Right to the Core: An interview with Jessica Keats

Feb 27, 2020

When you ask Jessica Keats, the President of the Women’s Business Network, about her work, she gets right to the core of her purpose: as a healer, a consultant, and a secret weapon.

We sat down with her to find out how helping people follow their intuition grants them the space to thrive, and the diminishing power of perfectionism.

What does it mean to fail? When you have failed, how did you overcome that experience?

I grew up as a perfectionist. Failure was a huge issue – I had to succeed. Things were either right or wrong, black or white. I was hard on myself and pushed myself to the point where I became unwell. Being a perfectionist meant I didn’t let myself fail while I was in school. It was only when I took my yoga therapy training, towards the end of my first year, where my teacher – in front of my whole class – shared that I was failing. It was devastating.

She did that because she wanted my peers to be able to help me get through to the other side. But for me, it felt like getting kicked down the stairs. It was so challenging, and I cried a lot. It was a pivotal moment for me because I realized, one, that I’m an adult, and two, even if I did fail that class, I had been teaching yoga therapy for two years at that point. It didn’t matter if I had the certificate. When we’re good at something, that’s it, that’s who we are.

In the end, I did pass, but it was after being held back and getting extra training. Once upon a time, I would have had quite a bit of attitude going through something like that, like “I’m outta here, I’m not sticking around where I’m failing.” But I kept showing up, and that was a pivotal moment of transformation for me. It changed how I thought about failure. Perfectionism went out the window, and I just started to exist, instead of having these high standards for myself.

This reminds me of a quote, “When you’re trying to be perfect, you’re performing for others.” When you’re giving something your best, you’re really looking inside yourself and going, “okay, what can I achieve and what can I do to improve?” Does that resonate with you?

Yes. I had to go through a period where I looked at myself and evaluated what was and wasn’t working. It was when I shifted my focus to support myself in a meaningful way that I made big leaps in shifting my behaviour, including my perspective on failure. It helped me raise my own child in a way where I was able to look beyond that for him, too. He told me something he picked up from work last week, “fail fast.” You made a mistake. Let’s turn it around and keep going. I realized that’s exactly what I do now. Let’s say we didn’t want something to happen. What’s the easiest way forward? Let’s not just spend time ruminating over that thing that happened that we didn’t like. Let’s focus on the next step

You have such an openness to experience Jessica. Considering the perspective you have today, what is a piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

"There is no right or wrong or pass or fail or perfect or imperfect. These ideas are constructs we build to beat ourselves up." - Jessica Keats. This graphic includes her headshot.There is no right or wrong or pass or fail or perfect or imperfect. These ideas are constructs we build to beat ourselves up. They’re expectations we cannot fulfill. There’s a place in between them where we can exist.

Last week, I healed something within myself. I was going the wrong way, and if you’re going the wrong way, you’re failing. It engulfs you and it takes up valuable real estate in your mind. I had been working on this issue, and while I was on the LRT last week, I realized that I was on the wrong train. When I got off the train and walked towards the opposite platform, to get to where I needed to go, I started to laugh. Think about how much time we spend, when we feel like we’re going the wrong way in our lives, on that train. Do we go, “okay, what’s the next step?” or do we spend time going, “ah, I suck.”

Think about a time you felt proud of yourself. Why did you feel that way? What happened to inspire that feeling?

I remember a moment last year, where I probably felt the most proud I ever have in myself. What’s funny is that I can’t remember what happened. What I know is that in the last year, I’ve known my value. I’ve known my power. I’ve understood what I bring to the world. That changes everything. You feel accomplished; you feel proud of yourself. And it has nothing to do with anyone else.

I was a bit narcissistic before. When you’re a perfectionist, you often think you’re better than everyone else. The pride I feel now isn’t negative. It comes from a place of trust.

What does it mean to be a champion for someone else, and who has been a champion for you?

One of my biggest champions is Eugeniya Tsetlin-Paliga, who met me at the Women’s Business Network. I had just joined the committee for events, and she told me I should be her Vice-Chair. I was shocked. I had so much doubt in myself. The perfectionism kicked in again, and I felt like there were too many things that were out of control.

Her coming into my life, and championing me in this informal way, telling me that I’d be good in this role, that we would work well together, made me feel important. That’s what I think being a champion is. It’s knowing a person and seeing their potential and guiding them to see it too. Thanks to her something changed in me. I started going after positions instead of waiting for someone to tell me I’m the right fit for it. It’s a completely different mindset. You become strategic.

When I became VP of Operations, Eugenia, who was President at the time, told me that she saw me moving into the presidency. She actually said she knew I would be President next year. That’s when the imposter syndrome kicked in, where I felt like I wasn’t good enough to be there.  It took me a bit of time to stop biting my nails and just say yes.

I learned so much from her. When I champion other women, I’ll try to find out what her purpose is, what she’s really good at, and how to put her in a position that pulls out her potential, so she can feel empowered and purposeful. What I love about the WBN is that we do this in a really informal way.

Helping women and diverse, underrepresented groups advance professionally is key to building a future that is more collaborative and more inclusive. What have you done to empower more women to succeed, and what can others do to learn from you and do the same thing?

I work with both women and men, but the majority of my clients are women. I find that they are more likely to welcome change. When they see that something isn’t working, they are able to say, “I need help figuring this out.” I specialize in finding out who a person truly is, and helping them get things out of the way so they can be themselves and rise. In my networking and business relationships in the WBN, I build bridges. Who needs to know someone else? I want to encourage more women to do that – the world will follow. We can lead our communities and set the tone for what our relationships will look like.

We don’t miraculously become leaders out of nowhere. We had to learn and develop skills to get here. We must find the time to give back and help others to advance their own leadership.

Thank you, Jessica, for taking the time to share your experience and perspective with our community. 

On March 8, the world celebrates International Women’s Day. From March 2 – 9, our region will run the 2nd Annual International Womxn’s Week: IWW 2020.

Our community has a shared goal: to inspire, equip and empower women professionally. That’s why we’re coming together to host eight jam-packed days of events. We want all folks, across all sectors, engaged and working collaboratively to expedite change. That includes you.

To learn more about International Womxn’s Week, visit our IWW webpage.

Mariam Zohouri

Mariam Zohouri is the Content and Engagement Specialist for Invest Ottawa and Bayview Yards. In business, technology, public office and community impact, leaders have trusted her to bring their stories to life.

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