Inspirational Women Of the Speaking Circuit: How Nicole Cruz aims to remind audiences that “you are enough just as you are and you have the power to create whatever you want in life”
Don’t fake it. Own what you know and what you don’t know. Your audience will be able to tell if you are pretending or posturing. It can be way more impactful to state “I don’t know” instead of making something up. I’ve never been a fan of the “fake it ’til you make it” saying. There can be power in the vulnerability of admitting you do not know everything. It also makes the information you do know more authentic.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nicole Cruz.
As a Life Coach, Nicole supports and empowers people of color to overcome fear & self-doubt, gain confidence, improve self-esteem, and achieve their goals. Over the past 10+ years, Nicole has delivered presentations and workshops to global audiences and was most recently featured at MuleSoft and Google.
Her work with 1st & 2nd generation immigrants has been featured in Fast Company. Her mission is to empower people of color to love and liberate themselves so that they can thrive, unapologetically.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My mom immigrated to California from the Philippines while pregnant with me. I was born and raised in the Bay Area for most of my life but spent my toddler years in the Philippines with my grandparents. Tagalog was my first language and I remember chasing lizards, playing with friends, and wading through flood waters to the market. As a child of immigrants, I spent my life navigating two cultures. It gave me an incredible appreciation of what I have and the sacrifices my parents made. In California, in an attempt to assimilate, I stopped speaking Tagalog in order to learn English and, unfortunately, lost my native language. I spent my childhood in a rough part of Richmond, California where there was gang violence and a drive-by shooting of our house our first year there. What I loved about growing up in the East Bay was the diversity. My classmates were Black, White, Latinx, and Asian. We didn’t segregate ourselves but were all friends with each other. Those experiences shaped my concepts of inclusion, equity, and equality. My advocacy of those concepts are integrated into my coaching practice as well.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career as a life coach was a complete transition from my previous career as a program manager. I spent over a decade working at a huge health insurance corporation, managing multi-million dollar programs. I enjoyed the salary, benefits, business travel but realized that I was playing small. I was pursuing a path I knew I could be successful in rather than a path that I really wanted. I quit my job in my early 30s, downsized my belongings to a carry-on suitcase and traveled the world with my husband for a year. By stripping away the external markers of success that I had always counted on, I challenged myself to find security in myself. I gave myself permission to explore what I truly enjoyed — helping others reach goals, deep one-on-one connection, running accountability groups. All signs were pointing to becoming a life coach. I started with offering coaching to my friends and family. As soon as I started coaching, I felt immediate ease with it — like I had been doing it my whole life. I then went through training and started offering coaching outside my immediate circle. Pretty quickly, I realized that the community I wanted to serve was mine: 1st & 2nd generation immigrants of color. Because of our multicultural experiences, I understood that there were unique struggles that we faced that weren’t being addressed by the predominantly white life coaching industry. I realized that I could use my personal experience and coaching tools to support my community in a deep way.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My husband and I are location-independent and were traveling full-time prior to the pandemic. In March of this year, we were traveling through Vietnam. In the middle of the night, we saw people in full hazmat suits spraying down the hallways and empty rooms of our hotel. The next morning, we were called to go downstairs to get tested for COVID-19. Apparently, someone in our hotel had tested positive and the hotel went under immediate lockdown for the next 14 days. We were only a few days into our stay in Vietnam and we ended up spending the rest in our hotel room or in the lobby of the hotel. It was a tense 2 weeks in quarantine with the other hotel guests, anxiously awaiting test results and the okay from the Vietnamese government to leave. Thankfully, I was still able to work and coach from our hotel room. I was doing a lot of self-coaching so that I could support and hold space for my clients around the world, who were experiencing their own COVID-19 lockdowns. Those two weeks were an extreme practice of releasing things I couldn’t control and showed me how vital a strong coaching practice can be to getting through really…anything!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake was trying to record a podcast from our small Airbnb on a busy street in Croatia. The wifi and the acoustics were terrible. I remember cramming myself in a corner against the stone walls with pillows all around me to try and absorb the extra noise. Fortunately, the podcast went well but I remember being so anxious throughout the recording. I learned that your environment is extremely important to success. Where you set up your “office” can directly influence the quality of your work. This is why I prioritize staying in places that will support how I want to show up for my clients.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My success was definitely supported by a number of people — my friends who were my first clients, my mom who told me to “go for it”, and my coaches who helped me through mindset obstacles. I am particularly grateful for my husband. First, he supported my dream of quitting my job and traveling the world. In the year we traveled, I was able to get clear on the kind of life I wanted. I realized the trade-off I had been making by playing small and committed to a life where joy was interwoven into my every day. Then, in the beginning of my business, all I had to go on was belief that I could create what I wanted. And when that belief wavered, he picked up the belief and cheered me on. He was there for me when I heard a string of “no’s” from potential clients. He celebrated with me whenever I signed a new client. And when I had my first 5-figure month and said “this is crazy”, he reminded me, “No it isn’t. You worked hard for this.” I’m grateful for a partner who truly believes in me and whatever I want to create in this business.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
I let the fear of failure stop me from pursuing what I truly wanted for a long time. I thought that if I just continued to do things that I knew I could be successful in, that I would eventually be happy and fulfilled. However, I realized that success in safety wasn’t the same as success in happiness. When we don’t allow ourselves to really pursue what we want for fear of failure or disappointment, what we’re really doing is feeling that disappointment in real time. We’re not even giving ourselves the chance to succeed.
I know how scary it can be to leave the familiar comfort of the path you’ve been on. However, you can ask yourself: which discomfort would you rather experience? The discomfort of knowing you’re holding yourself back or the discomfort of trying something new?
What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?
Knowing that my talk can potentially impact the life of someone else motivates me through stage fright and nerves. I think about the messages I would have wanted to receive as a young woman that could have impacted my life. My main message for (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) BIPOC is that you are enough just as you are and you have the power to create whatever you want in life.
Can you share with our readers a few of your most important tips about how to be an effective and empowering speaker? Can you please share some examples or stories?
My top 3 tips to being an effective and empowering speaker are:
- Don’t fake it. Own what you know and what you don’t know. Your audience will be able to tell if you are pretending or posturing. It can be way more impactful to state “I don’t know” instead of making something up. I’ve never been a fan of the “fake it ’til you make it” saying. There can be power in the vulnerability of admitting you do not know everything. It also makes the information you do know more authentic.
- Use personal stories. I used to think that my stories weren’t that interesting or important. I used to gloss over details of my life and try to sum up stories in the shortest amount of words necessary. While part of this comes from being shy sometimes, it also comes from women of color being told time and time again that we shouldn’t take up space. Over generations, we’ve been taught that showing up authentically isn’t safe or welcome. That belief has caused many of us to downplay our strengths and silence our stories. Not anymore. Whenever I speak, I use a personal story to illustrate how I’ve been impacted by a particular topic. For example, when I spoke about fear & self-doubt, I talked about how I spent most of my life making fear-based choices that led to an abusive relationship, an unfulfilling career, and playing small. Personal stories are powerful, especially for BIPOC.
- Connect the topic to the audience’s own lives. We are inundated with content on the daily. My intent with speaking is to help make the content as relevant as possible to the audience’s lives. This could be asking them to reflect on how the topic shows up in their life or to go out and do something with the information. I engage the audience throughout the entire presentation so that they’re an active participant and can find relation to the content from beginning to end. Of course, as a life coach, I love taking action so I also provide tangible ways they can apply the content to themselves in a meaningful way.
As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?
I used to be terrified of public speaking too! What helped me was to not think about it as an opportunity to be judged but, instead, an opportunity to connect with someone else. Everytime I speak, I think about the people I would love to support with my presentation. For example, I’ll think about the woman of color in the audience who may have never had someone speak at her company and really understand her. I’ll think of this as my opportunity to connect with her and help her feel seen and supported.
I’ve also accepted that not everyone will resonate with what I’m saying…and that’s okay. The folks who were meant to get something out of it will. That also helps me to stay true to what I want to say instead of altering my presentation to what I think will please everyone (because that’s impossible!).
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I wish someone had told me that…
- A “no” isn’t necessarily a “no” to you. If a potential client ultimately says “no” to working with you, that doesn’t mean anything negative about you. It could really just be that they’re not ready to take that next step in their journey.
- I don’t have to build a coaching business like everyone else. There are A LOT of coaches out there and it can be easy to fall into the comparison rabbit hole. I’ve found that what actually helps me succeed is listening to my community and myself. I’ve gone against advice from other successful coaches because it didn’t feel right for me and now I’m building a business that feels incredibly aligned. I would not have arrived at this point if I tried to follow everyone else’s formula.
- Mindset is the foundation to a successful business. When I first started, I absorbed ALL the strategies but my mindset wasn’t at a level to support executing the strategies. It wasn’t until I really worked on my belief, confidence, and openness to failure that I was able to create business success.
- My self-worth is not impacted by the outcome. Growing up, I always believed that my self-worth was directly correlated to how much I achieved. So, of course, that motivated me to achieve a lot. However, entrepreneurship is unpredictable and failure is a necessary component. My attachment of my self-worth to the result made me feel panicky and, let’s say it, desperate to get a new client. When I realized that the outcome had no impact on who I was as a person, it allowed me to release control of the outcome. The more I released, the better my results because I wasn’t forcing it.
- Be open to the how. This is something I tell my clients consistently. Be committed to the vision and open to the how. Just because a step towards the vision “fails”, it doesn’t mean the vision is bad. It just means that that particular step wasn’t the way to get to the vision. This allows me to release ideas or projects that don’t feel aligned and be open to unexpected opportunities — like speaking engagements! I remember that I released a mastermind that I was enrolling for because it didn’t feel like I could give it my all. This meant potentially refunding thousands of dollars. It was a difficult decision but once I did it, I received two requests from huge companies for speaking engagements in the same week! By being open to the how, I’ve been able to expand in ways I never expected.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
I absolutely love my signature group coaching program, Living Bravely. It’s a program I created specifically for 1st & 2nd generation immigrants of color. We’re headed into the 5th round of the program and the transformation I see in every cohort is magical. Women go from not knowing what they want or who they are to declaring their true visions, feeling empowered to take action, and own their self-worth.
Next, I’m working on an exciting online course and experience that will be accessible and allow me to impact more 1st & 2nd generation immigrants of color. I also have plans on creating retreats (virtual for now) to support generational healing.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
Coaching requires a lot of energy and emotion. I need to spend time filling my cup in order to show up for my clients in the way that I want to. I find a lot of nourishment on my yoga mat. I am a certified yoga teacher and yoga helps me mindfully reconnect my mind, body, and spirit. It also helps me learn about myself every day. Some days I’ll feel energized and will be able to do a powerful yoga flow. Some days, I find I require more ease and will do slower movement. I also get to meet my body where it is that day and show it compassion by taking modifications. On my yoga mat, I can just be instead of do. As someone who travels full-time, it’s also a practice I can take anywhere in the world and can use to connect with others. When we were in Tuscany, I taught yoga to a class of Italians. Even though we couldn’t speak each others’ languages, we were able to connect through yoga.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is actually one I modified to be more relevant to me and my community: “You could be the most delicious, incredible mango. But some people just don’t like mangoes. And that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the mango.”
This resonates with me because I always believed that I needed to alter or change myself in order to fit in or be accepted. And that, based on what kind of person or “fruit” someone wants me to be, that I should change myself to fit their wants or expectations. I find that this is a common belief in the community that I serve. We are taught to shift, code-switch, change ourselves to others’ likings. And it…is…exhausting.
So when I think about this quote, I understand that I can’t be anyone else but me. And if others don’t like me, it doesn’t have to mean anything wrong about me. I get to be me, full-out.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I want to empower immigrant and immigrant descendants of color to own their self-worth, go after what they truly want, and THRIVE unapologetically. I know what it feels like to play small, to downplay myself, to center others’ comfort over my own. Time and time again, I meet WOC who want to contribute more love into the world in their own unique ways, but have been taught to follow others’ paths or to chase others’ approval. The more BIPOC that are empowered to love and liberate themselves and their visions, the better this world will be.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would LOVE to have lunch with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her journey and belief in herself to create change in systems that have historically oppressed BIPOC inspires me to keep doing the work that I do. She is an incredible representation of a daughter of an immigrant taking up space to create positive change.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!