Being an empath in the business world can be challenging sometimes, but it also has its perks. Learning how to control and manage our emotions when dealing with clients or employees requires a deep understanding of why and where our feelings come from.
Whether we tend to make rash decisions triggered by excitement or anger, to accept jobs or tasks just to please people without anticipating burnout, or to succeed in our ventures but still feel like a fraud – these are all actions that stem from our highly sensitive character.
We continue the series of conversations about empathy with our wonderful guest, Tiffany Da Silva, who openly discusses her experiences with strong emotions and challenging life situations. Today’s episode is filled with wisdom nuggets such as ways to avoid burnout and save energy, methods to overcome the imposter syndrome, and techniques to change bad habits – so make sure you don’t miss it!
Tiffany Da Silva is a highly accomplished digital marketer. She started experimenting with SEO tactics when she was nine years old and had no idea that SEO and eCommerce were even a thing. Her first online store sold shaving products, and about a decade later, Tiffany ventured into startup land. Since then, she’s worked on over 500 websites and helped more than 50 different small businesses to grow incredibly fast.
As a driven doer, she went on to create her own product called, “FlowJo” and her goal is to create tools that inspire, educate, and entertain others so that their positive impact ripples throughout companies and communities.
Tiffany talks to the voice inside our heads that sometimes tells us we’re not doing enough or we’re not enough, so stay tuned and listen to this episode of the Drag & Drop show to get a glimpse of her beautiful, generous mind.
Stuff I was curious to know:
- How Tiffany experienced empathy in the most challenging moments of her life. (02:16)
- How she learned to manage empathy and emotions in the context of business decisions, which should be accompanied by high doses of objectivity. (10:58)
- How she empathizes and connects with new customers she’s never had direct contact with. (26:54)
- If it’s worth following your gut when choosing clients (and how to practice it). (32:28)
- How to find the energy to support all of the emotional labor involved in building a company and working with clients, practicing empathy along the way. (46:33)
- How Tiffany changed the story inside her head and everything that she was telling herself to transform her life. (50:47)
What you can learn from this episode:
- How to recognize if you’re a highly sensitive person and what this could mean to you. (05:23)
- What it takes to control rash decisions through meditation. (14:51)
- Ways to be authentic in what you share with the world without it becoming an energy-depleting process. (19:11)
- How to gain customers without losing the meaningful connection you have with them. (28:53)
- The root cause of feeling empathy but not being able to practice it – the three types of relationships we have with people, empathy-wise. (38:58)
- How to overcome imposter syndrome. (54:13)
- What a Shine Crew is and how building one can create opportunities to experience and manifest empathy. (58:22)
Emotionally-packed versus data-driven choices
Feelings and emotions can really take over and allow us to make bad decisions as a result. That’s why, in business, every choice we make has to be based on data. Numbers don’t lie, they say – and it’s true. When it comes to cold, hard decisions that concern your product or your business, take your time, listen to other people’s ideas with empathy and respect, but always look at statistics before you make your next step.
Negative self-talk – and lack of self-empathy – can be our worst enemy. More often than not, what we tell ourselves to be true is different than what actually happens in the real world and knowing the difference is really important. Oftentimes, we act based on the stories that we’ve played out in our heads. For example, we get defensive if we think a person doesn’t like us or we decide against our benefit when we imagine what people need from us. Before any move you make, question yourself, “What am I thinking? Is this real? Is it healthy for me?” External help, such as reminders on your phone or post-its left in plain sight, can help you stay grounded and be compassionate with yourself.
Strangers can be incredibly supportive
As empaths, we tend to listen more, show compassion, and relieve tensions and that’s why we are the go-to persons when someone wants to unload their problems. We usually guide the conversation toward the other speaker and show real interest in their story. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to open up to friends because we don’t want to burden them with our troubles. But empaths also need to blow off steam, so what’s the best way to do that? Sure, you can meditate, do yoga, and try other techniques, but what is really helpful is to find a person you don’t know – a coach or a therapist – who is willing to listen to you. They can offer you a safe space to talk about your problems without you feeling guilty for being the most important person in the room for a few minutes.
Andra Zaharia: Welcome to the Drag & Drop show, where we explore how practicing empathy transforms how we do business and live our lives. I’m your host, Andra Zaharia, a fellow podcast listener and creator. This season, I’m on a journey with Creatopy to discover how leading women around the world use empathy to connect in the work that matters. Join us to find out how to drag and drop small acts of empathy into our daily lives to make it more rewarding for us, and those around us.
Andra Zaharia: Tiffany DaSilva is a highly accomplished Digital Marketer with an infectious laugh and incredible energy. What makes her even more fascinating is that she started experimenting with SEO tactics when she was nine years old and had no idea that SEO or eCommerce were even a thing. Her first online store sold shaving products – so imagine the puzzling reaction her parents had when they found out. About a decade later, Tiffany took those skills and ventured into startup land. Since then, she’s worked on over 500 websites and helped 50 different small businesses and more, and startups to grow incredibly fast. As a driven doer, Tiffany didn’t stop there; she went on to create her own product called FlowJo. Now, her goal with FlowJo is to create tools that inspire, educate and entertain other doers, so that their positive impact ripples throughout companies and communities. Most of all, Tiffany talks to the voice inside our heads that sometimes tells us we’re not doing enough or maybe that we are not enough.
Andra Zaharia: I’ve watched her talk from Learn Inbound 2018 over a dozen times, and each time I’m reminded about the power of empathy and practicing it as self-compassion. So, Tiffany, it’s fantastic to have you here! I wanted to start with a question that goes a bit like this: when did empathy make the biggest impact on your life?
Tiffany DaSilva: Empathy is kind of weird. I have a weird relationship with empathy because I recently found out through some reading about highly sensitive people that I actually might have too much. But it’s not necessarily too much for myself, it’s actually too much for other people. So, it’s a complicated relationship. A lot of the times when I look at different people, and when I’m managing different people, I see every side to why they could be upset, why they’re not doing well – and those things kind of keep me up at night. I can be speaking on a stage and I’ll zone in on someone in the audience and I can spend weeks afterward wondering if I helped them or not. So, it’s a little bit sometimes debilitating, but it also gives me kind of a unique quality.
Tiffany DaSilva: On the other hand, though, empathy for myself is something that I have struggled with a lot and it’s the reason why I started to really look into imposter syndrome and especially after getting so burnt out at one point because I was trying to please everyone – I was seeing everyone and all their issues and maybe they were mean to me, but I would tell myself it’s okay because they’re going through this thing and that’s why they’re mean, and it’s not their fault but meanwhile, I wasn’t giving myself the same kind of treatment and going, “You know what? You deserve better, you should be speaking up for yourself, you should be compassionate to yourself and give yourself some time. So, yeah, it’s a weird feeling to be in between the two and I don’t know, I think everyone has various degrees of empathy toward others and empathy toward themselves. I think you have the people who are on the other side of the spectrum where it’s like, “You know what? I am amazing, I am great!” but they don’t have empathy for others. Then you have the people who have too much empathy for others and they don’t have empathy for themselves. And then, hopefully, there are people in between that have found that great balance, who I hope are listening today and know that they’re doing alright because they have a mixture of two. That’s where I think I struggle and really work hard to be in the middle of – in that balance between the two.
Andra Zaharia: I think I understand myself. I think I have kind of that shared sensitivity toward others as well and I didn’t realize it until quite late in my life and I was wondering if you had a trigger moment or at some point when you realized that this can be, actually, sort of a burden and something that takes a lot of willpower and energy to kind of manage?
Tiffany DaSilva: For years, I’ve had people telling me when they met me, “If I were you, I would read the book, ‘Highly Sensitive Person’. You should read it. It’s amazing! It’s totally you! It’s what I think about when you say certain things.” And I was like, “No, no, no, I’m okay.” And then, it was last year, I was having a tough year, I took a couple of days off, went on vacation and decided, of course, during probably the most stressful time in my life, I’m going to pick up this book, and I’m going to open it up and read it because I was feeling very bogged down by feeling for other people and not enough for myself. And it was a little bit earth-shattering, to be honest. I’m sure it’s the kind of feeling that you feel like when you find out that you may have a mental illness, but it’s kind of like a good feeling where you’re like, “Okay, I’m glad that I know this and I’m aware.” But on the other side, you’re kind of like, “Oh my gosh! What am I supposed to do with this information?”
Tiffany DaSilva: And so, some of the stuff in the book said that people who are highly sensitive, aren’t able to watch movies – movies are really uncomfortable for them because it’s too much of an emotional roller coaster – and that’s something I’ve said my whole life, “I can’t watch it! You have to tell me what emotion – it’s not about the end result. Just tell me what emotions I’m going to feel? Am I going to cry? Am I going to be angry? Am I going to be this?” Or, I would see people go through breakups, and I would go through breakups, but for some reason, it always seems so much harder for me to get over things. I thought that was just me not being tough enough or resilient enough or confident enough, but really, it was because I feel emotions a bit differently. And so, walking in a room and starting to realize then, that you see the world in energies from other people and that could drain you sometimes or that can get you really hyped up. But, just starting to talk to people and asking certain questions, finding out that some people don’t have it as deep as I do. It’s almost like sometimes people can see energies and colors and those types of things, but I feel it so deeply. When I’m on a stage, I can actually, as I’m talking, I can feel that someone on the right-hand side may have a certain energy and I end up looking for them and trying to find them. And I thought everyone did that.
Tiffany DaSilva: So, it made me a little bit scared because some of the things that it said was that it was hard to have personal relationships, it was hard to not get hurt really badly, it was all these kind of things that I just didn’t really want to accept, and I spent the last year really looking into joining groups like Reddit groups and stuff, with people who are also highly sensitive, talking to different people who teach about it, therapists who focus on highly-sensitive people, because I just wanted to understand it a bit more. And now that I know, it’s weird. You know how people say, “You have like a superhero, kind of power” I feel like it is. But it’s also kryptonite – you have to know what your kryptonite is. And I’ve become a lot more aware. But in that, I’ve also become a lot more compassionate and giving myself permission sometimes to not do social functions or to not talk to certain people who make me… Now I can feel that anxiety and know what it is, whereas before I would just put it down. So yeah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster learning. Going on the other side, I don’t know if it was the same for you.
Andra Zaharia: I’m actually, first of all, super interested in reading that book and there are so many strings I want to pull out here in everything that you have told me. I think it’s fantastic to have this level of awareness. I do understand because I have a couple of sensitive people around me and I feel like I actually discovered the concept of high sensitivity in children and adults by reading “Quiet”, by Susan Cain – she talks a bit about that, and that explained so many things for me in the context of introversion, and how we actually define all these things and how we learn to name them and how we learn to peel away at their nuances and figure out which one fits our case.
Andra Zaharia: So, it’s very interesting to hear you talk from this perspective because I think that it gives us an insight into our own self-reflection and our own level of awareness. Plus, it helps connect. I think that joining groups, basically, is proof of empathy toward others and toward yourself as well because these groups are built exactly on that – on practicing that empathy – and creating that bridge so we don’t feel alone in whatever particular thing that challenges us more than it does others. I think that you’re incredibly brave to be able to talk about all this in such detail and with such clarity. So, I’m really excited to have this conversation and learn all these things from you.
Andra Zaharia: So, you’ve told me that you see all these emotions in people and I was curious because you work with so many entrepreneurs and you work also with a lot of data-driven insights and trying to make objective decisions as a marketer. How does that impact your work? How does it enable your work? And how have you learned to manage it in the context of something that should have high doses of objectivity like business decisions usually do?
Tiffany DaSilva: It actually surprises people because I am so focused on other people’s emotions, and so, I think, heightened and aware of when people make choices that are very emotionally-packed versus data-driven. I think people sometimes will find that I am very almost cutthroat about decisions that I make because I’ll say something and people would be like, “You know, there’s all this information – anecdotal information – that this is what people think, this is what people do, and I think that you should apply that to your business” – for FlowJo for me – and I’ll look at them going like, “No! I mean, the data is not there. We don’t have enough information right now”, and people would be like, “But I read these articles. How come…?” And I’m just like “No, I won’t do it” because I know how feelings and emotions can almost take you over and allow you to make these bad decisions as a result.
Tiffany DaSilva: Then, I really try to make my decisions when it comes to marketing or professional decisions, be very tied to data. And there’s always going to be qualitative data that we look at. I think qualitative data is really important when we’re trying to understand the words that people are using to describe feelings and the places that they’re going, maybe, to find your product or how they came about your product. You’re learning about the journey, but when it comes to the cold, hard, who is buying, why they’re buying, I need data and I need statistical data to make those decisions. So, I think that it’s almost surprising for people when they see that. They’re expecting me to be a lot more empathetic in the way of listening to them about their opinions on certain things, when it comes to my business, but you have to have almost like a line of where you won’t cross because then, if I open up that floodgate of listening to all their ideas and what they think then I could get carried away completely and lose sight of my business, as a result. So, yeah, it’s a fine balance, I think.
Andra Zaharia: I think it’s super interesting how you actually use this heightened ability, and you use it as a tool, although it sounds very limitative, but you use it as a tool to actually help increase your clarity instead of clouded as most people would think it works, because that’s, I think, the surprising power of self-awareness and of working with these things and going to therapy and talking to coaches and kind of broadening and deepening our understanding of abstract concepts that we usually work with, and everything that concerns emotions and thoughts and reactions, and actually using all of this body of knowledge to become more rooted in our decisions and see further. I think that is absolutely fascinating, and I don’t think it’s something that people think of as a trigger, as a mental habit.
Tiffany DaSilva: One of the things I actually do in that case… So, when you meditate, one of the things you learn how to do through meditation is body scanning. So, you scan from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, and you look for areas that feel anxious or just feel different. You don’t judge it, you just say, “Okay, this part of my body feels different”, as a result; maybe you can feel the pain in your feet from being sore, maybe you feel a little bit of tightness in your chest or some people feel a lot of stress in their shoulders, whatever it is. But, I use that when someone’s giving especially information about my company, or information about something that I hold really close to me – I really become aware of how my body is reacting. That’s the moment when I actually taught my brain to stop and check because I think that sometimes our reaction depends on where it’s coming from. So, if someone is telling me something that makes me want to scream or makes me want to instantly say no, I kind of say, “Okay, it’s coming from my chest” and if it’s like that weird tightness, it’s not coming from a good place. The words that I’m about to say aren’t coming from a good place. I need to take a breath, think it through and sometimes I’ll have to say, “You know what? Let me think that over, I’ll get back to you once that feeling goes away.” Or, sometimes it’s just like – and that’s when I do the data move – until I see data, I can’t make that decision.
Tiffany DaSilva: Sometimes, even, when people inspire you – do you know when you get that feeling someone’s inspiring you and you want to just jump up and make these rash decisions because they really sold you on something? It’s the same thing. I have to stop and go, “Okay, calm yourself for a bit. You didn’t want to do this 10 minutes ago, and now you’re all fired up to do it. Wait a day! Write it down, wait a day.” I do the 30-day test even when I buy things – if I watch something that gets me really excited, I have to write it on something for 30 days because I will instantly regret my purchase. But it’s really being aware of what your body is saying and where it’s saying it. It’s not something that, even with me, comes easily – it was something through meditation that took years to kind of hone in on.
Andra Zaharia: Our conversation reminds me of the conversation I had with Kaleigh Moore, where she was saying – and I noticed this in you, and in most, if not all of the people that I admire and look up to and have learned a lot from – it’s that you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into cultivating all these abilities and into understanding what empathy is and how you can actually practice it without reaching that level of generosity burnout that happens as well, and that’s very difficult for people who have this tendency to be people-pleasers, but that doesn’t have any negative connotation for me because it’s just something that stems from previous experiences and so on. So, I often find myself in that role, and I’m trying to educate myself and I’m lucky that I get this opportunity to better understand how this works for other people as well.
Andra Zaharia: So, you’re very good at connecting with everyone that you speak to and I think that you have this ability to do the same online, which is something that’s, in my opinion, very rare, although we’re so used to consuming all kinds of content and people strive to make it super authentic and try to capture that real life. I’m very curious if you feel a difference on your side because from where I’m standing, on the outside, I feel like I can connect with you the same no matter the channel, no matter if you’re tweeting or if I see a talk of yours or anything else like that. But how is it for you? How is it on your side? How do you perceive that energy that comes toward you throughout all these channels?
Tiffany DaSilva: It’s actually something I battle with a lot. One of the reasons why I don’t write a lot of content is I wait for the time when I’m most inspired to write it because I can’t just put something out there or I instantly feel embarrassment, shame, inauthenticity. Inauthenticity, I think really bothers me – it bothers me in others, it bothers me in myself. And so, I always try to make sure that what I’m putting out there is real. But, with that, I also have to remember that a lot of that takes away energy for me. So, it can burn me out – that generosity that you were talking about. I do get depleted from doing so, so it’s about, really, time-blocking myself on what I’m going to be on social media. I kind of do all channels at once, put it all out there, but it’s usually at night, or at lunchtime. It’s almost like a nice way of kind of just getting that out there.
Tiffany DaSilva: I also have rules for myself. I’ve recently put in a lot of rules – and I’m always learning and they’re ever-changing – but, don’t put anything out there into the world that you would later regret. So, try not to write in anger. I’ve done it where I’m trying to get a company’s attention, like, “I’ve been calling you a bunch of times”. I just did it recently, with an airline, but other than that, for every angry tweet I do, there should be 100 happy ones. So, I’m making sure that I’m constantly focused on that. And also, a lot of times when someone has reached out to me to tell me something about themselves that’s personal and telling me about their imposter syndrome or whatever it is, sometimes it’s so easy if you use the excuse, “I have a lot going on, there’s so much going on” but taking the time, then, to go into their profile, looking at their stuff, getting a gauge of who they are, and then, even if it causes you to have to write it down – their name or something – for later as something to just look back on, it’s those little things that you do to make sure that you stay genuine because I don’t want anyone to think that I might have ignored them or anything.
Tiffany DaSilva: Be kind – it’s kind of what I’m wearing right now, on the shirt. It’s kind of just how I want to be, and you can’t have an ego with it and you can’t think that you’re better than other people to do so. So, a lot of the rules are “You’re no better than anyone, so don’t shoot someone down. You don’t know where they’ve been, you don’t know what they’re dealing with at the time.” Some of the people who I think sometimes are the most kind of egotistical-type posts are the ones that are hurting the most and those are not the times to be bringing them down. Like, the no bullying, even things like digital blackface is something that I recently started looking into – the types of gifs that I use when I’m putting out memes, like, making sure that I’m very aware of the people of color that I may be putting out there and this is kind of like very weird way, it’s not my place to do so.
Tiffany DaSilva: So, as I learn more about diversity, as I learn more about who I want to be as a brand, I’ve just really changed the way I do it and try to connect one-to-one with people. And that means that in a lot of cases I don’t create a lot of content. I don’t try to just create like a machine. I wish I was that person but with everything that I write, I can tell you, a few years ago, I wrote something I still kind of put out at every International Women’s Day, and it’s about ladies who need a Shine Crew. And I wrote that thing and it took me a week to recover from it. And it’s not a big, crazy-deep article, but when I write something, I’m putting a piece of myself out there. It’s the same thing with my product, it’s the same thing with everything. So, I think not everyone can be that way, but I think you can take a little bit extra time to make sure that you’re putting that out in the world. There’s just so much chaos and so much negativity, that it really is up to us to change the way we do things. And with FlowJo, we’re engaging with different people on Instagram, for example, and just telling them that they’re doing great. When we engage with the world is just kind of giving positive messages to people. And you can see people get really interested and it’s not about selling a product, it’s just about making people feel seen and heard, I think, is just what FlowJo is all about and what I want to be all about in the future.
Andra Zaharia: You definitely already are, and I can say this from the experience of following your work, of being inspired of actually building a Shine Crew, along with other women modeled after what you talked about, and it’s made such a big difference for me! I recently realized that, although this was definitely not the case in the first part of my life, in the past five to 10 years, I’ve actually grown to have 99% female friends, and those relationships have deepened and they’ve grown stronger, and they’re at a level I never expected them to be and I feel like this is such an important step and realization for all of us, for reasons that we all know, but that we’re now learning to manage and actually go beyond. So, I love everything that you’ve talked about.
Andra Zaharia: The moment you talked about the reactions that you got after your talk and the reactions you get after each time you talk about imposter syndrome and burnout and everything else that you’ve dealt with and learned how to manage or overcome, I was definitely sure that you’d get very emotional and deep reactions. The fact that you take the time to reply to each of those, I think is equally important, if not even more than putting out that content because the kind of content that you put out when you do, is evergreen, it touches on so many tiny issues, so many big ones as well, and it gives me a lot to think about for at least half a year. There’s definitely that aspect to your work, which I’m very thankful for, and I think all these reminders of self-care, in social media in general, or wherever you spread them are so incredibly important. Each time I see one, I stop and think about it, and it instantly changes my day. And I think that this is especially necessary for people who work in creative roles, which are even more unpredictable than others. And so, the same goes for entrepreneurship, which I see as creative work, even though it involves technology or anything else. So throughout all these connections, and all these experiences, I was curious because you worked with so many startups – when you don’t have a direct experience of your ideal customer, which is sometimes a long journey for some startups, how do you empathize with them? Where do you start? How do you connect with them on that level where you feel with someone?
Tiffany DaSilva: So, in this scenario, you’re trying to find your ideal company as an ideal customer as a startup. I had this issue even with my own, with FlowJo, where every time someone would ask me what my target audience is, I would start saying something, and they would look at me and go, “Oh, no, that’s not what I meant! I meant this.” I mean, you’d start there with someone else, and then they would look at you and go like, “No, I didn’t mean like demographics. I meant, what’s their behaviors?” And it’s really difficult, I think, for startups to even try to figure that out. So, I think as you’re starting and as you’re having conversations with people, I think it’s really important to put aside what you’re trying to sell; when you’re trying to find who your ideal customer is, really be problem-first, not solution-first – you’re not there to try to sell them, you’re trying to sell millions of people, later on, you’re really sitting there to listen to people and to the problems that people are having. And I found that when I came up with the self-care bucket list. One of the things that I really had to realize is that the people that were coming to me were not going to be happy people. They are people who feel really distressed and the worst thing I could do is be like, “Hey, here’s a product I want you to buy” when I don’t know why they feel bad about themselves.
Tiffany DaSilva: And the same thing when you’re having a problem as a company and you’re a startup – if you’re an accounting software, let’s say, and you’re walking up to an entrepreneur because you know that entrepreneur is going to want accounting software, but you start talking to them about how they can fix all these money problems, then, all of a sudden, they’re going like, “I didn’t even realize that was a money problem that I would have had. Now I feel dumb; now I can’t even talk; now I’m watching everything I speak.” Maybe you’ve gained a customer, but you’ve definitely lost that connection you could have had with them because you’ve already made them feel kind of dumb. So, if you were to come in first and ask them, “As an entrepreneur, what have you been doing? How have you been charging people? What are the things that you’re scared about in five years? Where do you see yourself in five years? Tax season is coming up. How have you managed?” instead of trying to teach them through this opportunity, really listening to where they’re at. And if at the beginning stages, they ask you to pitch or maybe you spend the last couple minutes actually telling them what you do, I tend to not do it right in the beginning; I just say something simple, like, “It’s just accounting software, no big deal. Let’s go on. I’d rather hear about you.” I think that it really helps people to connect with you first.
Tiffany DaSilva: One great example I had about this a long time now, maybe 10 years ago: I won this award, which sounds crazy now, but it was Tech Woman of Canada. And me and 12 women were brought to San Francisco, and I was with a bunch of entrepreneurs and they all had startups, I was walking in a startup. So, I was kind of in this unique position where everyone else is pitching, and we were going to pitching meetings, and I have literally nothing to pitch. But in that, I learned this really interesting thing. When I sat with these investors, I started asking them what do they look for in a company? I was using the time when most people would be like, “I’m pitching, I’m pitching, I’m pitching. This is my only chance.” I was saying, “What do you look for? This is amazing! Which startups have you been looking at?” And they’re looking at me like, “Who are you? Are you wasting my time? I can’t even tell.” But I got them talking and by the end – we still had minutes to go because we had 10 – 15 minutes each – by the end of it, “I don’t care what you’re selling. I’m into it. If you want to, let me know”, and I’m like, “Oh, nothing. I’ll let you know someday.” I think even if I were to pitch I don’t know if I would be in that kind of calm position where I could do something like that again or have the balls to do it, to be honest, but it was such a unique experience to see that when you’re starting connecting first, how it was just a different experience, how people were so willing to give you whatever you needed because they wanted to see you succeed because you saw them and you heard them. So, I think that that’s important to bring into startups – just stop trying, you’re not going to make a million tomorrow, especially if you don’t know your customers, so just be the nice people that people just want to help and want to support and I think that gets you a lot further.
Andra Zaharia: It’s such a beautiful way to connect everything together. I couldn’t have imagined a better fit for actually just being a nice person to everyone first and then everything will fall into its place eventually.
Tiffany DaSilva: Who would’ve thought?
Andra Zaharia: Yes! It’s always the simplest things. That’s actually a perfect segue for something that I wanted to ask because you’ve worked with countless businesses, you’ve worked with so many different types of people, as a consultant, as part of the teams and all these roles. What do they all have in common? I’m very, very curious to know if you choose or you chose your clients based on who you empathize with and if you actually follow your gut when you feel there’s that connection or chemistry that instantly works?
Tiffany DaSilva: Yeah, so, I’m not one of those people who will go out of my way to sell someone. It sounds insane, but when a client comes to me, and if we actually have a phone call, they only get the phone call and I sell a very specific product. If I do consulting, it’s an SEO audit; it’s the same kind of SEO audit for everyone, they get the same deliverables. It’s done really well, I’ve done it 85 times, I know what I’m doing – big or small companies – but if I can’t sell you in that 15-20 minute call, then I’m not going to call back. It’s either you’re in or you’re out. And I think that that’s really hard sometimes for consultants; they think they have to be pitching – to be honest, I think it’s more of a male thing than a female thing; I don’t know many females that actually go out at it. I don’t think that we’re positioned in a way where we can because it tends to look a little bit aggressive, but I tend to take a little bit more of a “You know what? This is my experience, this is what I sell. If you’re in, you’re in; if you’re out, you’re out.” And if it doesn’t happen in those 20 minutes, then it’s gone.
Tiffany DaSilva: I’ve had people who have asked a lot of questions, have been sending a lot of emails, they want to see a lot of examples, and within a couple of seconds, my gut is going like, “This is going to be a disaster!” And I have learned to just say, “You know what? I don’t think we’re a good fit.” And it sounds like I’m being entitled, and it sounds like some people don’t have that position to be like that, but you have to be because you can’t open yourself up for great clients if you’re kind of running after anything that you can get. And I can tell you, the people that I have thought were awful in the beginning, ended up being awful. It wasn’t a surprise. You sense it on the phone calls. Or they try to oversell you, and that’s the other thing. If someone’s trying to oversell me on working for them, and they’re supposed to pay me, I’m going with, “What? You are overselling me on something, so that means you want more work and for a lot less pay than I think.” So, it’s kind of learning those little reactions.
Tiffany DaSilva: When it came to me choosing where to work full time, it was always about somewhere where I can learn. I believe in self-learning, I believe in being able to never stop. I will probably be this 70-year-old that goes back to university to take a degree on something. I don’t think learning ever stops. And at the companies I’ve been very fortunate to work for, have always enjoyed that about me. There are companies out there that don’t; there are companies out there that it’s just not a good fit, and I felt it in the interview. But there are ones that don’t mind if I take a Friday off while I’m at work, but just reading everything I possibly can, or asking them to take courses, or asking them to buy conference videos so I can learn more. I was always that person that was just like, “I need a lot of information to be able to make decisions, so I have to keep getting it.” I read 65 books a year, so it’s constant for me. So, that was really, really important.
Tiffany DaSilva: Also, especially when it came to Achievers – an employee recognition company – that’s where I found myself, I think, in general, when it came to that company. It was a bunch of us, we were all 28 to 35, all working at this company that sold employee recognition software. So, we drank the Kool-Aid, we recognized each other on a regular basis, we even gave each other cards, every day we had a meeting at 11:51 where music would sound and you would go down to the meeting and you would be hugging people. I remember the first day I started, everyone was hugging each other and I’m like, “What kind of company did I just walk into?” And then, two weeks later, I wasn’t even thinking; I was just zombied down there when the music came on, and before I knew it, I was hugging someone and I went, “Oh my god, I’m one of them now!” But I realized that was the type of company I want to work for, a company where your friends are next to you, where developers talk to marketers, where men and women were equal – I really felt like we were equal for the first time. And so, kind of making sure that I made those choices from then on out, became really important. So, yeah, it was always about working for someone that respects me and that I respect, and about people who made it a point to also be kind in what they did. I think if someone was mean or just didn’t seem like they believe me, or maybe try to prove myself, those were the actions where I went, “You know what? This isn’t going to work.” And I still keep to that today. And even with my own company, when I’m hiring subcontractors or contractors, if I start getting talked down to it’s like, “Whoa! I don’t need this.” I do the KonMari method like, “You do not bring me joy, you do not spark joy, I cannot work with you.” I think it’s important to kind of think that in your head when you’re in those situations.
Andra Zaharia: Absolutely! It’s such an important life rule, generally. Something that came up while you were telling me all these situations where you managed to hold your ground so well, which is something that I deeply admire and I think we all need a bit more of that in a very constructive, positive way, simply because building that trust in ourselves, I think, makes us even more generous and more able to give once we know where we stand. I wanted to ask you, where do you see that this challenge comes from for some people who feel empathy but can’t practice it? Because sometimes, for example – and I’ll be very honest here – I’ve sometimes felt a bit overwhelmed in terms of being empathetic toward others and that kind of blocked me sometimes; it kept me from acting, it kept me from giving what I thought I should. I mean, I could see it in my head, it’s just that sometimes it was difficult for me to do it because it actually caused me a lot of pain. And it’s only quite recently that I actually managed to finally realize that there’s a difference between empathy and sympathy – empathy being the action of feeling with someone, and sympathy being feeling sorry for someone, which is a big difference! But, how have you found yourself to get over those moments, if they happen?
Tiffany DaSilva: Yeah, I had certain situations in my life, that was hard. It’s hard for me to have empathy. More so, I find that in a lot of those cases, it’s because the other person doesn’t. So, it’s hard for me to try to engage with someone who wouldn’t try to do the same for me or wouldn’t have the mutual respect for myself – it’s more of like a take, take, take. There is this example that I had used for someone recently: we have, I think, sometimes three different types of relationships with people and let’s say I’m a person who’s standing in front of you, and I’m talking to you. A lot of the time if we’re in that kind of relationship, I’m being forced to entertain you, and I’m being forced to work really hard and to prove myself to you because you’re looking right at me, it’s kind of like in a very aggressive stance. A lot of the times when we work, we do that with our bosses. Sometimes in bad relationships, we tend to have that kind of relationship.
Tiffany DaSilva: And then there’s the people, like our friends, who are standing side by side, where, let’s say we’re walking down the street, we’re talking to each other, and they’re looking ahead, you’re looking ahead, but you guys are sharing insights and helping each other and passing the buck back and forth. Then, there’s the people who would stand behind you and sometimes we think that’s really selfish, like having someone stand behind you, but they’re there to let you fall. If you ever needed to fall, they’re there to catch you. They are the people who are supporting you, who are pushing you.
Tiffany DaSilva: I think a lot of the time when I judge a person in my head, I think about, is this someone who I am in front of all the time, having to prove myself? Is this someone who I’m side by side, in balance with? Or is this someone that would catch me if I fell? And that is how I decide how much empathy I will give to them because a lot of the cases, what I find is, when I’m struggling with the people that I can’t seem to find any more empathy for – and it’s usually anymore because they drained me – it’s because I’ve been in that situation where I’ve had to present myself, I’ve had to constantly be working at trying to get their attention or trying to prove myself to them. And is that really what this is all about? Like, I can’t keep working and help you and help to understand your thoughts if you’re not doing the same thing for me or you’re not willing to support me.
Tiffany DaSilva: And when I look, sometimes, at all the friendships that I have, or all the relationships that I have, I really have to take a step to think, “Who are the people who are especially behind me?” because I find that the people who are behind me and who are there to catch me may not be getting the same type of support as me, as I am giving to them, because I’m so used to them being behind me ready to catch that I’m not helping them or being empathetic. I have to make sure that I’m taking them to the side and helping them. So, it’s really about deciding, a lot of times, if you don’t have it, you probably have depleted it. Like, you’ve probably gotten to the point where you’ve used too much attention and they probably don’t deserve it at that point. And if it’s something where you just don’t feel empathy for people you don’t know and you don’t feel empathy for maybe the people that are supporting different things out in the world, right now, that you don’t support, I would really say, take the time to read not what they’re saying in anger, but read the types of sources that they’re taking things from. Try to understand.
Tiffany DaSilva: One of the things that people think it’s so crazy is that I always follow Fox News, even though, in the States, it’s like you’re either a Democrat or a Republican – Fox News is very Republican – but I have to be able to see both sides. Especially when big things happen, usually I have to watch both because any one direction makes me feel like I’m not getting the full story, so I try to see both sides and then a neutral, which is like a PBS or something. And I think that, in all cases, if you’re in a situation where you can’t empathize with someone that you don’t know, or don’t understand where they’re coming from, it is up to you to really take the time to do that work and to see, maybe, where’s the extreme examples and where’s the neutral, to better understand what they’re saying because in a lot of cases, a lot of the views right now in the world, it’s just a bunch of people speaking out in fear, and speaking out in survival mode, because they’re just trying to take care of their families and everyone’s living the best way they can. That’s one of the things about FlowJo – it’s all about creating products that help people live the life that they already have, but just better and be in the moment because everyone’s just trying to live their best life, I think. And sometimes it comes out in anger, and sometimes it comes out in different ways, but it’s really important to see both sides of that.
Andra Zaharia: That is so beautifully put, and I just kept thinking how much your words reminded me of the Stoic principles, which you’ve managed to somehow capture so beautifully in their timeless nature, and really embed them into everything that we’re doing now, and we’re feeling now, and all these challenges that we’re dealing with, which aren’t necessarily new, actually – it’s just that they’ve become a bit more complex because that’s how society evolved. So, the fact that you talked about this practice of hearing both sides, of seeing things like a judge, I guess, but without the intensive judging, but more from a place of curiosity and desire to understand. That is such a big shift that I hope we get to make about many of the issues around us which are so polarizing and can be so energy-consuming at all times, and that’s how we get depleted and end up making bad decisions because we’ve simply exhausted our resources. And there’s a lot of emotional labor that you do with your own company, with other clients that you work with, for the community, for yourself. How do you find the energy to support all of this?
Tiffany DaSilva: Oh, that’s been probably the biggest struggle that I’ve had. I get zapped really quickly sometimes – the more things that I have, the more things that take me out emotionally. So, it’s really about giving myself permission to just decide that… I always say, as an entrepreneur – I know a lot of entrepreneurs are out there – if you’ve gone from working full-time to being an entrepreneur, you still have that 40-hours-a-week thing stuck in your head, where you think you have to work 40 hours a week or it wasn’t a successful week, or I have things to do behind my head right now, in the billboard, and if I don’t do all those to-do tasks, then somehow I did not have a good week. But, what I find is that, if I’m doing a lot of things like this – a podcast or speaking or having to do a complex task or something where you think you’re doing one thing, and then you realize there’s actually 15 things that you have to do in order to get there – those things are energy-depleting, and you have to give yourself the rest necessary on the other end. For example, I had a really busy day last week, it was on a Wednesday, and I was out for Thursday and Friday. It was a whole day of talking about vulnerability and imposter syndrome and meeting a bunch of new faces and all of these things, and I could not even read my emails on Thursday or Friday. I felt really bad about it and I was kind of realizing subconsciously – sometimes you can’t stop your autopilot, you’re just saying, “What is wrong with me? There all these people that manage to do this.” And then I had to step back and go, “My life is very different than other people, which means that I have to play by my own rules.” And this was not a 40 hour week, this week, this was a do-something-for-eight-hours and then rest for 60. Like, it was that kind of week and I just have to say, “You know what? Next week will be different and next week I want to get these two or three things done, and it will be fine.” But it’s a lot of talking to yourself in a very compassionate way that gets you out of those and you have to have your self-talk managed. That is the only way.
Tiffany DaSilva: A lot of the people who I know – my friends – they know that the first thing that I say if they’re kind of talking about something and giving me the negative self-talk in their head, without realizing it’s their self-talk, I always ask, “Is that the story in your head? Or is it real?” And a lot of the times, it’s just the story that you’ve played out – that person doesn’t like you or that person thinks you’re lazy. Is that you talking? Is that just the story or did they actually say it out loud? And knowing the difference is really important. I have a lot of “stop gas”, that’s what I call them – reminders in my phone or post-its that I have near my computer that are just there, to stop myself and go, “What am I thinking about right now? Is it healthy?” And I had to do it actually near my TV because, when I get really overwhelmed, I tend to just lie down on the couch, binge-watch and feel really bad about myself as a result. I had to put a post-it that said, “If you’re here, you deserve it.” And it’s just something small, it’s right below my TV and it’s just like, you know yourself, you know what you need. I’m 36 years old, I understand that sometimes I just can’t go full throttle anymore, but it’s about talking to yourself, like you were a little kid saying, “I know, I get it!” and being really compassionate with yourself.
Andra Zaharia: How did you get here? How did you change the story inside your head, and everything that you were telling yourself? Because negative self-talk is so present nowadays, not only in our heads, but also in the type of banter that we engage in sometimes; I mean, self-deprecation is everywhere, in more than half of the jokes and we laugh at them, but deep down it does something much worse. It’s not as innocuous as laughing about it might be. So, how did you change that? Was there anything specific that you did to be able to kind of change this mental habit?
Tiffany DaSilva: Mine, unfortunately, was an extreme example. I got sick, I got so burnt out, my stress levels were so high that I got a seizure and I almost died. I was diagnosed with epilepsy at 32 years old, and a lot of it came from just being so past burnout that I didn’t even feel the effects anymore. I had been burnt out for five years – I was working 80 hours a week, I wasn’t listening to my body, I was telling myself this is just the way it was, I wasn’t sleeping for months and months at a time, I was still pushing myself to try to be the best and I was still thinking that I sucked, it was horrible and no one likes me and I was ugly and all these things that were just going through my mind. Eventually, my mind just said, “You know what? We’re done!” I felt like it really electrocuted my brain to stop, like zapping my brain to be like, “You need to stop!” So, when I got out of it, I knew I had to change, but I didn’t know how.
Tiffany DaSilva: That was when I met Sabina who I’m so lucky that I ended up looking up “how to meditate” because that was the one thing that, when you have epilepsy, you can really do to strengthen your brain. It’s your brain exercise. And so, I found the meditation coach and she was so much more. And week one was when she sat down with me and she asked me straight up in one sentence, “Describe how you feel about yourself.” Without even thinking I said, “I don’t like myself.” And she made me, that first week, go through and write down everything I was saying to myself in my head, and when I saw that list of just the meanest things – again, being kind is the way I’ve always been, I’ve been always really positive – I would never say that to anyone; I wouldn’t even say it out loud in a room because I would feel horrible that someone might hear me. But to know that I was saying that to myself every day was just such a wake-up call that I said, “I can’t do this. I’m killing myself by this – it’s like diarrhea for the brain. It’s just like you’re constantly being so mean to yourself, and that’s a learned behavior. So, I worked with her and I’ve been with her for four years now, and she just helped me rewrite those neuro-pathways that were constantly bringing me back, telling me that I don’t look good or whatever. I still get to points where we have to go and start going back every two weeks or just to kind of get through a certain hop, and it’s usually when I’m going through something new.
Tiffany DaSilva: FlowJo did really well over Christmas, and for some reason, it brought on imposter syndrome, it brought on all that negative self-talk. You would think I would be on top of the world, but immediately it brought me back to when I was doing really well in startups and it’s like that neuro-pathway just goes back to feeling like a bad person again, going back. And so, your brain just remembers how you used to get through those times. And so, I had to go back and work hard at rewriting it and going back to what am I saying in my head? What am I going to say differently? What do I need to work on? And having to do that on a regular basis, I think is really important because it took me 15-20-25 years to learn that behavior and learn that that pushes me to work really hard and to succeed. So, now, I’m going to have to spend 15-20 years to get out of that and to be the person that I want to be.
Tiffany DaSilva: So, I would instruct anyone, you can do the writing of the list and really trying and starting meditation and really helping you become more self-aware, but I would try to find someone – a coach, a therapist, another person who you don’t know who isn’t your friend, who you don’t feel bad unloading your problems, too. I think that’s the biggest thing especially if you’re highly empathetic – me, even sometimes, I’ll go to her being like, “Shouldn’t I hear about you? Shouldn’t we talk about you?” She’s like, “No, you pay me to talk about you.” And I need that. I need that or else I would try to help the other person. And so, this puts me in a situation where I get to be the most important person in the room, I get to talk about the issues that I’m having, and we can really focus on it. I think that’s important when you’re in that kind of a rut.
Tiffany DaSilva: I hope that the people listening, if you’re feeling burnt out and you’re feeling that you’re close or you know you were burnt out, but you feel a little bit numb to it, then that is the point where you have to talk to someone or you have to change your behavior because something bad could happen. And let me tell you, when that thing happens, knowing for me that I almost lost my brain – my most important asset, the thing that I’ve been working so hard on – was so much scarier than having to talk to a therapist or talking to a coach to get out of it. So, I hope that whoever’s listening will make a change if they really feel like they need to.
Andra Zaharia: I hope so, too, because your story is so important and I’m so thankful that you shared with us like this, with such honesty and openness, simply because these are things that so many of us struggle with, and just knowing that there’s a way out, knowing that we’re going to have better days and worse days, but that, overall, we are able to make progress and we are able to change all these things given enough patience and enough practice. I think that makes all the difference in the world. I remember that I was working through anxiety, depression and other things that I dealt with as well, and my coach told me exactly this, that progress will not be linear. It’s going to have ups and downs and it’s okay to be yourself in those days. That was so difficult for me to understand because I was always in the performance mindset where I would go and make progress every day. It’s just that sometimes it doesn’t, and I think that this applies not just to our emotional challenges, but with anything else that happens in our lives, and that overall, just making progress is a lot more important, it gives us faith and energy to continue, even if we have days that could be very different sometimes, one from the other.
Andra Zaharia: I wanted to end a bit on a note that captures so much of your work and your legacy, in my opinion, which was building the Shine Crew and talking about it and giving an example for other women in all other industries and communities – and it doesn’t even matter, this model works everywhere – how did this change your perspective on empathy? How did it create new opportunities to manifest it? How did this experience feel for you? And how do you see it now as opposed to when it happened? I know that those are five questions.
Tiffany DaSilva: We’ll try! I can do this. So, for me, when I met the first few members of my Shine Crew, I was in a really dark spot. I was in the middle of a burnout, I was working for probably the best company I’ve ever worked for, but felt like I wasn’t able to provide anything, I wasn’t a cultural fit – which was really difficult for me who was a high performer up until that time to feel – and I really started to feel the effects of being a woman in tech. I noticed that there were less and less women in the room. When I started to become director level, all eyes were on me to be this person that has to inspire everyone, while still performing, while still doing these things because I was lucky enough to be there. And I just felt the weight of that.
Tiffany DaSilva: And so, one day I was asked to speak for one of the first times, so I was sitting next to Joanna Wiebe, who was just my idol – I read everything, I bought everything she had ever put out; Copyhackers was just like this big thing and to be sitting next to her was literally a moment that I’ll never forget. And instead, I’m just having small talk. I felt like it was that time when I had to ask her if she ever felt like she was a fraud. And I thought someone who heard that would take it personally and be like, “How dare you? What do you mean?” But she got what I was trying to say, and I think she kind of led the room, and just said, “Oh, my gosh, all the time!” And we started having this conversation and other women started joining the conversation. Through the weekend, and through the weeks after we started talking about how important it was that we found women who were in the same place as us, women that scared us and women that challenged us.
Tiffany DaSilva: At that time, the women in my Shine Crew, they all had their own businesses. I was the only one that was working in a startup and they were telling me, “You’ve got to get out! You’ve got to do this. I’m sure that you’re going to make it! You have so much more stuff to do.” And you know what? In the beginning, I didn’t believe them, but having them there to help me every step of the way made it feel like they were standing behind me, they made me feel like if I’d fall, it was okay. And so, we kind of made up these rules with the Shine Crew, rules that kind of broke all the female rules that we had been instructed. We talked about finances with each other, we shared when we were having personal issues that you’re not supposed to talk about because you’re supposed to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect person, the perfect worker – we made sure we broke all those rules and just told each other how we felt. And we had one leader, which happened to be me creating the group, but then that kind of changed over time as the group developed.
Tiffany DaSilva: And so, here we are this group that I think we’re up to maybe eight or nine right now, that it’s democratic – we’ve been very clear about who comes in and it’s all people that scare us, people that we all have something to learn from, and that we all want to be surprised when we actually bring them in and see how they kind of incorporate. It’s weird because you can’t just invite everyone which feels kind of weird; you have to bring people that you know you can trust, respect, and share these really intimate moments with. And with that, creating your own Shine Crew and telling other people about your Shine Crew, then they can create that group. So, a lot of times it’s like, it’s not some kind of small group that no one could be part of. It’s like a group that you can tell others to create for themselves. So that was the idea of Shine Crew.
Tiffany DaSilva: So, I started to tell other people and people seemed really interested and wanted their own, so I started to be more clear of what they were and over time, I got to meet you who you found out about me because you had a Shine Crew, which was a moment… I will say, when you told me that story, me and you had to do an interview, you had just told me how you were a member of a Shine Crew that I had just met in Scotland a month before, and that you had listened to the talk and everything. After that interview, I actually had to walk away with two members of my own Shine Crew, where I just cried because it was like, “You don’t even realize when you’re doing this and telling people your story, that it can create another group of women who can be successful like us, who can do things. Women are taught to be so competitive all the time and are taught that, in order to succeed, we have to take each other’s spots at the table and that’s just not the way it is, and we have to break that, and Shine Crew is a great way of doing it.
Tiffany DaSilva: And on the other end, for men, what I found is their version of the Shine Crew is men who talk about being vulnerable, about how hard it is to be a dad, how hard it is to have the masculine norms that they’re stuck in, and they’re starting to create their own groups, and they’re bringing in people who may be people of color, that aren’t straight, that are cisgender – they’re starting to open their eyes about the different types of groups that they’re allowing and starting to recreate the conversations that they’re having. And so, it can be for anyone. There’s been knitters who got together and they just knit sweaters for homeless people in shelters, and amazing things. It doesn’t matter what your Shine Crew is, it’s just a group of people who have decided that, “You know what? We’re going to be here to support each other through thick and thin, through all the problems that we have.” And whatever the common thread is – for us, it was entrepreneurs; for others, it could be dads; for others, it could be moms, it could be knitters, it can be whatever it is – that’s that one thing that binds us together, but we’re going to follow these rules and we’re going to be sharing and not allow competitiveness; and when it does, to just talk it through, to just be very open about, “You know what? This is happening right now.”
Tiffany DaSilva: We’ve had that in our own Shine Crew, where we’ve actually had to have open discussions and be like, “I’m scared of you. I am actually super scared of you, you intimidate me, I don’t know if you like me or not.” And having those conversations in such a safe environment feels really good and it feels like we’re changing the way women speak to each other and the way women act towards each other as a result. I think going to conferences, and especially when some, not all of the Shine Crew members are over there at a certain time, but we always have maybe two or three, and I think when other women see us and see how supportive we are of each other, and how we are there for each other no matter what, they see that as an example and want that too, and that makes me feel like we’re doing something. I think that you can change the world, one person at a time, and this is such a great way of doing so.
Andra Zaharia: You’re absolutely changing the world. You changed my world and everyone who’s in our Shine Crew and I know that I’ve seen the ripple effects of your work go through and through. And it’s been wonderful to be able to learn how to experience this and how to, I guess, contribute to this incredible cultural shift that you started, just reminding ourselves about the power of the group and how much we need these types of connections to support us in whatever we want to do because it just amplifies everything that’s positive in us and in others as well. It’s a form of identity change, I guess, and one that’s very necessary, especially for women.
Andra Zaharia: So, again, I’m very lucky to have had this conversation with you. I wish that we could keep it going. We’ll definitely keep it going in other ways with other women, that we might share these vulnerable moments, and changes, transformations, doubts, and whatever else we may have. And especially women that will be there with us to celebrate all of the good things in our lives. Thank you so much for this episode! Thank you for everything that you do and that you share, and we can’t wait to see what you do next!
Tiffany DaSilva: Oh, thank you so much for having me! There were such amazing questions! This was great!
Andra Zaharia: Thank you!
Connect with Tiffany:
Resources mentioned in the episode:
- Learn Inbound Talk: 6 Lessons From a Marketing Fraud: How to Stop Imposter Syndrome & Get S@# Done
- Book: Elaine Aron – The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
- Book: Susan Cain – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
- Article: Ladies, It’s Time to Get a Shine Crew – Here’s Why…
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