Episode 244 – S.O. What! Rising above the challenges of life with Summer Owens
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. And we extend to you a great welcome! We have a really fun guest with us today. She’s an award-winning Resilience and Leadership speaker, 11-times published author, and certified life coach. She’s the founder and CEO of S.O. What! and the S.O What! Foundation. And in addition to being an author and a speaker, life coach, excuse eliminator, and entrepreneur, she is an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis where she teaches marketing and the life skills course she created. So, welcome, Summer Owens!
Summer Owens: Hi! Thank you so much for having me!
Steve Shallenberger: Oh, yes! We’re excited to have you! Before we get started, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Summer. She’s known for upbeat, no excuses personality, and Summer Owens is the young adult activator – literally wrote the book on eliminating excuses and overcoming objections and obstacles. So, Summer became a mother at 15 as a result of a forced sexual encounter, but she didn’t let that stop her from achieving her dreams! She graduated from high school, college, and business school with honors and was named “Most Likely To Succeed” and “Miss University” with her son by her side through it all. So, her greatest challenge and accomplishment has been raising her son as a single mother – and their story has been featured not only locally, but internationally, as well, on CNN Headline News, the 700 Club – and, as we had the chance to visit about this, she now has two grandchildren. And so, Summer you’re on a roll!
Summer Owens: It’s been a whirlwind, a nice little journey.
Steve Shallenberger: Absolutely. Well, Summer, to get going on the show today, tell us a little more about your background, including any turning points in your life that’s had a significant impact on you, what you’re doing – and just help us get a little feel for your story.
Summer Owens: Sure, absolutely! So, a lot of it you mentioned in the introduction, but I’ll give a little bit more detail behind it. So, when I was 15, that was a very critical point in my life – and I guess in all of our lives, but for me, I was just a pretty normal teenage girl and I ended up getting pregnant by a friend of a family member after a forced sexual encounter. And that changed everything about my life, as you can imagine. So, I got pregnant. I felt sorry for myself, I was really down and discouraged and even attempted suicide at that time because it was a very hard point in my life. But then, after I got over myself and I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I realized I could still have the life that I thought I would have before I became a teen mom in this way. And so, I really pushed myself and I graduated from high school. As you mentioned, I graduated the top of my class and I was voted “Most Likely To Succeed” and I got a scholarship for college. I went off to college with my son. I went to college on the Emerging Leader scholarship. And so, I was still a leader in college even with my son by my side.
Summer Owens: I graduated from college and I started my career with the Memphis Grizzlies. That was back in 2001, when they moved from Vancouver, Canada, to Memphis. And so, it was a very exciting time to be with the team. But I was a young mom, single mom at the time, so it was also very challenging, but I continued to push myself and I got a master’s degree at that time, I got my MBA. Then, I went on to work for ServiceMaster. And from there, I went to work at FedEx. But while I was at FedEx, I did something that people have been asking me to do for a long time, and that was to write a book about my story because the one question I would get asked all the time, especially when I was in college, and people would see me involved in activities in organizations, and also see me with my son by my side, they would ask me how did I do it. And my answer was always, “I don’t have time to think about it. All I have time to do is do it.” But when I was at FedEx, I wrote this book, my memoir, my first book that really changed my life – and I’m grateful to say it changed a lot of other people’s lives, too.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s wonderful, Summer! And let’s just go back and think about some of the things that you did that helped you get on track. What would you attribute that to?
Summer Owens: Well, some of the things that I think really kept me on track was I was really focused on my goals. I was really focused on my goals. I knew that I wanted to have nice things in life. I knew I wanted to have a nice home. I knew I wanted to have a nice car. You know, those kinds of things that a lot of young people think about when they grow up. I also knew that, statistically, teen parents – young women who became parents as teenagers – didn’t have those things and struggled a lot and maybe relied on public assistance or support from their family. And I knew I didn’t want those things for my life. I knew I wanted to be able to take care of myself, I knew I wanted to be able to take care of my son. And so, I really began to study people who had what I thought I wanted in life, meaning who were successful, who had nice homes, who had cars, who traveled – that was also something that was important for me. And what I saw was, most of them had an education, they had gone to college. They started their careers by going to college, and so I knew I needed to do whatever it took to make sure I follow their path so that I could take care of myself and my son!
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, absolutely! And Summer and I were talking about Becoming Your Best – The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders just before the show started today – and she’s just getting into the book. Good luck! I hope you enjoy it. One of the things I was thinking is two of the very, very powerful principles that are a predictor of success. One is to captivate a vision about your life and lead your life with the vision. The second is to manage with a plan – that’s having goals. And, as you think back, Summer, those are such inspiring ideas to have. And once those ideas enter into your life, it changes everything. I’m just curious because you’re in the business of changing lives right now; you speak in colleges and universities to young people. And that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re planting these seeds. As you look back, do you recall where these ideas came? How did they get into your mind? And once they get in your mind, look out everybody because everything’s gonna give way!
Summer Owens: Yeah, you’re exactly right! And it’s interesting. So, you mentioned I’m a speaker now. The last thing I said was I was working at FedEx and I wrote the book. And the book just took off. I shared my story, really, to encourage some teen moms, to show them they could graduate from high school, they could go to college. But then, so many other people started reading the book and saying, “Hey, Summer. This is just a book for anybody who has any excuse to not be successful. You take away all those excuses.” And so, I started speaking just to share my story and to sell the book, to be quite honest. I was like, “Well, I want to get this book out there so I need to start speaking.” And people were starting to ask me to speak. But then I fell in love with it because every time I would speak, I would have a line of people waiting to talk to me and ask my opinion or share their stories. And I felt like I found my calling, my purpose, my passion, what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
Summer Owens: And so, it’s interesting because you mentioned the vision that I had for my life was, “I want to be successful. I want to be able to provide for myself and for my son.” And it’s like you just said, once you have that vision, just look out because things will kind of manifest themselves. I never saw myself as a speaker. That wasn’t part of my vision. My vision was just to be successful and be able to take care of my son. And so, these things just happened. And then, managing with a plan. My plan was to get my education – and all these things that I did to get my education and the path that I took all lined up with where I am today as a speaker, as well, because I am speaking in educational institutions all the time. But something else that I thought was really interesting – because I did just get the book yesterday, but I’ve been digging into it and I’m already in love with it because it really hits on who I am, what I think of me, and a lot of what I speak about, as well. Because the other reason why I feel like I’ve been able to be successful, and one of the things that I share with young people is your chapter four, which is prioritizing your time. That has been critical to me being able to accomplish the things that I’ve been able to accomplish, even as a young single mother – understanding what’s really important and where I should focus my time, and what are the things that really don’t matter and don’t deserve my time.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great! Well, Summer, from the very first moment that I saw information about you I was excited to have you on this show!
Summer Owens: I love it!
Steve Shallenberger: Well, you know, it’s that spirit that makes such a difference. And you had some cards stacked against you and you’ve come back and pushed forward towards your dream, and that’s just really wonderful! What’s it like being a woman minority in corporate America?
Summer Owens: You know, it’s so interesting because when I entered corporate America at 21 – I think I was 21, maybe 22 years old – at the time I worked for the Memphis Grizzlies, which is an NBA basketball team, like I said, when they first came to town. It was interesting because I was very grateful. I’ll say that I was very grateful because I was a minority being a woman and I was also a minority being African American. But I had a very good team, a very good staff of people who were very supportive, very inclusive, and helping me to grow and to develop, and not feel like a minority – not to be treated like a minority. But I also made it my mission at the time, though, to educate more minorities, more women about sports, about corporate America, so that they could do the things that they need to do and pursue the education, internship, opportunities so that I would not always be such a minority.
Summer Owens: But that continued through my career. I went to work for ServiceMaster and then I worked for FedEx and I continued to be a minority. As you already know, in corporate America, that’s still the case today. I started my career almost 20 years ago and a lot of things are still the same in terms of being a minority. So, it is a bit challenging and I felt like I had to work a whole lot harder to prove myself and to be taken seriously. But I will also say that I’m very grateful that I don’t have some of the horror stories that other women have had, other minorities have had working in corporate America. I’ve been really, really blessed to have great supportive teams and great supportive managers who have helped me to grow and develop and also foster an environment for other minorities to enter into that workplace.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great! Way to blaze the trail and inspire others. And from my point of view, it’s actually an advantage because when you stand out, you’re not just one of the crowd, right? And you have a great story to tell – and so, I think that’s really quite inspiring. And you don’t have to look right or left, you just are able to stand with anyone else. I love that. So keep that up!
Summer Owens: Yeah. Thank you. I think that’s an excellent point. I felt a lot of that as well, that I was able to stand out – and I made sure I stood out in a positive way.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, yeah! And that’s what I like so much. It’s an inspiring attribute. And if we can get everybody to do that and just put race aside and say, “Listen, I’m important and you’re important. Let’s all work on being our best and making the best of life.” How wonderful is that, right?
Summer Owens: You’re exactly right! You’re exactly right.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, good. Now, what is it like to tell such a personal story like you’ve been talking about?
Summer Owens: I will tell you, it’s definitely not easy. When I published my book I described it as “I walked out onto a stage, an audience of thousands before me, and I was naked.” That’s how it feels.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah. Wow!
Summer Owens: That’s exactly how it felt.
Steve Shallenberger: Quite vulnerable, yeah.
Summer Owens: As if I was standing completely exposed. Completely exposed. And I didn’t even know, I didn’t realize it would feel like that when I decided to share my story. It was just on my heart to show some people – like I said, my first focus was teen moms – just to show them, “This is my life. I made it! You can too! And this is exactly how I did it!” But it was after I wrote the book that I really felt like, “Oh, it’s out there now. What do people think?” So, I’m standing on a stage – this is how I felt – I’m standing on the stage, naked. And luckily, this didn’t take very long. Somebody said that the book was good. Somebody said that they learned something from it – and they started to give me very specific examples of what they liked about it or what they got from it or how it encouraged them, how it inspired them, that I’m like, “I’m okay standing on the stage in this way because it’s helping somebody.” So, it was very scary at first, I felt exposed – it was very scary. But after, the more and more I started to get confirmation that I was doing the right thing by sharing my story, I wanted to share more. Then, I felt more and more comfortable with it. And so, here I am today, and we’re talking and I’ve written a book and I’ve written other books and created a curriculum around it where I’m like, “Let’s go deeper. I’ll share even more. I want you – young people, adult, whoever reads it, whoever follows my programs – to be as deep as you can into my story to get whatever pieces of it that can encourage and inspire you. So, like I said, it was hard but it’s been 10 years now, and I don’t regret for a second doing it!
Steve Shallenberger: Well, yeah, I’m so glad that you have, as well! One of my mentors shared that “That which is most personal, is frequently most general.” In other words, sometimes we think these deep, dark, very personal secrets and struggles and challenges are something only we have. But, as you begin to share it, people just relate to it, they know somebody. It’s a human side of us, of having to go through challenges like this. And when you’re so open like you are, it helps people relate. It gives encouragement to them with their challenges. And so, nice going on being vulnerable and open because it actually works to the opposite. It becomes a strength.
Summer Owens: I appreciate that! I definitely have felt that! It has drawn me closer and closer to people. And like we’ve mentioned before, it helps people to see, “I’m not alone! Somebody else has gone through that, somebody else had experienced that and somebody else had gotten through that.” And I’m happy to be a person that they can look to, to say that that’s the case for them.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah. Okay. And I’ve been excited to talk about S.O. What!
Summer Owens: I love how you say it!
Steve Shallenberger: Tell us about S.O. What! What is that? Give us the background on it, describe it. Help us understand it.
Summer Owens: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, first of all, kudos to you because you said it exactly right. That’s exactly the attitude that I want people to have, is to learn how to say “So What!“. So, like I mentioned when I wrote the book, I wrote it for teen moms because I wanted them to see that they could graduate from high school, they could go on to college, they could still be successful. But so many other people started reading the book – my first book, my memoir – and saying, “Summer, this isn’t just for teen moms. This is for anybody with any excuse for not being their best, any excuse for not being successful.” And I’m a woman of faith and I remember going to bed one night and I said, “What is this? What is this?” If it’s not just for teen moms, it’s for anyone – and my heart had told me that I can help people to be successful. And I woke up the next morning and I felt like God told me, “Summer, your business is called, S.O What! The thing about you is, you already say to people, when they tell you they can’t do this, they can’t have that, and all these things that are wrong in their life. And I was already saying, “So what! So what? So what that’s your problem? So what you don’t know your father? So what you don’t have name-brand clothing – because that’s a big deal for young people in a lot of cases. Or, so what you don’t live in a big house? So what? What are you going to do about it? What are you gonna do about it?”
Summer Owens: So, the next step is, “So now what?” First of all, when challenges come into your life, the first thing you need to say is “So what!” Stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop looking for excuses, and just say, “So what! It is what it is. That’s the case. So now what?” And start creating a plan to move forward from it. This is a powerful statement that I want to encourage everybody to say, no matter what challenges they face – and I think right now, with us living during this pandemic, an experience none of us have had before, we all are experiencing a lot of loss, a lot of pain, a lot of frustration. But I want people to say, “So what!” We’re all going through this. So, stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop beating yourself up, stop beating up other people and say, “So what! How are we going to move forward from this?”
Summer Owens: And I will say, too, one of the people that I look up to and really admire is Oprah Winfrey, because of her resilience story and her background and where she came from, and how she has really encouraged and inspired millions and millions of people and building her empire. And so, that’s why I took a page out of her book, when she had Harpo studios, which was Oprah spelled backwards – and I wanted my name incorporated into the name of my business because it is so personal. It’s all based on me and my life, my story, and how I use that to help and encourage other people. And that’s where the S.O. comes from. So, it’s my initials and it’s also that powerful statement saying, “Hey, you’ve got to keep moving. Life happens. Keep going. So what!”
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, that’s great! Yeah, I’m glad you brought up Oprah. She is a flat-out inspiration, isn’t she?
Summer Owens: She really is!
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, I’m glad she is such the person she is. Alright. Well, now let’s give a few tips to our listeners before we kind of go into the wrap up of our session today. Time always flies so quickly. So, once you say “So what!” – and, by the way, we, in our seminars, we add one other thing. I love it! “So what?” And then we say, “What a blessing!” And then think of why it is a blessing because that’s what you’re saying, essentially. Alright, so what! You can’t change it, let’s get with it. And now, how do we go forward? So, what are your recommendations, Summer? So what! What do we do next? What are some things that you recommend?
Summer Owens: Sure! So, I would like to offer three. First, I’d say, look for the lesson. And whatever your challenge is, whatever you’re going through, there is something to learn. There’s something to learn. So, look for the lesson and ask yourself, “In this problem, in this challenge, in this circumstance, what am I supposed to be learning from this? And how can I apply this to my future? My future problems, my future opportunities.” Look for the lesson.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, great. Okay.
Summer Owens: And there are two others I’ll offer – I’d like to offer three. So, number one is, look for the lesson, because in dealing with obstacles and dealing with challenges, which is really what I focus on, in helping people to be more resilient, is looking for the lesson. But the second one – and I love it because, like I said, when I picked up your book and started reading it, we will be fast friends; we will be fast friends because the second and the third are actually things that you talk about in your book. But the second is, be accountable. Be accountable. Recognize your role in the situation. Recognize your role in a situation. Did you create the problem? Because in some situations that we find ourselves in and some challenges we find ourselves in, we may have created that challenge. So, be accountable for what you did, and how you may have contributed to that. And in some cases, maybe you did not. Either way, you’re accountable for your life, you are accountable for the decisions that you make to move forward from those challenges. So, be accountable.
Summer Owens: And then, the third is one I said that you have as well, and it’s a big one for me, too, is never give up. Never give up! Life can be really, really hard sometimes, and life can be really unfair, sometimes. But if you have a goal and you have a mission, you have a passion, then go for it! And I think the harder the goal, the bigger the goal, the harder it’s going to be to get it but the more rewarding it will be once you do. Because for me, like I said, when I was 15 I had a baby by somebody I didn’t even know. But I said, “No, I want to be successful. I want to be able to provide for myself and for my son. I want to have anything I want in life – and not just materialistically.” So, there were times – many times – as a high school student, as a college student, as a working professional, as a single mom, working on my master’s degree, that I wanted to give up. Why? Because it’s hard. It was hard. Every step of the journey was hard. And I wanted to give up many, many times. But I stayed focused on my goal. And here I am today. Now, I’ve had my master’s degree for 15 years, and I kind of look back on all those times, and I can still say, “Yeah, it was hard. It was difficult. But look where I am now because I didn’t give up.” And so, that would be my third one: if you have a goal, and it’s something that you really want in life, don’t let anything deter you and don’t ever give up.
Steve Shallenberger: Alright, Summer, you are a powerhouse!
Summer Owens: Thank you. Thank you.
Steve Shallenberger: Way to be! Well, let’s see, we’re at the end of our interview today. Any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners?
Summer Owens: Those three tips that I just gave, I think, would take people a very, very long way. But probably, the last thing I would just say is, remember, when the challenges come in your life – and I don’t care if they’re small, or if they’re large – try to practice saying, “So what!” Let that be the first thing that comes out of your mouth. When you drop your cell phone and you break the screen, you get mad, right? Well, let the first thing that comes out of your mouth be, “So what! It’s just a phone. It’s just a phone, I can get it fixed. I can get it replaced.” Or something much more major. In the reality of what we’re dealing with right now, maybe you lost your job. Maybe you’ve been furloughed from your job. Or maybe, if there’s students listening to this – I think you have listeners of all types – maybe you didn’t get to graduate, maybe you didn’t get to walk across the stage. And it hurts, it is devastating. It’s probably something you’ve been looking forward to all of your life. Even in that situation – lost your job, didn’t get to walk across the stage – So what! So what! And then go back to those things that I just said before. Okay, what’s the lesson in this? What can I grain positive from this situation? How can I turn this thing into a positive thing? And so, yeah, that’s what I would leave people with, is practice saying, “So what!” And understand that “So what!” doesn’t mean you don’t care. What “So what!” means is you care more about getting past the situation, rather than focusing on the problem.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, great! And the sooner you say that and get with it, the better off you’re going to be.
Summer Owens: Exactly, exactly! You said it! In one of my presentations is exactly what I say. Your ability to be successful in spite of challenges is directly related to how fast you’re able to say “so what!”
Steve Shallenberger: Indeed! Alright, well, Summer, how can people find out about what you’re doing?
Summer Owens: The best way to reach me is on my website – and that’s summerowens.com – it’s my name, summerowens.com. I am all over social media but the best way to get to those is just to go to my website and you’ll find links to all my social media there. I love talking to people, I love connecting with people, and I love helping people. So, I would love for you to go to my website, check me out, check what I’m doing, send me a message, ask me a question – let’s engage and let me support you any way I possibly can.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, good, Summer. It’s been a delight having you on the show today. Love your spirit! And your parents named you the right name!
Summer Owens: Thank you! I appreciate it! I really appreciate and I’ve truly enjoyed being on the show.
Steve Shallenberger: Okay, same here of having you here! And to all of our listeners, never forget, you too are making a difference every single day and you’re a light, you’re an influence, you’re a radiance and it affects everybody around you. This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day!