Podcast: Samara Bay: Permission to Speak

In today’s episode, I dive into a captivating conversation with Samara Bay, an advocate for embracing individuality and finding power in our unique voices. We explore the transformative impact of authenticity and self-acceptance while uncovering Samara’s upcoming newsletter series, ‘How to Show Up,’ aimed at reshaping power dynamics. Join us for an inspiring discussion!

TRANSCRIPT

Samara Bay: 

And not just our world opens up because we get invitations to things but our world opens up because we are showing up differently. We have a posture of take me seriously, I’m the new SAT of power, that is a posture that is world changing.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hey, everybody, welcome back happy almost end of December. I hope that you’ve got some rest and relaxation on the horizon for you. I know it’s been a stressful year. And if you’ve got a senior who is still working on applications, this is peak stress. So I’m sending you all the good vibes that I could muster. Today, I’m going to introduce you to a friend of mine who wrote a really fantastic book. Her name is Samira Bay. And she is the author of Penguin Random House best seller permission to speak, which is a love letter to anyone about to open their mouth. It is out now available in 15 and more countries. She is an LA based speech coach whose clients range from candidates for US Congress to C suite executives, changemaking entrepreneurs, thought leaders, Hollywood celebrities and high school girls. She’s a lot of fun to talk to. And one of the reasons I think her work resonates so much with mine is because she’s all about really helping people take stock of what their real voice is, and accepting it. And understanding that the world is a place where we’ve had to change that voice or change how we show up to survive to get by to fit in. But the more we can recover that voice and just stay aware of how we’re showing up, the more powerful we will be. And that is so true in all realms. And especially I think in the realm of college admissions, there’s a lot that students feel like they have to negotiate a way hide, or maybe kind of downplay in their academics or their college journey that actually takes away so much of why they are special and unique and powerful. So I was excited to bring Samira in to talk to us about her work and her thoughts on mentoring young people. And I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I had recording it. Somewhere I thank you so much for joining me today. I’m really excited for this conversation. Literally every conversation I have with you. I feel like we get into this dynamic where like we excite each other more. And we get giggly and louder, and it’s just so wonderful. So I’m really excited to do this recorded medium. Thank you. So hi. So I want to start with having you tell us a little bit about your story. How did you get to where you are today? And maybe actually start with? Where are you today? We’ll talk about the journey to it.

Unknown: 

I am in Utah, California, very literally answer to your question. Beside LA, I like to call it the Brooklyn of LA. And I am wrapping up the year when my debut book came out that feels like the other like location that I’m in right now. And the story of how I got to this moment is obviously a lot but specifically, I don’t know I like to think about eight or nine year old me because I have a kid that’s that age now. And that was around the time that I was watching My Fair Lady, the musical about a flower girl with a technically lower class accent. And this dude comes along and he’s like, wait, I’m gonna make a bet with my power with a rich power is a colonel that I can give you a fancy accent and your world will open up. And he does. And it does. And I think honestly, you know, what was I? What like, social analysis was I doing when I was eight and first introduced to this? I obviously cannot say, but I can say that. I think having an eight year old now. Kids are learning the world pretty pretty aggressively at that age. And I think I definitely got really curious about this connection between how we sound and how we get treated. And in a way my book is that

Sheila Akbar: 

What an origin story. Okay, well, where do we go from eight years old?

Unknown: 

Well, you know, I think my first entry point probably for a lot of kids who liked musical theater in their pre teens was oh my gosh, I should become an actress. In fact, becoming Eliza Doolittle getting to play Eliza Doolittle. The flower girl in question was a huge goal of mine for years. Never happened but you know, still available if anybody is cast, but at the same time around 910 My parents started taking At the local Shakespeare festival I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, there’s a university associated with it was this insane outdoor Redwood Shakespeare Festival with these modern productions and modern clothes and like the music of Blondie, and these professional actors who were being dropped in from New York and from San Francisco, and I was just sitting in these audiences with like the fog rolling in and the lights picking up the magic, and I was like this, this is this, whatever this is me. And I did really everything right, in order to become a professional actress. Except that, you know, it’s not guaranteed, as it turns out. And one of the weird things that I did, which I think ties into what we’re talking about here is, I was desperate to go to Brown University, because I thought it was the perfect combination of both academic and also artsy. And I didn’t get in. And I got a full ride to UCLA, and a car, a parking spot. I got into Vassar and I got into Princeton. And I found it very, very hard to turn down Princeton, even though it did not on its surface seemed like the right place for me. And it’s not where people go when they want to become a professional actress. I mean, that seemed like the writing was all over the place on that. But with tears in my eyes, I said, Yes. And, you know, I found my people there. And I also discovered the hard way, I think, but discovered that when there is no academic or institutional support for theatre, by the way, it’s a little different now. But back when I was there, you know, you make it and your friends make it and you discover how to be producers at the same time that you discover how to be a performer. And that served me quite well, when I was in New York. And then I ended up getting an MFA in acting at Brown. So there was some sort of poetic justice there you made. And after all, and the producing side of me that like let’s put on a show, let’s ask donors for money, like, let’s just be like, let’s do the hard thing, of actually making something from nothing, I think has served me quite well. And as an entrepreneur now. And then you know, the other part of the story that is, is the what happened next, after all of that I was in New York, and I was getting really close on things. And just callbacks does not mean that you get a job as it turns out. And it was heartbreaking. And my 20s were heartbreaking in this way that like there’s no cultural sort of agreed upon heartbreak for just the like, death by a million paper cuts. And at the same time, I had these mentors coming out of the woodwork, who were all dialect coaches, which is really a fancy way of saying putting accents into people’s mouths and helping them through the process of sounding different. And I was like, listen, as a side gig, this is better than waiting table, I’m doing it in addition to waiting tables to be clear, but this is better than waiting tables. And those mentors just saw me something that I didn’t quite see which was like, it’s actually a quite a rare skill to be able to understand the, the science, the International Phonetic Alphabet of the sounds, but then also the humaneness of what it really is to turn a collection of sounds into a story of a life, which is what all of our words and sounds coming out of our mouth, or they reflect the life we’ve actually lived right with the accents and the places and people that have influenced us. So I did that. And I moved to LA and I became a dialect coach for movie stars. And it was a really good run. And then in 2018, at the height of a whole lot of political drama in the US, I discovered coaching first time female candidates for office leading up to the 2018 midterms and my whole life shifted and the book and everything has come since then.

Sheila Akbar: 

And then you wrote a book. Yeah. You tell us. Tell us all the other stuff that you wrote this book that is pretty monumental. And is the reason we met in the first place? And I heard you kind of give a talk on it. And yeah, I’m obsessed. So I know you talk about it all the time. But tell us a little bit about the book. And what are you trying to do with it?

Samara Bay: 

Yeah, listen, what I learned when I was coaching those first time candidates for office is that they are exactly who we want in leadership. They are the solution to the problem of leadership. But I also knew why I was there. Why moveon.org which was the organization that had connected me to them, found me and found a few of us and started pairing us up because sometimes magnificent. People who deserve all the power have trouble showing up magnificently in the moments that matter in front of a microphone in front of whole lot of people on a stage on a camera. Like the real ACT of showing up in those moments of being deeply human and unapologetically weird and caring, like all of your emotional juiciness. At the surface, we can all think of the billions of reasons why that has not historically felt safe. For any of us, right, we grow up in households that say, you know, some version of your better see not heard. Or if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, or your emotions aren’t welcome here, which is not what said out loud. But you know, big, big, big tears, big righteousness, big anything, right? Big enthusiasm, even is sort of beat out of us in school at home, for all kinds of reasons having to do with the, you know, both sort of what we consider to be civil society. And also specifically for women, for people of color, if we’re queer, if we have an accent that codes as not from around here, we are doing everything we can to not seem different, or to Hue to some standard. And so this sort of all hit me as I was coaching those women. And I was like, no one actually talks about this standard, I’m just going to name it, I’m going to call it the old sound of power. And offer that we actually are exposed all around us, to people who represent the new sound of power. But if we don’t have language to talk about that, and to share it with each other, and to name it, and to, you know, not just recognize it, but like, if it has instructional value, what’s the instruction? It passes us by. And to get really specific, what I mean is like, literally when you feel the urge to share something online, because it’s somebody saying something, and they just like are so human. And maybe it’s an artist that you love winning an award and saying something like weirdly vulnerable, or maybe it’s a person, right, just a regular human like us, you know, speaking up at a town hall, or in some capacity asking a question like something that doesn’t seem like it’s a quote unquote, leadership move, and yet in the doing, they’re like owning that moment. That’s what makes us send videos like that’s what makes speeches go viral, boring speeches, don’t go viral. And yet, we have all been taught in so many ways, literally, and through action. And through, don’t say that, like that, or no one will take you seriously. We’ve all been taught to do the boring version. And it doesn’t serve us it doesn’t build the world we want to live in. And I I wrote this book to be like, there’s another way.

Sheila Akbar: 

And I love the book, because well, it’s great content. Number one, it’s very validating. It’s got this wonderful mix of structural analysis and like real human humaneness, I suppose.

Unknown: 

I think of it as like, how to, and also like a cultural reckoning, but like also how to.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yes, yeah, it is very accessible. And there are like practical exercises in it that you’re kind of coaching us through. And I think one of the main reasons I love the book speaks to, you know, the message that you are also trying to give is, it sounds like you, it sounds exactly like you, I hear it in your voice whenever I read it. And it’s such a wonderful model of how powerful that is. I’m sure there are books written on voice bias. And I’m sure they’re extremely boring and dry. And I’m sure they don’t take the advice that they’re, you know, trying to give but yours totally does. And in that way like

Unknown: 

Well, or even to be generous to them, if not boring and dry academic, right, there is just this the the people who know the term voice bias, first of all, like slightly made it up to the the more agreed upon term is accent bias. And I just wanted to expand it. But accent bias is like super foundational in the socio linguistic world. So linguistic institutions around the country. And not every university has a linguistics department, but the ones that do Okay, great. So that’s a thing. And they write about it. And they’re amazing. I mean, linguists are so cool socio linguist specifically, which are the ones that like, get me excited, because they’re like, how do we all learn how to talk like us? What is like us even mean? But I was like, We gotta pull some of this into the mainstream, because this is social justice work, and it does not work if it’s inaccessible.

Sheila Akbar: 

Right, right, which is why I think this book is great. And I think, you know, it’s great for all kinds of people. And all age groups, actually, which is why you’re here on this college admissions podcast. And I know you do a lot of coaching of young women around leadership and showing up as their full selves. And I want to hear a little bit about that. And then we’re gonna go into some other juicy topics that you and I were talking about before we hit record, so tell us.

Unknown: 

Yeah, you know, even as you say that, I just want to like asterisk. I’d be happy to do this. More boys as well, I just spoke at my kids school for the fifth graders, which isn’t even his grade. But the theater teacher there, fascinatingly was doing a unit on Theater of the Oppressed. So basically political theater for fifth graders where they’re going to write their own short plays on, like a policy issue that they’d like to see changed. But so she had me and a local politician, woman who I know come in and talk about, like, what it is to actually be an activist out loud. So not you know, how to get involved and community organizing, but this whole thing of like, what does it actually feel like in your body to say, this matters to me? And then do it anyway. And so I kind of built a little workshop out of that. And now I’m like, Where else can I take this? I think this is important. And the, you know, the kids who stayed around at the end were 5/5 grade boys. And they broke our hearts wide open. And we’re just so beautiful. One of them look right into my eyes, with tears in his eyes, but like deeply unapologetic about being, quote, unquote, emotional. And he said, What advice would you have for an 11 year old? Who wants to do something about the ocean?

Sheila Akbar: 

Oh, my goodness.

Unknown: 

And I was like, say more. And he was like, because I am quite worried about the fish and the other sea life. But I don’t know what I can do as an 11 year old. And I was like, well, first of all, I see what do you want to hug. Second of all, you know, there is obviously some like, quick searching on the Internet, whether it’s you or your parents of like, quick, easy ways for kids to get involved, right? Maybe a beautification project on the beach, and like picking up trash in your physical body actually doing something useful will feel good. But then there’s a third thing, which actually ties into the final chapter of my book, where I offered this Venn diagram that really like had a major impact on me, which is two circles, one that says, What breaks your heart, the most about the world, a wild, West and right, and the other is where your skill set lies, and that the overlap is what you should be doing. And I feel like there’s a number of cliches culturally around this, but there was something very specific when I saw that about what breaks your heart the most about the world. So here’s this boy. And I’m like, Well, what do you love? That could help? And he said, Oh, my God, direct quote, he said, Could animation help the ocean? Oh, my God, I love it. But really what I what I want to answer your actual question, which is yes, I work with high school girls, largely through an organization called democracy, which is local in LA, and also scaling nationally, and finds girls or, you know, female identifying kids who are not in a position to naturally be championed by their schools or their homes, and pays them $15 an hour to participate as cohorts in these ongoing trainings to acknowledge their inner spark of leadership and flame it. What I find to be one of the most useful things with them, is this conversation about you, or the new sound of power, and what that actually means, the ways in which we’ve picked up habits to sound like our friends, and instead of getting Shamy about that, right, why do I say like, Why do I have this accent? Why, why why? Why have I done this to my wife, I disadvantaged myself this way? What is the self sabotage? Why can I hack it? Which Women in Business say to themselves all the time as well, right? Noticing those thought patterns and going hold on, hold on? What if I am the new sound of power? What if my voice reflects the life I’ve actually lived? The things that have been in my control the things that happened, and then I decide as an ACT of leadership and as an ACT of activism, to own all the parts? That is power? Absolutely. And you know, it will, of course, sounding how you actually sound will turn some ears off, right? This is the bias training, we have to simultaneously do so that the burden isn’t always on the folks who sound quote unquote, different and, and when we sound like ourselves, and we embrace it in a sort of mischievous way, right? Like we walk into a room and we’re like, I’m not going to change how I sound or I’m going to allow the version of me that I love to show up here, we are actually more likely to get yeses, we’re more likely to have people hear us because we’re actually doing connection instead of protection.

Sheila Akbar: 

And what comes up for me whenever I hear you talk about this is how the way we sound in our lives, and in our own heads is really, I think determinative of our own self conception. On 100%, right, it’s so tied to who we think we are and who we actually are. I

Unknown: 

happen to know from my position as someone who’s coached and strategize with a whole bunch of people from movie stars and CEOs of billion dollar companies, to fifth graders, that when we give ourselves a new sense of permission around how we talk. Our world opens up, right? And not just our world opens up because we get invitations to things, but our world opens up because we are showing up differently. We have a posture of take me seriously. I’m the new SAT of power. That is a posture that is world changing.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. So one of the things I wanted to chat with you about is how having that sense of identity that, you know, radical self acceptance is a thing that I think as adults, we come to usually, as a result of some sort of challenge or crisis, right? Maybe it’s burnout, maybe it’s some traumatic experience. And you kind of do the work to say, Okay, well, this is who I am going to stop judging myself. And I’m going to be who I am. Right, I’m going to be unapologetically me. And one of the things I’m so interested in doing, and I know you are as well is giving those tools to young people, right, so we can kind of break this cycle of them ending up in the conditions where they’re going to need to seek out those tools later.

Unknown: 

Yeah, right. It makes me think of because he also talked about this before, and I know what I think we’re going there, it makes me think of this, what’s his name Brooks, who writes for The New York Times, the idea David Brooks about the two mountains, right? And that, for so many of us, that first mountain is the seeming success that our society slash parents slash whatever institutions have told us we need to pursue. And we go up that mountain, and then we reach the top, and we’re like, oh, yeah, I made it to the top, look how successful I am. Look how accomplished and then we realize there’s nowhere to go once you’re at the top of a mountain, but down at the top doesn’t feel good, and that the air is too thin. Now I’m like really, really stretching the metaphor, but but the reality is, you know, not everybody. And I think what you’re saying is that there’s a hope that really not everybody has to do that first mountain before they find that there’s a second mountain that feels much more aligned with their real purpose in life.

Sheila Akbar: 

And I love that you use the word alignment, because I think that’s, that’s what it’s about. Right? Coming to alignment with who you really are on the inside.

Unknown: 

Yeah. Because obviously, that first mountain is is the external validation. Right, which is so understandable. I mean, like, humans are communal, we are looking all around to understand what the rules are. And that moment that you described, that moment, when we’re like it, whether it’s burnout, or grief, or trauma, or whatever, when we’re like, Wait, let me do things differently. Yeah, that is when we’re like, what if I stop looking outside and start looking inside? And introducing those tools earlier, you know, doesn’t mean we can help people avoid anything that looks like a first mountain, but it is at least offering a certain discernment.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yes, you have more of a choice instead of just being swept along on something. Yeah. Right. So I love that about your work and kind of your message. And I think in whatever small ways, that’s what I’m trying to do as well with families and help them see that, yes, there may be a mountain to climb, in terms of a school you want to go to or whatever. But enrolling your child in their own adulthood means helping them know who they are, so that they don’t get just automatically chewed up by the machine, or funneled into this or that industry that may or may not make sense for them. So I’m reading this book right now that I mentioned to you before. It’s called poison ivy. And it’s basically about how Ivy League and other such elite schools really just reproduce a elite society, elite class. And one of the statistics that has really got me torn up right now is about how kids go into college, idealistic, hard working, thinking, they’re going to change the world. And then they come out all wanting to work on Wall Street, or consulting or technology, not doing the things that they thought they were gonna go and doing. And granted, what did teenagers know about the world? Right? They’re learning, we’re trying things out, you know, minds change, certainly. But the, the picture that this author painted, was really a very dark and compelling portrait of a machine, quite literally a machine that sucks kids in and spits them out as talent for these different industries where

Samara Bay: 

it’s like, it’s like the actual anatomy of how that first mountain thing gets planted in everybody.

Sheila Akbar: 

Exactly. And I was curious, you know, you went to one of these schools, as did I, and you managed to avoid that, getting sucked into that. And I kind of want to hear a little bit about your experience with that.

Unknown: 

It’s interesting. I will. I’m, I’m curious about myself to now that you say this because I wonder actually, if it was that I, it didn’t occur to me to actually go through the rigmarole of the ibanking and the, you know, consulting recruitment process, because I didn’t think I would be good at it. But you know, to give myself a little more credit than that, I really had decided when I was 10, in that redwood, Redwood Grove, I’m going to be an actress. And it shifted, obviously, I mean, y’all heard my story, but it shifted in these really organic ways, not because I felt pressure. And part of that I have to say is my parents who are my dad’s an academic, he’s a astrophysicist. And my mom has a law degree and did work in Washington, DC before she married my dad and got lured to the west coast where there was a lot less than the type of work she wanted to do. But despite them both being very academically inclined, they’re also huge patrons of the arts, and not just patrons, like money givers, but like, enthusiasts, like they understand that art is culture that like storytelling matters as much, if not more than anything else. So I really grew up with some good folks who I did not feel like I had to prove anything to upon graduation from Princeton.

Sheila Akbar: 

What a gift. That was not my experience.

Samara Bay: 

It’s not a lot of people’s I mean, right, like, so much of the work of, of public speaking, coaching, which is, you know, foundationally, kind of what I do, is undoing a lot of these stories that aren’t just cultural, but specifically from our parents, or specifically from our first job maybe or our boyfriend even. That basically was like, if you want to get taken seriously, here’s the extremely narrow way in which you need to show up in the world. Yes. And I already grew up in a weird enough iconoclastic kind of household that I I had a lot of suspicion around around that narrative, even in school.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah. Well, I mean, I think there’s a lesson in modeling for our young ones, what living a full life looks like. So as our time comes to a close here, what what are some things you’d like to leave our audience with? And how can we learn more about what you do, and maybe get some of it into our lives?

Samara Bay: 

I mean, the main thing is that I think this book I wrote, you know, is for teenage me, it’s for teenage all of us, I had this experience I write about in the introduction of losing my voice in my early 20s. And I wasn’t sick. And it happened over many months. And it turns out, I had picked up a habit of talking a tiny bit lower than my body’s optimum pitch. And I went back to my speech pathologist now 20 years later, who who helped me then. And she says, This is what all young women who come into our office are dealing with, they are talking unnaturally low. And I think it’s a symbol of what we’re really talking about here, right? There are, there are all kinds of ways that society is telling us, here’s a quick fix to get taken seriously. And I’m saying with no shame, with so much love, I think there’s a better way, both to speak up in the moments that matter. And also just like this posture of I, I belong here, this room might not have been made for me, like literally not built with me in mind that I’m here now that I would love to arm our younger people with as really my own social experiment of can we change what power sounds like, what it looks like and what it acts like in our lifetime? Because we know every institution needs to.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, absolutely. You want to tell us where we can learn more about you?

Samara Bay: 

Sure, starting in January, I’m gonna have my own sub stack called How to show up. But in the meanwhile, if you want to get on my newsletter, go to smartbear.com.

Sheila Akbar: 

Great, and I’ll link that all in the show notes. So Maura, thank you so much. This is a great, my absolute pleasure. Thank you. There you have it, folks. I hope you enjoyed it. Just a program note, we are going to be taking a break. And this will be our last episode of 2023. And we won’t resume again until February of 2024. I hope that you get some time to maybe detox from things that are stressing you out and really connect with the people you care about most over the holidays and at the beginning of the new year. I always think that’s such a great way to set the tone for the year so we’ll see you in February. Take care everybody

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