guy. Just a good family man, who has executive experience, the pertinent experience, has worked in stars before, has built things before, and he’s just level-headed. And then my co-founder and COO Justin, also chill. It doesn’t matter if the sky’s falling, his expression wouldn’t change. They admire me for my explosion of energy and I admire them for their even-keeled personalities.
Check out Miki Agrawal’s Medium page for more musings from the entrepreneur.