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Marie Roker-Jones on decoupling from hustle culture and embracing the beauty in vulnerability

Marie Roker-Jones had a successful career in the non-profit sector before stepping into the world of entrepreneurship. Like many professionals who build their careers around being of service, Marie experienced burnout and setbacks. But navigating those experiences didn't dampen her resolve. They simply reshaped how she approached her work.

She Co-Founded Essteem to help tech companies bridge their intentions with their impact around social and environmental issues. They do this by organizing hack times for companies in partnership with "nonprofit organizations that are addressing those causes and issues" their people care about.

Marie's inspiration for co-creating Essteem has, "always been about social impact." She has observed "people feel just more connected to their company's mission, they feel just more connected to the company they work for if they're giving back in a way that's meaningful to them."

One of the caveats that holds companies and teams back from being of service is believing the myth they have to do something grandiose. "They think it has to be something so grand and big. And it could be just something really small as 'how do I help a co-worker who's maybe struggling with something?'"

What's more, orienting your culture to one of service "keeps us humble. It also helps us to remember what is our mission and not get so caught up in the hustle-- the hustling culture that is so much part of the startup ecosystem. So being able to take a step back and say, Is this about us? Or is it about the work that we do?"

The hustle culture doesn't just happen in startups, it also can be pervasive in the nonprofit world. When there's a strong sense of service, we sometimes lose ourselves, thinking we have to give it all but then we give too much. And we can't sustain our giving.

Marie calls this compassion fatigue, which she experienced during her tenure in the Non-profit world. She learned the hard way, "it's so important to make sure that you are giving back to yourself too, and practicing self care, because it can be easy to cross the bridge from being of service to being a martyr."

It was a hard lesson to internalize, "I need to take a step back and take care, take care of myself because otherwise, I can't take care of others."

While working at her non-profit job, Marie was "diagnosed with like a chronic illness kind of was my wake-up call, it was this call to say, you are not immortal, you are not indestructible, that your body is telling you something... If you don't listen to your body when it whispers then you'll hear it when it screams."

When Marie was first diagnosed, she tried to push through as though nothing changed. She was operating from the conditioning that leaders have to be strong and told herself, "my region needs me." And "Because I think a lot of black women feel the need to continue pushing through. And we push through, as opposed to just pausing. Right, and, and I didn't pause I just kept pushing through as opposed to just pausing."

But then she pushed herself so hard, she ended up breaking down at Barclays in Brooklyn while watching Michelle Obama speak on her book tour. She realized, "What's the good of taking care of others, if you're not going to be around to enjoy your time with them."

The process of healing and changing how to best approach her work has "been a journey of reflection, understanding, compassion, and grace for myself. But also, I have to say, grief, right? I had to grieve the person I was before and come to the understanding of who I am now. And how do I set boundaries? How do I live this new life because it's so different?"

Marie's journey wasn't just about healing her body but undoing conditioning, which had been reinforced over the course of her life. "I made this assumption that I have to keep pushing myself, I have to keep working, I cannot show anyone that I can't do this because I have to just prove to everyone that I'm good, and I can do this. But the truth of it was I wasn't in a good space."

As part of rewriting the story of her conditioning, Marie learned "that we have to pay attention to how companies and our co-workers and our leadership treats us." Some of the expectations she internalized of her self were a result of the ways others treated her.

As she started to draw more boundaries and care for herself she encountered different reactions from people. Marie observed, "it's also about helping others understand that you are taking care of yourself, and they can either be part of that and be a support system, or you really have to take a step back."

Marie became aware she’d been hiding in a shell of armor. While, "I don't think I ever fully give up the armor," she learned to "break down some of the layers of the shell."

With time, Marie realized, "There's a beauty to being transparent and being vulnerable. It makes you human, it makes you relatable, it makes people feel like they're not alone."

Not only does sharing her experience help her to relate to others, it helps her stay accountable to herself. An essential "part of the self-care journey was to say, what I need."

Her experiences have not only helped her learn how to manage a thriving career while being a mom, and managing her own wellbeing. This journey of self-discovery and healing has helped Marie be a better leader for her team. As a leader she has pondered, "how do I connect with people in an authentic way if I'm not being honest with myself?”

Marie reflects, "being a leader means that you're setting an example for others on how you manage yourself, and how you engage and interact with others, but mostly how you show up."

To conclude, Marie shared what co-creating means to her. "It's really about giving opportunity to each other to let your light shine. But in the process of doing that means listening, pausing, and then paying attention."

For anyone feeling the tension between wanting to do it all and needing to honor the limits of your body - this interview is sure to provide relatable, and actionable insights. Check out the whole interview online here.

Connect with Marie:

Essteem's Website -

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