MF 091 : Why Yasmeen Burns Declined to be Moving Forward’s Very First Guest!
Updated: Jun 17
Yasmeen Burns is a Principal Consultant at The Clearing. Today, Yasmeen will share why she declined to be the first guest on Moving Forward and how that decision allowed her to make a giant pivot in her life and career!
Starting Moving Forward w/ a “no:”
Yasmeen Burns is someone I greatly admire and respect. If you’re going to to go business school, pray that you have a Yasmeen among your classmates. We met several years ago while at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and Yasmeen is one of those people who just seems to have it all together. She was not only a MBA student but getting a dual degree – a master’s in Organizational Development (“OD”). If you take a look at Yasmeen’s LinkedIn profile, you’ll see she is the pinnacle of success. She’s done everything from attorney training and career coaching for some of the biggest firms to teaching as an adjunct faculty member and was on the c-suite of a prominent IT / tech company. On top of that Yasmeen is a proud wife, a mom of two, a daughter, sister and an all around bright and positive person to be around.
Let’s flashback to about a year and a half ago. I come up with this outlandish idea to launch a podcast, hoping to inspire people to do more w/ their careers. I had just myself, left corporate America, hoping to find my way as an entrepreneur. It just so happened that I caught up w/ Yasmeen and we decided to have lunch, both of us having since graduated from Hopkins. Given that Yasmeen was now a Chief Strategy and Comms Officer at an IT company, I was excited to hear her thoughts on the podcast and ask her to be my very first guest. And really, Yasmeen was the picture perfect guest – someone who had it all together.
As I explained the concept for Moving Forward, I could tell Yasmeen was very excited. She was always the type of person who would encourage her classmates and friends, especially when it came to finding satisfaction in their careers. When I invited Yasmeen to be on Moving Forward, over lunch at Pizzeria Da Marco (which if you’re ever in Bethesda, I highly recommend), she was both flattered and intrigued. BUT she was not ecstatic. I could tell there was some hesitancy in the yes.
Over the next several weeks as I was scrambling to schedule interviews (while learning how to do a podcast on the fly), I could tell something was wrong. Yasmeen became more and more non-committal about scheduling the interview. As this dragged out I made the decision to launch the podcast and schedule Yasmeen as a later episode. We eventually agreed on a date but when the day came, Yasmeen cancelled. We tried to reschedule but each time something came up and each time, I knew something was up but understanding how busy Yasmeen was I didn’t push it. Well, as it turns out and as you can probably guess, something happened that caused Yasmeen to keep pushing back until she declined altogether.
May 19th, 2015 becomes an important date for Moving Forward:
So what happened? Why did Yasmeen, a friend, a former classmate and someone who really had her stuff together, decline to be the first guest? I wouldn’t get my answer until about two months after the podcast launched. By then, I was well under way w/ the podcast schedule grind and while I was disappointed that Yasmeen wasn’t my first guest and would not be on the show for the foreseeable future, I had decided to … move forward. Then on May 19th, 2015, I got an email from Yasmeen. I figured it would be an invitation to catch up for lunch or just to chat. But to my surprise, Yasmeen sent me a message that practically knocked me off my seat. If you’ve been following the show since the early days, you may recall that in the first year, I asked my guests what their passion was and how they discovered it. It was an audacious, bold question to open with but my thought was, go big. Little did I know however, that it really caught Yasmeen by surprise. As is my customary practice, I send all of my guests the questions I plan to ask ahead of time. As Yasmeen revealed, that first question threw her for a loop, so much so, it caused her to leave her job. Wait, what? Yes, that one question gave Yasmeen pause to look at herself and dig really deep into a place that she had been avoiding for some time and face a dilemma that had been eating away at her: that she was unhappy in her career and needed to make a change.
Getting under the surface to ask the tough questions:
So why did Yasmeen, someone who clearly had her stuff together, feel this way? While Yasmeen was the pinnacle of success from the outside, as she explains, her career journey was in reality, “a series of unfortunate events” where she would fall “all over her face,” chasing “silver bullets.” Following college, Yasmeen thought she should be a doctor so she started a pre-med program at Georgetown. The result? As Yasmeen put it, she “fell all over her face,” bombing an organic chemistry exam w/ her professor recommending she pursue another career path. From there, Yasmeen pursued courses in psychology and fell in love w/ it. Yasmeen discovered her strength in communications and following college, she thought the best career move would be w/ a PR firm in New York. Unfortunately, 2001 was a downturn year for the economy so the only opportunities for Yasmeen to break into strategic communications was w/ law firms. This got Yasmeen on the “I think I should go to law school” tract and so like many post-grads, she took the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) and in her words, did “horribly.” As that door closed, one of Yasmeen’s roommates suggested that she pursue learning and development in law firms, an area that was (and still is) sorely needed. Finally, Yasmeen found a niche that she really enjoyed w/ a law firm that hired her for learning and development, succession planning and change management. This got her more exposure to the business side of things and so Yasmeen decided the next step would be to get her MBA, so she could fill in the gaps in organizational development. At this point, Yasmeen seemed to hit her stride. She was back in school, raising her kids and consulting, part-time. It was here that Yasmeen found her next “silver bullet” – in this case, the c-suite. Soon after finishing school, Yasmeen became the Chief Strategy and Communications Officer w/ an IT / tech company, becoming the culmination of all she thought she wanted out of her career. On paper, everything looked great. Yasmeen found a position that blended her love of psychology, communication and career experience in strategic comms. She was a newly minted MBA and now a member of the coveted c-suite. However, an unexpected intervention occurred that rattled Yasmeen to the core. Yep, that’s where I come in: the dude who wanted to launch a podcast called ‘Moving Forward.’ As Yasmeen explains, the first question on the series of questions I asked all of my 2015 podcast guests, triggered a crisis of conscience. Yasmeen could not answer it! She could not identify what inspires her everyday in her career. It was at this point that Yasmeen forced herself to really look inward. Throughout her journey, Yasmeen would as she describes it, “fall on her face” only to look towards “what did work and what didn’t work” instead of what she made her truly happy and passionate. Yasmeen was so on the go, so focused on climbing the ladder, she didn’t take a moment to stop and ask herself what was at the end of the ladder; what is she passionate about and what inspires her.
From there, Yasmeen decided to make a pivot. She reached out to mentors, she left her job earlier than usual to spend time w/ her kids, she did a lot of introspection and of course, she declined to be on Moving Forward. She did a lot of transformative work on herself and today, Yasmeen is a consultant at The Clearing where she focuses on transformation and change w/ leaders and stakeholders. But more importantly, Yasmeen loves her work. She can now answer the question that stumped her over a year and a half ago, w/ confidence and vigor.
Yasmeen shares a tool or concept that she wishes she would have known when she was finishing school, that has helped her move forward:
Think about your career trajectory as incremental steps forward.
Practice or habit for building and maintaining relationships:
Allow yourself to be vulnerable w/ your friends, your relationships, your family. Say what’s going on in your life – you will be surprised by the commonalities you will discover. That’s how you will bridge connections and deepen your relationships and truly leverage them as catalysts to help you move forward. As Yasmeen shares, this is what happened when I launched Moving Forward and asked her to be on the show.
On the flipside, when someone is opening up to you and being vulnerable, be an active listener!
Resource or cultural experience that inspired Yasmeen to move forward:
Groups setting the agenda in the moment and in real time, moving forward on things that matter to them.
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What would have been great at episode 001 is even better at episode 091:
Was I disappointed that Yasmeen wasn’t my very first guest on Moving Forward? If you had asked me this question a year and a half ago, my answer would have been an unequivocal, resounding yes. Back then I was scrambling to find really amazing guests, calling people I had in my network and truth be told, Yasmeen was at the top of that list. Here was someone I admired, a colleague and former classmate who I long respected and someone who had reached an incredible pinnacle of success. But as noted above, May 15th, 2015 was an important date for moving forward, both for Yasmeen and for me. Yasmeen needed to make a pivot. Would it have been cool to have her talk about being a c-level executive for an IT / tech company on episode 001? Yes. But think about how much more meaningful this is for all of us, including you Moving Forward listeners, that Yasmeen is sharing this story w/ you. How one question caused a ripple effect that shattered a cycle of chasing after career silver bullets and empowered Yasmeen to take a huge leap, moving forward into a career she loves and is passionate about, day after day. This is what moving forward is all about. And I’m so glad that I stuck w/ it so that Yasmeen can share this incredible story w/ you on episode 091. As Yasmeen shared in the knowledge burst session, maintaining and growing your network, isn’t about handing out business cards or being a surface at a cocktail party. It’s about being authentic and even a little vulnerable, as you’re on the journey. And that’s why Yasmeen was able to make that pivot. It’s interesting to look back on how much this show has changed too and the experience and impact it’s had on our guests. Just last week, Dan Raaf shared he was hesitant to be a guest on Moving Forward b/c he didn’t feel worthy. He came on to take ownership of his past and since then, his story has impacted people across the country and around the world. And now this week, Yasmeen, a person who for all intents and purposes, is someone who you wouldn’t question or blink an eye for being a guest on Moving Forward, is sharing her story as to why she declined to be on the show at launch. That’s the point. Moving Forward isn’t about guests w/ titles, status or surface level success. It’s about sharing an inside look at the journey that can inspire you to make the changes you need to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Yasmeen declining to be a guest on Moving Forward 001 is one of the best things that could have happened. As far as I’m concerned it was well worth waiting 90 episodes for Yasmeen to come on and inspire us all to pivot and move forward.
Connect with Yasmeen:
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