Episode 367: Freedom Is Your Birthright and The Road to Awareness with Dr. Dravon James

Episode Summary

In today’s episode, our guest, Dr. Dravon James, invites us to acknowledge and recognize why self-awareness is critical for good leadership. Dr. Dravon is a motivational speaker, transformation specialist, radio host of the Dr. Dravon James Every Day Peace live show, author of “Freedom Is Your Birthright,” and the Founder of Next Step Leadership Academy.

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger.  We have a special guest with us today. I’ve been looking forward to being together with her. Her journey began in poverty on the South Side of Chicago. Though she had always dreamt of a career on the stage, she went on to earn a doctorate in pharmacy from Creighton University and has worked as a pharmacist all of her adult life. Along with her medical career and theatrical aspirations, she has also always had a keen interest in personal development. After reading Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking in college, she went on to make a lifelong study of the power we all have to create the life we want. Welcome, Dr. Dravon James. 

Dr. Dravon James: It’s so good to be here, Steve. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, I’ve looked forward to this. We’re going to have a great time. Looking forward to getting your insight, your experience, and your wisdom in these areas. I’d like to tell our listeners who are so amazing, and of course, we’re so honored to have them tuning in today, and admire their desire to become their best and to make a difference in life. They’re an inspiration to us. So, thank you for tuning in. Dr. Dravon James is the Founder of the Next Step Leadership Academy — it’s a company that empowers women to use everything that shows up in their lives, good, bad, or otherwise, to reach their next level of greatness. Dr. Dravon is a Transformation Specialist using her Every Day Peace philosophy to coach women on how to master goal attainment. And I hope you don’t mind if the men listen in today.  

Dr. Dravon James: Not at all. These truths — I call them universal truths — are for everybody. I just happen to be a woman and I resonate with women, but they are for everybody. 

Steve Shallenberger: That’s kind of what I suspected. So, looking forward to talking about that. She is the author of Freedom is Your Birthright.  As a leader in the healthcare industry for more than three decades, she is the recipient of the Secretary McDonough Coin of Recognition for her leadership efforts to combat the COVID pandemic. She’s been a Radio Host of the “Dr. Dravon James Every Day Peace” every other Monday on Mind Body Podcast Network. She’s been a coach on the SiriusXM “Road Dog Trucking”. What is the Road Dog Trucking? 

Dr. Dravon James: Just what it sounds like. You mentioned that I coach women, and I do. But Road Dog Trucking — well, there are women truckers but I think mostly when we think about truckers, we think about men. I host an online on-air live coaching session and we go over different topics that are just interesting and helpful, hopefully, to all people. But that population, I think, I would say is probably more male-dominated, although it’s a lot of women represented there. But that’s a coaching session I do once a month. 

Steve Shallenberger: Very nice! And she’s an actress whose career credits include a recurring role on HBO’s acclaimed “The Wire.” Dr. Dravon uses this training and experience to lead women to their victory using the power of Every Day Peace to achieve their Next Level of Greatness in life and business. Well, we all want to do that, that’s the spirit of Becoming Your Best. So, to kick things off, Dr. Dravon, tell us about your background including any turning points in your life that’s had a really significant impact on what you’re doing and how did you get where you’re at today. 

Dr. Dravon James: Oh, Steve, thank you so much for asking. And you sort of kicked it right off. We opened up before we came on air and you mentioned Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book that really, I think, cemented that I wanted to do what I’m doing now, which is the power of positive thinking. As you mentioned, I grew up in poverty on the Southside of Chicago — nothing really special about that, many people do. But I think the turning point, the thing that really stands out to me is that I was raised and maybe engineered to some degree, came to this earth with this thought that if you can believe it, or what I used to say when I was younger, if you can make believe it, then you can live it. So, that means that I always had this desire to really put my perspective on everything. Things happen: there was poverty, there was lack, there was love, there were things that happened that were not so lovely — married 27 years, divorced, empty-nested all within a short period of time. Those things happen in the journey, but I always go back to the power of positive thinking, because things happen but I purpose in my life and I coach my clients to purpose in their life that I give the meaning to those things that happen. So, if you can make believe it, if you can believe that whatever’s happening will lead to your next level of greatness, then it will. You will be more focused on the things that are working for you than the things that are not working for you. And I’ve lived my life that way. So, I think the turning point, as you mentioned, in my life was when I was 17 — it actually was the summer before I went to college — my brother gave me the Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale as a gift after graduating high school. And I was working that summer at a cleaner’s in the daytime and a drugstore in the evening. And on my breaks, I would read this little book, The Power of Positive Thinking. But I just kept rereading it, and every time I reread it, I found more jewels and more purpose. And interestingly enough, Steve, at 17, I knew that although I was going to college to study pharmacy, I wanted to do what I’m doing today, which is help people to empower themselves, help people to believe in themselves, help people to make believe their life and create the life that they want for themselves. So way back then I don’t even think I knew what a motivational, inspirational, or transformational speaker was. All I knew was that’s how I wanted to be impactful for the world. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that is fantastic. I can’t wait to talk about some of the insights that you have. One of the things that Dravon and I visited about before is that I had the privilege — well, twofold — one is we had Norman Vincent Peale come address about 500 of our employees. And that was 35 years ago, I can’t believe it — oh, my goodness! But I can still hear him today. He was 84 years old then. He was all already jumped up and he said, “If you can believe it, you can achieve it.” I can hear these words. And of course, I got his book, and it’s one of the most delightful books I’ve read in life. So, it’s all these years later, decades later, but Norman Vincent Peale was a big force for decades during his life in the United States. He inspired many people. So then I was given the invitation to go back and spend a weekend with him and his wife — a wonderful story, great people. He would be so delighted, Dravon, to be here listening today because I can tell you’re living that spirit, look at the impact that it’s had on your life. And I love the fact that you’re sharing this experience with other people. So, let’s just talk about it. What is this self-awareness that we should have in mind? And how do you describe that? What do you see about that? 

Dr. Dravon James: I like to say that Socrates said it best, he said, “Self-awareness is the beginning of wisdom.” I love that. We all want to be wise. We want to make good decisions with our health, with our family, and our relationships. We want to make the decisions. And the foundation for that, if you will, is self-awareness. And what is it? Here’s the next question that any rational mind wants to ask: “Well, what should I be aware of?” If I had to pick one thing that I should be aware of, and there are many things, but if there’s a place to start, this is where I tell my clients to start. Start with knowing what makes you happy. What makes you feel happy? That statement is so different from “What makes your parents happier? What makes your spouse happier? What makes your boss happy?” All those are great things but self-awareness is the beginning of all wisdom, self-awareness. So once you know that fundamental question, you’ll save yourself so much time in life by getting to where you are supposed to be. We’re all like snowflakes. Each of us has a real individualistic purpose for being here. When we discover our self-awareness of what makes us happy, we’ll get there fast. 

Steve Shallenberger: How do you recommend, Dravon, that people capture that essence that you’re talking about? And in other words, saying, “Well, what really makes you happy?” And how do you get that down and let that be a driving force in your life, so it’s kind of at the center of your life? It’s just not about being selfish. 

Dr. Dravon James: When we’re selfish, if we’re really paying attention, are we really happy? Most of us are not. Most of us would like — and this sounds negative, but it’s not — to have our cake and eat it too. And I take that to mean I like to have a good life. I like to be happy. I like for you to be happy. I like the people around me to be happy. We know that everyone can’t be happy all the time, but it is the pursuit of that puts me at my best, which allows me to say, “Here I am showing up in the universe, showing up in this space to be the best Dravon I can be.” Because when I do my best, if I’m really being self-aware, I feel happy — it’s the results, it is the journey. So, when I am aware that I am doing my best, I have a simple but very effective practice that I do with my clients called Smile Journal. So, when you just asked me that question, I felt a smile come across my face, I’m so aware of it now. But I have my clients when they first start working with me, whether they are working with me in life coaching or whether they are executive coaching. We do smile journals. What makes you smile? Just jot it down. What caused that smile? Because that’s going to give us some insight into you. And we’ll go and we’ll unpack that more deeply, because then within those smiles, smiles lead to laughter, laughter leads to happiness, there is a pathway here. And when we are happy, we are our best self, we are our most giving self, we are our most charitable self, we are our most vulnerable self. That’s the place to be. That’s how leaders lead to greatness. 

Steve Shallenberger: Let’s take it a little deeper. Great job! I’m loving it. I like your response, which is the first place to start, like you recommend, is what makes you happy. So, as people reflect on what makes them happy — in other words, being healthy, makes me happy; having strong relationships and good relationships, that makes me happy; being close to my children and those in my family; and making a difference in business, that makes me happy. So, is that what you’re talking about those kinds of descriptions, getting clear on it? 

Dr. Dravon James: You’re going right to that granularity. Because some people will say, “Oh, well, eating a full bag of potato chips makes me happy. I like potato chips.” But does it really make me happier or am I masking something else? Because what really makes me happy is living in a healthy body so that I could be here with my family and my friends and my loved ones. So, we’re asking ourselves, we can be surface at first. But then as we go dig beyond that and go deeper and deeper, what really makes you happy? And that versus what are you using as a cover-up for your unhappiness. 

Steve Shallenberger: Great! So, we’re talking with Dr. Dravon James. She’s sharing some great ideas. We’re talking about awareness. And when we become more aware, and you start with happiness, certain things start happening. So, what are the benefits of self-awareness and what starts happening? 

Dr. Dravon James: Well, we’re talking about leadership. There are so many things that start happening, but in your leadership style, pay attention to how you come out of the mean mode, or the blame role, or the victim role, or the micromanaging role. When you really get into the space of happiness, this is a space of giving. So, you’re able to give of yourself, truly give from your authentic place where you feel safe to give, you feel safe to be vulnerable with your strengths and your weaknesses knowing that one person doesn’t know everything, so you make room for others, you make room for team, you become a better leader. So, opening up to this type of happiness, this type of self-awareness improves your leadership and improves your listening. We’re not so sensitive or so quick to be looking for. We have this face, we have two ears for a reason and one mouth for a reason; we’re meant to listen more than we are to talk. But when we’re in a happy space as a leader, we’re okay to sit back and become the observer because we know from that place, we can do more good; more good for the people that we’re leading; more good for the customers that we’re providing for. From that place of listening, slowing down, I call this the Matrix Mindset. Remember that movie, The Matrix? One thing I loved about that is how slowly things got to move. And when things move slowly, you see more granularity, you’re able to say, “Oh, I would have missed that. And I’ve been so preoccupied with my own issues, my own ego issues, if you will.” Had I been so preoccupied with what’s not working, I would have missed these jewels right here where the answer is. So, self-awareness and happiness really does improve your leadership skills; it makes you a more effective leader, a more compassionate leader, and a more authentic leader. 

Steve Shallenberger: Dravon, as we do this, you’re really saying, well, let’s slow down a little bit. Let’s just not move so fast, being more effective, and even more efficient is taking a little time to be self-aware and listening. And then based on what we feel and see, we’re better at acting and providing leadership. It sounds like that’s what you’re saying. 

Dr. Dravon James: Absolutely. We model that when we’re in that space and we’re slowing things down. I know that I work in healthcare, I worked in health care for over 30 years, things move fast all the time. And I constantly have to use myself talk, which is part of being a happy person, use my self-talk to slow myself down and say, “Hey, what is the thing that I want others to take away from this moment?: One that you’re safe in my presence, we’re going to get through this. Everybody, this team is valuable. When we’re rushing, when I’m rushing, everyone doesn’t get that sense. And healthcare does have it sense of urgency, I’m not saying that you don’t move with urgency when you need to do so. But your mode of operation is such that my space is calm, my internal being. I am here for the whole experience, I’m not going to rush you through this. I’ve come to learn and to teach. I tell people all the time we change hats all day long, that you’re the teacher, you’re the student, you’re the teacher, you’re the student. And when you’re happy, you’re able to receive that. 

Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. Someone explained the other day. They were taking the time and they shared a few concepts. I’d like to share the difference between humility and meekness. And I heard that coming out there from you, and humility is something that you feel within. And you put things in perspective in your own being but meekness actually is something you use without, and it’s power, but it’s a consideration for others. It’s not weak at all. It’s a powerful element of leadership. And I think you’re kind of touching on that a little bit. It’s a different way to approach it and maybe focusing on awareness helps that. So, do you have any thoughts about that? And then I’ve got another question for you here. 

Dr. Dravon James: I’m so glad that you brought that up. You’re right, humility is internal, but meekness is what you get. It’s the demeanor that you show up with. And it doesn’t mean that you’re going to just be a pushover, give all your goods away, and let all your staff come in whenever they want to. It means that your demeanor is such that you are available and you create a safe space for people to also be vulnerable and be transparent. Wouldn’t that be great if we could live in a world of transparency? We can honestly, and I work with my team with this all the time, we can honestly be able to say, “This is something that I do not understand. This is a weakness of mine.” And get help for that and build a better company, a better product, a better world, a better service. Instead of feeling always that our ego has to be upfront and trying to hide and you don’t build a high-reliability organization like that. You want people to be able to feel safe to say, “Hey, this is a weakness. I’d like to get mentored to success in this area instead of trying to cover up.” These things help when you start with a meek spirit. 

Steve Shallenberger: That’s great. When you’re using awareness, when you just pause and use the awareness, you start becoming more sensitive. I’m trying to think of the word “more empathic”. We’ve already used the word “aware” but to your own feelings queueing in on what’s important, but also pausing to think about what other people may be feeling so there are real benefits here in terms of leadership that you’re talking about. So, what are some tips to improve on self-awareness that helps propel this leadership forward to a better place or an effective place? 

Dr. Dravon James: Yeah, I love that idea. How do we become more self-aware? The number one thing I will tell people is replace judgment with curiosity. You know who we judge the most is ourselves. That self-doubt can be so bitter. But replace that with curiosity to say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then let the responses come. It’s not “it’s wrong, it’s right, it could be better.” We do that all the time. And the more we do it to ourselves, believe me, the more we do unto others. So, replace that judgment with curiosity. Simple things that I use with people and I teach is — put this in your arsenal of phrases — “Oh, that’s interesting.” And become curious. So, number two is to be honest with yourself. First of all, create a safe space, because “that’s interesting.” It’s not good, it’s not that bad, it’s interesting. You’re creating a safe space where you can be honest about your strengths and your weaknesses because no leader is strong in everything. So, we’re trying to build a strong team around us. Know what your weaknesses are so you know who to put on your team —become self-aware of what your weaknesses are. Practice single-tasking — this goes back to my matrix magic: slow it down. Slow it down so you don’t miss the answers that are right in front of us. A lot of times, as leaders, I’m guilty, I could spend all day researching something. But if I would just listen and single task, somebody probably in my team already had that answer, or maybe a customer or patient already said something to me that would lead me down the path to the answer. I can save myself 18 hours of research. So, single-task and be present in this moment.  

Dr. Dravon James: There is this tendency for us to believe that multitasking gets stuff done faster. But actually, statistics show that only 2% of the population can multitask with increased output, increased efficacy. So, the rest of us, the other 98% of us, we need to do one thing at one time, that will help improve our self-awareness and make us better leaders. And then, big one, pay attention to your mood. We could call that emotional intelligence. This is so important. When you are self-aware. Let’s go back to number one when you’re curious and not judging, so you’re not going to judge your mood, you’re just going to pay attention to it. Realize when it starts to switch, and then find out what was the catalyst for that — become curious. Remember, no judgment, just curious. Find out the catalyst for that. I can tell you that I practice pharmacy for over 30 years, and I have gone long periods of time without eating, drinking water, or going to the ladies’ room. And I notice, “Oh, did I just say something?” I’m leading a team, was my patient not right? And I go back and I look, “Oh, well, I haven’t eaten in 16 hours. You may want to get something to eat.” So, pay attention, become very self-aware. You are important. Your leadership skills and effectiveness depend on you having this emotional awareness, so pay attention to your mood. And then lastly, pay attention to your emotional triggers. That tells you a lot about your strengths and your weaknesses and it allows you to build a more effective team. When I open my computer in the morning and there are 60-plus emails — triggered.  

Steve Shallenberger: What do you do about those triggers? 

Dr. Dravon James: I slow down and I remind myself. And I have it on my whiteboard, so when people visit my office, they see one thing in this one moment, these magical outcomes. I slow down, I only can read one email at a time, and I only can respond to one email at a time. But when I respond to this one email, it will be my best. And then we could talk about your good enough versus your best, that’s a whole nother topic. But the point here is that becoming self-aware will improve your leadership, it will give your team more confidence, it will give the transparency, the work ethic, and the esprit de corps that we all leaders want. 

Steve Shallenberger: This has been so fun today. We’re at the end of our interview already. Before we leave, any final tips that you might like to leave with our listeners today? 

Dr. Dravon James: Yes, this is going to be powerful. The easiest way to improve your self-awareness right now is to be aware of your self-talk, pay attention to the conversation that nobody hears but you and change it to “Hmm, that’s interesting.” 

Steve Shallenberger: Be aware of yourself talk. That’s interesting. And then become curious. 

Dr. Dravon James: Absolutely. And I want to say this, Steve, before we go: When you do that, you know what happens? You shine the light of awareness on the situation. And the negative self-talk — you don’t have to do more than that — will start to diminish because every time you have it, and you shine that little light of awareness, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” It stops happening because it doesn’t want to be noticed. There’s a whole bunch of science behind this. But just doing that will help tremendously to improve your self-awareness and your leadership skill. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, my guess is our listeners have loved this today. I sure have. So, before we wrap it up, how can people find out about what you’re doing?  

Dr. Dravon James: You can visit my website at And right there, you can just click on to become the happiest person that you know. There are all types of free courses on there. And you can join my free Facebook group and get into my 12-week group coaching class, all from that website, 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you for being with us today. It’s been a delight.  

Dr. Dravon James: Oh, mine too, Steve. 

Steve Shallenberger: And we wish you the best in all that you’re doing. You’re touching a lot of lives for good. 

Dr. Dravon James: Thank you. So are you. This is a wonderful program. 

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, thank you. And I can tell you right now, I can speak on his behalf, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale would be proud of you. I just know that. Well, to all of our listeners, thank you for listening in today, and for being part of this show. So grateful for you. And we wish you all the best today and always. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, signing off. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader.

Dr. Dravon James

Public Speaker, Life Coach, and Author

Life Coach, Transformational Specialist, Public Speaker

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