Knowing Yourself Makes Work Easier with Aleya Harris

Aleya Harris always had an entrepreneurial streak, but it wasn’t until the timing was right that she took the leap and decided to jump in and build her own business from the ground up. Now she’s on a journey to authenticity and she’s found that the more she knows herself the easier it is to […]

Aleya Harris always had an entrepreneurial streak, but it wasn’t until the timing was right that she took the leap and decided to jump in and build her own business from the ground up. Now she’s on a journey to authenticity and she’s found that the more she knows herself the easier it is to succeed.

Aleya’s Website: https://www.flourishmarketing.co/

Episode Transcript

Josh Haynam:
Hi, everyone. This week, we are here with Aleya Harris. She was a head of marketing at a really large firm until February of this year, 2020, and then jumped off to work full-time on her entrepreneurial venture. She actually ran that on the side, the entrepreneurial thing, for a couple years prior to that. And through fortunate, unfortunate circumstances decided to make that leap, and now is running a firm called Flourish Marketing. So thanks for coming on the show.

Aleya Harris:
Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Josh Haynam:
So we were chatting a little bit before we hit record, and it sounds like your entrepreneurial venture is fulfilling about 25% of your previous salary as a head of marketing, which probably pretty significant. So, that’s already some good progress in only working on this full-time for five months, but being head of marketing and then doing your own thing doesn’t just happen overnight.

Aleya Harris:
No.

Josh Haynam:
So fill us in on the whole story going back. I think one thing that’s really interesting is when was the first time you thought about being kind of entrepreneurial and then how did that weave through your story to get to where you are now, which is doing it full-time?

Aleya Harris:
Well, entrepreneurship has always kind of been around me. My father is a serial entrepreneur, so it wasn’t a foreign concept. Then I went to school, and I graduated from University of Southern California during the recession. And I said, “Okay, let me just go get a job. I’m just going to go get a job.” I majored in business, and I slogged through and hated every minute of it. I hated cubicles. They made me itch. I hated the whole environment. And I said, “Man, I really need to figure out what I love and what I want to do.” And after a series of events, meandering through different industries, fashion, and cosmetics, and I landed in the culinary industry. And I felt then in that industry, that it was the first time that I really had my own destiny in my hands.

Aleya Harris:
I had the best advice in culinary school that I’ve ever received. It was from a grumpy chef instructor who said to me, “Yeah, you’re good.” I graduated 4.0 honor roll. So he’s like, “Yeah, you’re good, but you’re going to have to work 10 years making minimum wage before you’re ever going to be able to amount to anything.” And I said, “That’s super great advice. Thank you so much. That’s not how I’m set up.” And I don’t normally have a negative motivation, motivated by something negative. I try to be motivated by where I’m going, but let me tell you, that kick in the pants was incredibly helpful. That piece of advice really helped me take stock of what I was capable of.

Aleya Harris:
And yes, part of it was trying to prove that grumpy chef instructor wrong, but during culinary school, while graduating with honors, I started my first catering company, and that was the first company that I owned. And then I kind of branched off of a piece of it to a private chef company. And it was amazing because I felt that the joys and the not so joys of entrepreneurship for the very first time. And when you do that, it gets a little contagious. And ever since then, I’ve tried to work in an entrepreneurial environment. Even when I ended those companies and I ended being a private chef and I combined my marketing degree and my private chef degree together and I went into corporatesque, it was still in a very entrepreneurial environment.

Aleya Harris:
What caused me to start the company I own now is as I rose through the ranks of corporate, I wasn’t dealing really with what I loved anymore. It became, I didn’t have a cubicle. I was blessed to be able to work from home, but it was still I could feel the cubicle closing it around me even in my own home office, and that corporate structure wasn’t what I wanted. So I started Flourish Marketing to be able to get back to doing what I wanted and to be true to who I am and how I like to operate.

Josh Haynam:
I’m curious on that, that feeling of being boxed in, feeling contained, what do you think that’s about for you? Why is that such a hard thing to have to feel like you’re existing within a structure, and you can’t just kind of do your own thing?

Aleya Harris:
Yeah, I don’t mind existing within a structure if the structure is flexible and allows the components of the structure to grow and shift, like an organic structure, right? If you think about a flower, the way a flower is structured, it grows and is able to shift with the direction of the sunlight and how the water’s growing. It’s not a wooden box, that no matter what the sun is doing, no matter what the earth is doing, the wooden box is the wooden box. That’s the type of structure that I find myself pushing back against because I am really all about personal and professional growth. One, because I always want to be the best version of myself and two, the world is in constant movement. And if you are so rigid and boxing yourself into a structure with a lot of bureaucracy, you’re never able to truly flex and pivot with that world around you.

Aleya Harris:
The world we’re in right now is a really good example of that. If you had a lot of structures, and it took you a long time to move, you probably saw your revenue just pouring right out of the hole that you accidentally created in that wooden box, right? So, being able to create those structures for myself in a way that makes sense for company mobility and the innovation and creativity that is required to be successful now is really what I strive for. I’ve had corporate jobs where, even calling them corporate jobs sounds weird because it was in such a flexible dynamic environment, and I thrived there. Yes, I might have a needing to be the boss issue, but I do feel like I have a lot to give to teams as well if the team is set up in a way that truly keeps the end goal in mind, the North Star that you’re driving towards. Why do you exist? Well, if you exist to serve a certain population or to solve a certain problem or to solve problems before people even know they exist, which for me is true innovation, then when you have your eye on that problem, the dynamics and the structures to get to that problem inherently will need to change as the context changes. So that’s the boxed in, why I don’t like being boxed in. I don’t feel like I’m living up to my best potential that way.

Josh Haynam:
Hmm, that makes sense. And you mentioned personal and professional development. When did you start to notice that those things were important to you and kind of what were the factors that played into that?

Aleya Harris:
That’s a very good question. When did I notice that personal growth was important to me? I think I always innately knew that, but I started off going about it in a very forceful way within myself, which presented as extreme Type A, right. You go off of growth and growth could mean, “Oh, I have to push myself to get to that next level, that next goal.” And then you start to realize that when you’re at that next goal, you’re just as empty as you were on the rung before on the ladder, right? Then you look at yourself and you’re like, “Okay, this isn’t working. If I keep going this way, no matter how high I climb on the ladder, no matter how many placards I have on my wall and certificates, it will always feel the same.”

Aleya Harris:
Then one day, in perfect timing, I was invited to a seminar. It was called Insight Seminars, and it kind of shifted my perspective about what growth really was. And instead of looking externally, I began to look internally and developing meditation practices and honing in and doing lots of journaling and writing and visualization and breaking pass through some of the frameworks that were running me internally. Why do I have the need to feel the drive to always be the best? Well, it’s probably because I felt unwanted by my father as a child. Well, what is that about? And when you start breaking those things out, that’s when you start to feel that internal freedom. And with that, for me, with that internal freedom has come a lot more creativity and a lot more confidence. I’m able to step more fully into a visionary role because I’m not as bogged down by being run by the stories that I always told myself I was. “Oh, well, you grew up with a single mother and your father was there, but you grew up with a single mother. That’s who you are, the daughter of a single mother.”

Aleya Harris:
And I am. I mean, it’s a [inaudible 00:10:06]. I love my mom, and she’s amazing, but that’s not all I am. And am I letting that story run me? Am I letting the story of being a black female run me and what that means, especially in this context. And I love being a black female, and I love all of that entails, and I embrace it, but that’s not all I am. And you start shedding those external things. You go internally. And not only is it easier to walk through life, no matter kind of what it throws at you, because you have a knowingness and a confidence, and you’re in alignment with who you are, but it’s so much easier to develop marketing messaging and develop new products and services, because you are able to see things from a more observant perspective rather than getting so emotionally and psychologically attached to a particular outcome that needs to happen in the world.

Josh Haynam:
Yeah, you’re speaking my language. I had a very similar journey in terms of everything’s Type A. Just push, push, push. That’s how you’re going to fix this stuff and then realizing, yeah, similar kind of stuff, tough childhood, a lot of pain from that. And then trying to run away from it as opposed to looking at it and being like, “How is this affecting me and which parts are okay, and which parts do I not want to carry with me? And move on.” And my executive coach, he has a very similar thing to what you said, which is instead of looking externally, you start to look internally. And he told me this thing that made a ton of sense. It’s like, “There is a storm going on, and we always think the storm is everything else. And then someday you realize the storm is just inside of you. And as you learn to quiet the storm, then you stop seeing it everywhere else. And the world becomes a calmer and more approachable place.”

Josh Haynam:
And I really liked what you said about everything becoming easier at that point because that’s something I can definitely resonate with. All of a sudden, you’re not thinking about how does this play for everybody else? What are people going to think? How is this going to be perceived? And you’re just like, “No, this is what I’m about.” And if I put that out in the world, it will bring back things that actually resonate with me.

Josh Haynam:
I’m curious what that transition was like for you because I know for me, it was extended and tough. So what did it look like to start to drop the Type A, have everything super in order, and then start to shift over to this understanding who I am and what I’m about and operating out of that.

Aleya Harris:
Well, you say it like it’s past tense like I have done it and seen it and now I’m Buddha and I ascended. I wish that was the case, Josh, and I love the analogy of the storm. That really resonates with me, but it’s all a process. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that you made an agreement before you reembodied here on this planet to go through some stuff, right. And as you look and you see like, “Oh, I seem to be going through the same stuff over and over again. Oh, that type A thing, there it is, again. There it is again.” You’re like, “Oh, this is part of the lesson that I’m supposed to be learning.”

Aleya Harris:
So, I don’t want to set myself up even to feel like there will be a time, well, I will have learned all and just be done. I think that self-development and personal growth, it’s like an onion. You’re like, “Oh, I peeled off that layer. Dang, this is the biggest onion I have ever seen,” as you keep pulling layers and layers and layers back, right? The transition for me that is still going on is really about learning how to be present, learning how to listen to the things that I really actually want and realizing that I have the ability to make the choice, not let the choice be made for me by the circumstance around and feeling like I’ve been programmed to react a certain way, so I must then do it that way. Or someone’s asking this and “Oh, well, will they really need this? I now am required to do this and make this decision.” I can make a choice about what the next step is and have that be not a selfish choice because there’s a choice that works beneficially for everyone’s highest good all at once. There is a choice that follows that.

Aleya Harris:
And that’s where I’m trying to live in alignment and doing things when I feel them. That sounds a little bit flippant, but if I’m tired, I’m going to go take a nap. If I am really in the flow, I might stay up till three o’clock in the morning. If I don’t want to write that email, it doesn’t feel right to write that email right now, I won’t. Listening to that inner knowledge and not, again, that’s where that flexibility comes from. Every single time, without fail, without fail, when I listen to that intuition, I listen to that inner knowledge, it is a much better outcome.

Aleya Harris:
Even I’m booking a photo shoot because I have been keeping the same photos for two years, and I’m so tired of seeing myself in this same green dress that I have everywhere. I had the photographer. I’m booking, and we’re booking a space. I’m like, “Yep, let me book you.” Then some things happened in my organization. It’s like, “Ooh, I need to hold on for a second.” Then I had a speaking engagement call me, said, “Actually, we need you to do some video. Can you do video and turn it in?” I’m like, “Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t book the photographer shoot, which would I would have had to book two. I would have had to spend double the money if I had booked it and done it when I was supposed to.” So just pausing and listening, I saved myself a thousand bucks just now, because I was paying attention, and I was present. And I cultivate that on a daily basis.

Aleya Harris:
And I have a spiritual coach who I absolutely adore. Her name is Monica Laskey [phonetic 00:16:50]. And I meet with her every two weeks, and we actively work on what it’s like to be okay with the uncertainty in the world and recognize that uncertainty is essential to reaching your full potential. And the field of uncertainty out there is really just all of the field of possibilities and that no matter what, you are safe and secure within that field. You can just choose which possibility you decide to take. And then every day for 30 minutes in the morning, and I’m trying to do 30 minutes in the evening, too. I was reading Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success, and he says 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes in evening. I can guarantee the 30 minutes a day part where I meditate, but I’m working on upping that just to stay connected. Because if we just keep going, going, going, if I just keep going, going, going, I find myself on a couch with some Uber Eats and a glass of whiskey, and that’s life. And I don’t want that to be life. I have so much more to do and give and to be in life.

Josh Haynam:
Yeah, yeah. I can resonate with a lot of that. Even the last point, the 30 minutes, I also have a practice. Thirty minutes in the morning is much easier than the evening. And I like what you said about the onion. I’ve actually heard it the opposite way, which is kind of what you said, but it’s the onion grows. So the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know.

Aleya Harris:
That is a hundred percent true.

Josh Haynam:
I think that’s very true with all of this self-development and understanding and living out of it. The more you open that door, the more you realize there’s just so much there. And I think it actually is connecting for me with the box analogy, because in my view, a big part of the reason why so many boxes exist in the world is because people don’t want to open the door. They don’t want to know what’s really going on on the other side. And so we create these structures where it’s show up, do this thing. Don’t do anything else, and then leave. But then after awhile, if you start to wake up to this, you realize I don’t want that because it’s so constraining, and it’s not only constraining of my work life, but it just passes off into the rest of life.

Josh Haynam:
And I also resonate with the ongoing thing. My coach is always like, “Yeah, I’m way older than you, and I’m still going through this stuff now. We’re on the journey together.” And that feels really good. And I guess to narrow down the question, because I think, well, I know this is a struggle for a lot of people, especially trying to make the transition, because existing in a corporate world, you get so used to working within the box and being successful within the box. Then you try to start implementing these practices that are existing out of your humanity, and it can be hard, and I’ve felt this. It can be really hard as you start to try to actually change. So I’m curious what that was like, if you can rewind back to when you started to make this change for yourself, how did you actually go about implementing this into your work life?

Aleya Harris:
Well, in the very beginning, I had two strong feelings, fear and freedom. I was terrified because that safety net that I thought that I needed to have, which had just proven itself to not be safety, was just kind of ripped out from me. And it was interesting because when you feel like you’re safe, that’s probably when you’re in the most danger, and that’s exactly what had happened to me. When I’m like, “Oh, no, everything is exactly how I want it.” And then you hear a little bit of God laughing right behind you. Then boom. There it goes, right. But I did, I had this amazing, because I had this relief. I could almost feel a little weight coming off of my chest and a weight coming off my shoulders.

Aleya Harris:
I had entered into that world of possibility, and it was a transition, and it still is a transition a little bit, as you said. I just left my corporate job in February. So I go and I’m like, “Yes, I’m doing it. I’m free. I’m riding. I’m flying. I’m a bird.” And then you’re like, “Crap, I have to pay that bill. Someone please, someone please answer my email.” You go back and forth. Until I’m able to get that level of confidence that is not a touch to my bank account, I know that I will stay in that cycle because abundance isn’t a number in your bank account. It’s a mentality and a way of walking through life. Feeling that freedom is being able to feel free regardless of what’s going on in the world, and realizing that you’re walking towards a certain direction. And you have your intention to go there and having your intention of the way that you’ll get there, but being open to all kinds of different avenues and options to be there.

Aleya Harris:
But it was a difficult transition, especially in that fear. There was, and then I felt guilty for having the fear because this is the freedom I always wanted. Even all my passwords used to have some iteration of the word freedom in them, right? I was creating this forever. And now I had it, and so then I was judging myself for being ungrateful. And then I was judging myself for judging myself. It was a lot of judgment that was happening. But I don’t know you know this, but more you judge yourself, the more drained you become, the more enable you are to move forward, because you have caught yourself up in a new game. You’ve caught yourself up in a new illusion, right? The illusion of judgment, the illusion of not good enough, the illusion of doubt, the illusion of low self esteem, the illusion of lack. And those are really tough to break through, and they come back all the time.

Aleya Harris:
So it’s more just now for me about recognizing and seeing those illusions coming from further away and deciding and making that choice about what I’m going to do about them in the moment. Okay, I see this feeling. I feel this feeling of stress. I got a bill, or I got an invoice. I got a something. How am I going to feel right now? How am I going to choose to feel right now? I can choose to be stressed, and I can choose to say, “Oh, my God, I have the money.” But the money go, like, “Yeah, it’s still money going out.” It’s “Oh, my gosh. And then if I pay this invoice, then what about the next five invoices that will come within the next 10 years? And then and then I’m homeless.” That’s always how it goes, right? You never have a mental path where you’re like, “I’m going to pay the bill, and it’s going to be great. And I’m going to be the queen of the world.” No, it always, for me, goes straight to extreme poverty.

Aleya Harris:
And that’s when I’m trying to interrupt that, because if I want to have the freedom, I have to maintain it. I was given a gift to make the transition. And freedom is not something that just happens. It’s not like you land, and you put your stake in the promised land. Freedom is a process that is continual, continually claiming that freedom and protecting it for yourself internally. Internally making the decision that says, “I have a lot that could be going on right now. I could choose to put my energy there, or I could put that energy towards what makes me feel free in this one. Well, what makes me feel free right now?” I would love to create a new course right now. That’s actually what I want to do. Yes, this is here, and I’m going to deal with that and do whatever I need to do to make that figured out in this world, but take that emotional energy and put it towards something that makes me be able to claim and maintain my freedom.

Aleya Harris:
So it was, and still continues to be, a struggle, not so much for me because of the lack of structure, because I’m still using some of those Type A structure skills. So I have the structure, but for me, because of that safety, that illusion of safety that I had really bought into that was swept out from me and being able to navigate through that and keeping my eye on what I want, as opposed to what I don’t want, because what you put your focus on grows. And I’m choosing to grow what I want, as opposed to what I don’t want.

Josh Haynam:
Yeah, I think that point about the illusion of safety and when you feel the most safe is actually when you’re the most at risk is so true. And I can resonate with that because it feels good to not have to worry about it and just believe “Oh, everything’s taken care of. Everything’s fine.” But it’s a false narrative, and it’s not the reality. And then you step into this other world where you realize, “Oh, there is no such thing as security.” And I think it’s Pema Chodron talks about the biggest source of pain is wanting things to be permanent. And I was like, “Well, that’s very true.” Because you want to know that you have permanent financial security. You want to know that this business is going to work forever. And when something challenges that, like an invoice coming in, it makes you feel like there’s two options. This is either going to be permanent or not permanent. And this invoice is telling me it’s not permanent, so everything’s terrible, and this is bad.

Josh Haynam:
So that’s a really great place to be able to sit in, and just like you said, see those things coming. Choose how you’re going to deal with them instead of letting them take you for a ride. And then operate out of that, which leads to my next question, which is what does a day look like for you?

Aleya Harris:
A day? Well, most days I… This is one of the perks of being an entrepreneur. I’ve never been a morning person, even as a kid. You know how kids come down Christmas morning at six o’clock in the morning. They’re like, “Mom, dad.” I was at a cool 9:30 even as a kid. So I start my day, this is my first meeting of the day or my first interaction of the day, and it started out at 10 o’clock Pacific time. Yeah. So, I open my calendar up for meetings to be booked from 9:00 to 4:00, I think, on Monday through Thursday. So I will have probably a couple of meetings. Right now, I’m doing a heavy focus on publicity, so I am doing a lot of writing, speaking. And I’ll probably have a couple of those engagements throughout the day.

Aleya Harris:
I don’t want to say it like I work in really late because it doesn’t feel like that to me, but I will probably end up working until 9:00, but it’s not working. I get in a flow. This is total TMI for you, Josh, but this is really how I plan my life because I realized when I didn’t do it this way, shit wasn’t working or stuff, sorry, you can edit that out. I actually use my period cycle to figure out when my most productive days are. I was so tired of fighting against myself and telling myself, “You’re exhausted. Push through. You set yourself that deadline today on your lowest energy day.” I’m so over that. So a typical day, I’ll plan my month out and I plan my promotions for the quarter and all of that lovely stuff, right. And I’ll be like, “Okay, I need to execute this promotion on this day or have this partnership going on this day. I’m going to front load all of that work when I’m most productive so that I’m not beating myself up when I know for certain I’m not going to be productive on these days.”

Aleya Harris:
So yesterday, this was just because I was drained, I sat and I canceled my meetings, and I watched TV all day. And it was… What is today? Thursday. It was Wednesday. Oh, no, that happened on Tuesday. I watched TV all day Tuesday. So just really listening and being flexible again within my own schedule is what a typical day looks like for me, because I want to produce really, really good stuff. And I know that I can only produce really, really good stuff when I’m at my best. Now don’t hear this and take it like, “She only works five days a month.” That is not what I’m saying. But I’m saying that I work when I work best. Some people work… They’re morning people, so I’m like, “Girl, you get up or boy, get up at 4:00 AM. Do you.” And that’s not me. My husband and I have a cutoff, because he’s a college professor working from home as well, and we have a cutoff, 9:00 PM is cut off and then it’s TV time on the couch every single night. It’s like a religion for us. And that’s what I look forward to every night, even if I’ve already been on the couch all day.

Aleya Harris:
So, it’s having the structure, but giving myself permission to be flexible because man, then when I get in that flow, I produce really good work, and that’s all I want to do. And I set my structures up in my teams so that the operations stays, so with my assistants or my writing team, the operations flow without me needing to constantly push them forward. So then I built in the way for me to have that organic creative space without being flaky towards my clients, right? My clients always get responses timely within 24 hours. My clients always have what they need on or before a deadline. And I, because of the structure, then I am able to create in a way that hopefully gives me that competitive edge and allows me to flow like I need to.

Josh Haynam:
Yeah, I mean, I resonate with a lot of that. Not biologically, of course, but-

Aleya Harris:
I was like, “Do I bring this up?” I was like, “He asked.”

Josh Haynam:
… But I have similar versions where I spend the whole day laying on the couch, watching TV. I went on a long run right before this, even though that wasn’t planned in my schedule. It’s the same kind of thing of it’s not that you’re not putting in hours, you’re still working a lot. It’s just you’re not forcing yourself to sit there 9:00 to 5:00. And my personal version of this is I realize this because I’ve never had a real job, but I had an internship once. And I would sit there 9:00 to 5:00, and I would start playing Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ New York at 4:00 PM because I knew the song was six minutes long. So I would listened to it 10 times then my day would be done.

Josh Haynam:
And I was like, “This is the dumbest thing in the world to be sitting here for an hour when you’re literally doing nothing just because you have to be.” And so now yeah, I have a structure to my life where it’s yeah, when you’re productive and you get your stuff done, do it then. Don’t force yourself to do it when you’re just drained from energy. It makes no sense. That’s amazing. Well, we’re-

Aleya Harris:
Yeah, totally agree, totally agree.

Josh Haynam:
Yeah, yeah. We’re coming up on time, but if anybody wants to check out what you have now and then also follow along, I don’t know if you share kind of bits of your journey as you go, what are the places where they can go to follow the progress?

Aleya Harris:
Oh, I share everything. I’m a marketer, what I do. You can follow me on Instagram at AleyaHarris, A-L-E-Y-A H-A-R=R-I-S. You can also send me an email if you want to chat or follow up at grow@flourishmarketing.co, not.com, .co. And then you can follow my business at flourishmarketing.co at flourishmarketing.co. And check up and see what I’m talking about on my website or my press section at www.flourishmarketing.co.

Josh Haynam:
Awesome. Well, thanks for coming on and sharing your story. I really appreciate it.

Aleya Harris:
Thank you for having me. This has been a lot of fun.

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Josh Haynam

Josh Haynam is the co-founder of Interact, a place for creating beautiful and engaging quizzes that generate email leads. Outside of Interact Josh is an outdoor enthusiast, is very into health/fitness, and enjoys spending time with his community in San Francisco.

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