E19 The Unlock Moment: Tayo Rockson – Use Your Difference To Make A Difference
In this episode I interview New York-based Tayo Rockson, an inspiring thought leader in diversity, inclusion and anti-racism. A self-styled polymath-in-progress, Tayo has established himself as an authority in communicating effectively across cultures and personal branding. He has graced various stages including TEDx, the Chautauqua Institution in New York, and the United Nations. Tayo hosts ‘As Told By Nomads’, one of the top business podcasts for entrepreneurs in the world, and is the author of ‘Use Your Difference To Make A Difference’, a book on how to connect and communicate in a cross-cultural world. In this powerful conversation, Tayo reveals how a near-death experience shifted his mindset from a crippling fear of failure to a fear of not achieving his potential – it changed his life.
Instagram, Tiktok: @tayorockson
LinkedIn: Tayo Rockson
Tayo Rockson 0:07
And so almost 10 years ago, I was driving to work, in my burgundy Toyota Camry at the time. And then I got to the part where the road merges into the highway and I was cruising down my lane 60 miles an hour and all of a sudden, my lane gets cut into half. This neighbouring car loses control, and then I’m swerving out of the way so I won’t get hit and I smashed into the left guardrail boof, right guardrail boof, back and forth … I hit two cars, and then all of a sudden, you know, I hit the left guardrail again. And I’m certain I’m about to flip over this bridge, because of the impact. Adrenaline is kicking in, my, my life is flashing before my eyes and, and the only thought that came to my mind was, Have you done everything you said you were going to do? All the things I’ve been doing in secret, the books, the poems, my ideas about social justice, I’d been writing, just experiences that I’d been processing, whatever I’d been going through, they all came. I was like you, you, Nelson Mandela, and Oprah Winfrey, your role models, you haven’t done anything. You’re doing everything else based on what you think is supposed to be, you’re not doing what you want to do. And I thought, Wow, 22, this is it!
Gary Crotaz 1:24
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello dear listener, and welcome to another episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. Today I’m delighted to be talking to an inspiring thought leader in diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism, New York-based Tayo Rockson. He calls himself a polymath-in-progress. Tayo is a writer, speaker, consultant, podcaster, poet, professor, co-founder and brand strategist at UYD Management, a strategic consulting firm that empowers organisations to incorporate sustainable diversity and inclusion practices. As the son of a diplomat, Tayo grew up understanding the nuances of multicultural diversity while living on four continents. He leveraged his experiences to establish himself as an authority in communicating effectively across cultures and personal branding. He graced various stages to share his knowledge, including TEDx, the prestigious Chautauqua Institution in New York and the United Nations. Tayo is the host of As Told By Nomads, a podcast ranked in the top five tier of the top 25 business podcasts for entrepreneurs on Entrepreneur.com. I was delighted to be featured back in March, so if you want to hear our roles reversed as interviewer and interviewee, then go dig out that episode! Tayo is the author of a book, Use Your Difference To Make A Difference. And he’s been a visiting professor at the prestigious Imperial College Business School. He also does incredible bite-sized thought leadership on his Instagram channel, go check it out after the show. Tayo it is my great pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Tayo Rockson 3:54
It’s truly an honour and I am happy to be on the other side of this. This is so much fun.
Gary Crotaz 3:58
I’m looking forward to learning a lot about you over the next little while. So polymath-in-progress, I really love it. Unpack that for us, what’s polymath-in-progress mean?
Tayo Rockson 4:08
So for a lot of my life, I have always had varied interests. And when I was growing up, it was always choose this or choose that, you know, be a doctor, be a lawyer, be an engineer, and I have had a love for social sciences and arts, the combined nature of studying human behaviour but also expressing oneself. And I didn’t quite find any lane for myself and so, you know, we’ll get to The Unlock Moments that I had in my life. But it wasn’t until I had a mindset shift that I wasn’t limited, I was actually limitless, that I started really having more bravery to pursue a lot of these things and so things I’ve been doing in secret, writing and all those things became more public and so, I can’t remember when, when I came across the term polymath but it, you know, synonym of multihyphenate, renaissance person, and so I really just liked the term polymath and I thought, hmm. If I define myself as a polymath-in-progress, it means I’m continuously learning as opposed to having a fixed, you know, end to my potential.
Gary Crotaz 5:14
I love it. So take us back to when you were growing up, what were you like when you were growing up? What was the environment that you grew up in?
Tayo Rockson 5:19
I was always a ball of energy. My, my parents and brothers will, will tell you that, you know, this guy’s, he doesn’t need an Energizer. Or he doesn’t need an energy drink. He’s always so, you know, wrapped up in, in drama and, and I’ve always had a flair for dramatics. But my name is Tayo, which is short for Akintayo, which means a warrior or the brave one has brought us joy. And in many ways, I’ve always felt that I was always living up to my name. Because in the early phases of my life, the first decade, I spent my time living in and out of three dictatorships or three military regimes, and two of them were dictatorships. And you know, there was a brief period in Sweden because my dad was a diplomat. And, you know, when you think about anyone that’s lived in a dictatorship, you just find yourself normalising certain behaviours, right? You hear a faint gunshot, wounds, you see people in exile on a news station, you hear muffled discussions amongst your parents, and then your parents will tell you what not to say. Because I, you know, I’ve always had a, I don’t, I’ve always had something against oppression and suppression. And so I always lean towards people there were fighting for social justice. And so I just sort of knew all those things at once. You know, I knew what not to say, I was always an energetic ball of, you know, joy I tried to be, and I always was intimately aware of the proximity to danger that we were at, and how that depended on what we said, who we knew and what we, you know, what we did. And so that was the first decade of my life before we transitioned to civilian rule.
Gary Crotaz 6:56
And a really formative time for you. I mean, you were, you were, I mean, almost too young to really understand what’s going on. But as you say, it’s your normalised experiences, the gunshot, the muffled conversations and all of that. And, you know, how did you process that then, as you, you know, became a teenager and become, became a young adult?
Tayo Rockson 6:56
I had a delayed processing, if I’m even being honest, it wasn’t until I got to college, university that I fully was able to process it. But back then, you know, as you know, as men we’re often taught to just suppress our emotions. And I would just get so good at suppressing certain things. Because I wanted to bring joy or smile, right. And so I just, I just knew something was going on. But I knew how to compartmentalise a lot. And we would wake up, you would hear someone get shot in the news, or someone you looked up to is now missing or something like that, and you go to school, and then you come back, and we won’t talk about it. But then the next day, something else had happened, and go to school. I remember, in early 90s, when someone who has my middle name, Abiola, won an election, and all of a sudden the election was annulled. And we were like, Huh, okay. And so it was, it was more of those things where things were just happening so rapidly, you will get banned by the United States or United Nations. Oh, and it will just sort of just take it, and take it and take it. And obviously those things built up for a long time, they, until they couldn’t stay in my body anymore for, for a while. But when I was that young, I just took in the information, put them somewhere else, and then went the next day. So yeah.
Gary Crotaz 8:49
And how did that impact your sense of having sort of stable foundations, growing up in that kind of environment?
Tayo Rockson 8:57
It may, it played a big role. I’m the oldest, so I’m the oldest of three boys in Nigeria, if you’re the oldest, you have a huge sense of responsibility. So I’ve always had, you know, the responsibility of being a role model, or at least set in some table. I certainly feel it a lot initially. But that was just thrust upon me from such a young age. That to me, this is where nature and nurture plays, I think my natural inclination is to want to lead so I was, I was grateful that my nature and nurture align in that sense, but I was, that, the role it played was, make sure everyone else is okay. All right, you got your brothers here, and just make sure that you can either distract them or at least set a good example of resilience. Now, upon reflecting, I can see the toxic elements of resilience in that sense. But I can also see how going through all that helped me see you know, the world through a unique lens and then build the positive type of resilience. And for the audience, I think the negative type of resilience and the positive type of resilience are very subtle, right? The negative resilience will be when you are suppressing so much at the expense of yourself. And you are saying, No, I’m just pushing through tough times, and there’s no honesty there. And then the positive type of resilience would be, you’re going through hard times, you’re acknowledging that they’re hard times, but you still know that you can push through, because inevitably, you’re going to get to where you want to get to, right? So one involves a level of honesty and dealing sitting with emotions, and the other just involves evading them completely.
Gary Crotaz 10:32
I love that. And it’s really important to acknowledge the difference between those two. How did that start then to impact your choices when you thought about going to college and start to travel and, you know, the kind of career path you were thinking about taking?
Tayo Rockson 10:47
So I mean, it impacted everything. I thought safely, you got to be safe, you got to do this. I ironically, if you… and the people in the audience probably can’t see it, so I have a lot of basketball memorabilia behind me. I initially, you know, outside of the football and tennis dreams, basketball was my longest dream for the longest time. But because of the environment I grew in, my parents, my parents were like, you’re not gonna do that. That’s not what you’re going to do. And so I just used to just have that as a secret dream. But one of the reasons is that there wasn’t any stability there that, you know, I understand my parents reasoning with that. And so I didn’t go to the camps. I didn’t, you know, play all those things. But anytime I found the basketball court, I would always want to play and I had all these secret dreams, I used to have articles of my favourite athletes and see their routines and what they used to eat. And so, you know, it became too late for me when I, when I went to college. And so I started looking at the safe things. My mom wanted me to be a doctor, my dad wanted me to be a lawyer, and so I was like, you know, I’ll try this law thing. But eventually I fell in love with, you know, the idea of business. But the way it played a role was I was just thinking, what is going to make you the most money? And what is going to provide some sense of stability for your family?
Gary Crotaz 12:04
And where were you in the world at that time?
Tayo Rockson 12:07
At that time, I had lived in Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Sweden, Nigeria. So I was now in the United States, Virginia. Yeah.
Gary Crotaz 12:17
Virginia. So bring us into this Unlock Moment, which I think is a really, I mean, it’s an incredible story. I know we’ve talked about it before, that started to shape your thinking about, about the future,. What happened for you?
Tayo Rockson 12:32
So in Virginia, I just graduated from college, and I had over 85 job rejections, and I would have gotten it on one and if I was, you know, a terrible student, but I wasn’t, I mean, I graduated with honours, and I had done everything that I was supposed to do. You know, I was the Head of Marketing at two nonprofits, I had whatever extra-curricular you needed. You know, I spoke multiple languages, and I started getting all these rejections, you know, based on how we can’t pronounce your name. We’re not sure if we can provide a visa. You know, this is, we think you’re too idealistic. You know, you get all these things. And then I eventually wound up convincing one of the people that had given me an internship to you know, give me a job, I said, Hey, look, I just have a year to find a job, otherwise I have to go back to Nigeria. Do you think there’s any position? And at the time Twitter was just in its infancy. And so I had a following on Twitter. And they said, well, we’ll try whatever the social media thing, you have a marketing degree, right? So let’s figure this thing out. And I got there, and they didn’t believe in social media. So they quickly changed my role to sales. And I didn’t have any orientation. And I just found myself in a world I’d never even imagined for myself. And, you know, I would be stretching the hours. I felt very, very, very much like a stranger inside my own body. And the worst thing was, I felt like I had no choice though. I felt like you know, 85 job rejections. This company’s at least taking a chance on me with sponsoring a visa, stick it out. That was my thought. Stick it out. Doesn’t matter. Who are you to complain. And so almost 10 years ago, I was driving to work, in my burgundy Toyota Camry at the time. And then I got to the part where the road merges into the highway and I was cruising down my lane 60 miles an hour and all of a sudden, my lane gets cut into half. This neighbouring car loses control, and then I’m swerving out of the way so I won’t get hit and I smash into the left guardrail boof, the right guardrail boof, back and forth. I hit two cars, and then all of a sudden, you know, I hit the left guardrail again, and I’m certain I’m about to flip over this bridge because of the impact and adrenaline is kicking in, my, my life is flashing before my eyes, and the only thought that came to my mind was, have you done everything you said you were gonna do? And for me, all the things I’ve been doing in secret, the books, the poems, my ideas about social justice, I’d been writing, just experiences that I’d been processing, whatever I’ve been going through. They all came, it was like you, Nelson Mandela, and Oprah Winfrey, your role models, you haven’t done anything, you’re doing everything else based on what you think you’re supposed to, but you’re not doing what you want to do. And I thought, Wow, 22. This is it! And adrenaline kicked in at the same time. And I just, I don’t know, I just pushed through the car. And I somehow got out of the car. And then I was standing in the middle of the highway and then debris everywhere, cars zooming in, and my car is completely totaled. But thankfully, nothing happened to me. And no one else was hurt. And, you know, I took it as a sign. And I, it really was the moment where things unlocked. And I’ve said this to you before is, I used to have that fear of failure. And then it became fear of not achieving my potential. Because when, when you you’re faced with your mortality, and you see who you could be, and then you have no chance to be that person, it becomes this, this reminder to you that if you ever, you’re ever given a second chance, do your best to get to that, that, you know, pathway for yourself.
Gary Crotaz 16:17
It’s an incredible story and just reflecting as you’re saying that, you were talking about negative resilience and positive resilience. And then here we really are saying negative fear and positive fear.
Tayo Rockson 16:29
That’s a good observation. Yeah, I mean, I that’s Wow. Yeah, I like that. I think so. Yeah. Because, to me, I don’t think fear is a bad thing in and of itself. But what we do with that fear is what matters, right? And so, sometimes people use fear to avoid themselves. And sometimes people use fear to see themselves, right. And so when you avoid yourself, and you see yourself, it’s a completely different reality, based on whatever the world is great in, and I think for once I was able to see myself, and even though I had gone through several rejections, and all those, you know, it wasn’t for lack of trying, you know, based on several things like that. I got a second wind, for some reason that said, regardless of whatever failures we have, or you’ve had, and you’ve certainly tried, you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do. They’re still somewhere there and it might take, you just have an unrelentless faith in yourself to push through, because what would eventually happen for the next few years would actually bear that out. I, you know, more rejections were coming. Broke-ness was coming, if people weren’t seeing all those things. But if I didn’t get to that point where I had accepted that, just because hardships come to you, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the journey. I don’t know that I would have had the courage to continue.
Gary Crotaz 17:51
And when you think back to that time, you’re 22. And you’re still very early in your career, you’ve had this extraordinary experience. And you had this idea of, have I achieved my potential? What, what did you think your potential was? What did that represent for you at that time?
Tayo Rockson 18:11
Yeah, no, it represented, I didn’t even quite have the full picture. But I felt like I wanted to leave a legacy to the extent that the late Nelson Mandela did. And Oprah had, right, so with Nelson Mandela, it was the idea of fighting for something. And being a symbol of freedom. Right? I haven’t… lived under dictatorships. He was the one that I saw in a black nation being the first black president. And so for me back then, even though I wasn’t fully processing everything, I liked and admired what it’s like to fight for something, 27 years in jail, and have that conviction, even though there’s just a lot of oppression. And then when Oprah was creating a platform for voices. And so I thought if I paired the idea of fighting for freedom and giving people opportunities to tell their story, that I was uniquely suited for something like that, I didn’t know what that would look like. But I just felt like if I could just, you know, do those two things, that will be great. And I just found myself always being attracted to, to those two, because even when I was coming back from school when I was younger, when we were in Burkina Faso, it’s a French speaking country in West Africa. My mom always had the Oprah Winfrey Show on and that was where we built, I really developed a bond with Oprah where I would have so much going on in school, I’ll be very depressed, people will make fun of, you know, how I looked or accents, everything. But you come back and you know, Oprah is having someone cry on TV, or something. And I’m like, oh, yeah, I see. I can see myself there. So I just felt like it was an extension of that couch that she had with the guests. And I never forgot that comfort. So yeah.
Gary Crotaz 19:43
What’s so striking hearing you is that at one level, you’re 22, you’re fairly fresh out of college, you’re in a sales team of a company, your social media. And then on the other hand, you’ve got this extraordinary life experience, you know, through your life, as you described, but you’ve also got these huge dreams. Like it’s not, you know, I want to, in the next three years get promoted to the next level in my in my sales role, although, of course, you might also have wanted to do that. But that you you said, you know, you want to fight for something, you want to have a platform, you want do something bigger and of course you’ve gone on to, to do those things, it’s incredible. But at that time, what gave you that level of drive and ambition to achieve above and beyond what your average, you know, recent grad, was looking to do with their life?
Tayo Rockson 20:37
Well, the accident really woke me up, right? Remember, I said one of the feedback I got for one of my job interviews was I was too idealistic, and I wrestled with that for most of my life, a lot of times people would say that my dreams aren’t possible. And I’ll hear this from people I love, because they will tell me that, Look, what you want requires people to actually go away from systemic things. And I don’t know, I never felt bad about that. Until I heard it enough. And I thought, Wait, are these people right? And they’re in, this is, to go back to Nelson Mandela thing, the reason that 27 years in jail really mattered to me, I was like, Oh, my goodness, you know, at the time I was 22, I was like, I can’t, this guy spent more years in jail than I’m alive! And I just admired someone’s conviction to do that. Because for me, up until that point, I’d always heard no, no, no. And then every time I would reflect on Mandela story, I’d be like, Oh, it’s possible. I mean, it might not be, I don’t want to go to jail. But it is possible in that, in that way. And I was attracted to that. Because I found inspiration in that. And I just didn’t believe I was the only one. I just felt, if I could put enough momentum into some idea of movement where people could fully be themselves, people could come out and start saying the same thing. And then it’ll build a momentum. And you know, it was just, you know, so you could call it naïveté at the time. But I just felt like, even if it’s not me, there’s some level of that that needs to happen. And all the heroes I’ve admired, whether it’s Superman, you know, your Black Panther, any of them, they’ve always had an element of belief in something. And then people following afterwards.
I was gonna say, naivety wasn’t, wasn’t a word that was coming to mind. But belief was.
Belief, oh well there you go.
Gary Crotaz 22:27
Yeah, interesting. And so what happened next?
Tayo Rockson 22:32
So I made the decision to quit my job. This is when I started doing audacious things. So, when you’re not a citizen in America, you know, you get married, you go to school, or you, you know, you get another job. And you knew, I was quitting the job, I wasn’t getting married. And so I needed to come down in visa status, basically, to go back to school. And so I started applying to schools in New York, almost exclusively. And the reason I chose New York was, I had gone, basketball at this point, you know, is a big passion of mine. One of my mentors had gotten a job in New York City and he had moved there. And I went to go see LeBron, he was in Miami Heat at the time. So I went to go see him play the New York Knicks. And as soon as I landed, I don’t know, whatever happened to my body, I felt alive. I was in a very small college town prior to that. And that’s my type of personality needs to be attracted to energy, where potential is endless. And so I don’t know what it was, I said, I need to be in this city. This reminds me of where I’m from, Lagos, Nigeria, where anything is possible. And there’s a lot of noise and dirt everywhere. And so I just thought, Okay, well, maybe if I, you know, change in my environment is going to be important for me, because I need to be inspired even when I can’t tap that internally. And so I started applying. And then I, you know, I told you a lot of rejections come, I got rejected from a bunch of schools. You know, I had a low GMAT score, which is the score you’re supposed to have. And so they kept rejecting me because of that, and then I had a high GPA. And then Fordham, the school I eventually went to, conditionally accepted me. And they said, you know, we’ll, we’ll conditionally accept you. But, you know, because of your quantitatives, your scores, we’re a little worried so maybe take these three classes, you know, business law, statistics. I always forget the third one. But there was another one, and then we’ll see, we’ll reevaluate later on. And I took those three, and then I added two more without their knowledge, because I had done the math, that if I did it, I wouldn’t graduate in two years, I would graduate in two and a half years. And so I just took five, just so that I could, you know, catch up. And then I got, I think, a 3.9, I didn’t, I did really well, and, you know, a 3.8 or something like that. And then when the semester was over, I went to the office and I said, Look, my grades, and they said, Why do you take five? I said, Does it matter, I got the grades? It’s like, grrr fine. And so they lifted it up. They weren’t happy that I skewed the rules. And so that was the first step, so getting that academic ban off. And then, you know, at that time I listened to a lot of podcasts. And I said, I made a promise to myself. You’re going to be your best self, you’re going to commit and you’re just going to try and show somehow the idea of creating a podcast got into me after I listened to a few of those. In 2014, for me, was when I launched this pod, the podcast that I have, and I took, I just bought a course on podcasting. And then I, you know, started recording. And around that time of podcasting, I come across the term TCK, Third Culture Kids. Third Culture Kids, for those that don’t know, refers to people who spent the formative periods of their lives outside of their culture. So army brats, you know, diplomatic kids, anyone that sort of had an international life and moved in and out, or was in transit nature. Finding the word was, was a godsend for me, because I found, Oh, my gosh, I can relate to this. You know, it was a Buzzfeed article, something, signs that you’re a TCK, you think in all these things. And then I got the idea of going to where that community was, I joined every Facebook group, I have used the hashtag #TCK. And I said, I’m going to be a voice for this community. And because I am, I mean, I have the lived experience of it. And so I just started doing, you know, writing articles around it. I said, Hey, you know, have you ever wondered what it’s like to get a job or be this way at home and be this way there. And then when the podcast came, I said, I’m watching the podcast, I’m going to talk to a bunch of TCKs about embracing global identity, I think our experience is gonna be great to teach people how to do the same. And then I went from 85 job rejections to 85 yeses, around, right, 85 yeses, and I thought, Whoa, people really care about me seeing them. And so I, you know, now I put it out there. So I had to record and so the podcast emerged out of that, and then that gave me real, real confidence in my voice, for there.
Gary Crotaz 26:55
I love that story. Because I, in my coaching, I work a lot with people about finding the environment where you’re at your best, finding your home space, you know, finding your, the thing that connects what you do with what you really care about, what you value, what, you know what’s at the heart of your purpose, and I feel as though, you know, there is a seam that runs through around your refusal to accept that anything is impossible, you know, three courses to five another good example. But there’s also something about, you know, as you’re saying, you know, finding this fight, finding this cause, and this idea that, you know, in that moment, you found both a home, you know, connecting with people with, with shared lived experience as you, but also that thing you said which I really liked, which was, If we tell the story then it will teach so many people something, and you know that, I mean, 2014 feels like such a long time ago, now, in the whole diversity and inclusion, you know, sort of journey that people are going on, and personally, I feel, you know, really, still relatively uninformed in it. I feel like I’m early in my stage of properly, you know, learning and understanding. But when I think back to 2014, it was like, it wasn’t a topic on the agenda at all in many entities, many organisations. And you’d seen early on that that was the thing, not only that you wanted to talk to people with shared experience, but you actually wanted to, to start to, to raise the profile of that conversation.
Tayo Rockson 28:24
Yeah, I mean, it had been around for a while, but it wasn’t mainstream, right? So it would be, it will be in and out, we would have conversations. And around that time, finding confidence in my lived experience was something I needed to develop so the TCK community, you know, helped me understand that my lived experience mattered. And I said, I didn’t fully process all those things I went through, it was after the accident I started doing that, right. So after the accident, I started really reflecting on what my life is. And I said, you know that you lived in five countries and four continents before you were, by the time you were 17, right? And you lived under three military regimes, two dictatorships. And I just really started starting from there. And I thought, Ah, this is why I think the way I think, let me sit with this. And so when I found that BuzzFeed article about signs you’re TCK, I could see this connecting thread and that and then I kept thinking about my actual name, you know, a warrior that has brought us joy, or the brave one that has brought us joy, and I kept thinking, no these things can’t be coincidences here, you know, you, you’re uniquely created, and you’ve lived this way for something that you, by, in your natural disposition, you always want to fight for something. And so I latched on to the idea of my experience not being a deficit, and actually being an experience, you know, I always got job rejections based on my experience. And then I said, No, I’m just gonna define my experience and own it. And so I said, it’s time we take ownership of that. And so as it morphed into diversity, equity and inclusion, it really, the underlying theme of all these things that I wanted to fight for was this idea of my mission statement, which is, Use your difference to make a difference. I started observing that differences have been used throughout history to, you know, eliminate people or to suppress people or to gaslight people, or people are often threatened by something that’s different from them. And in my experience, I’ve often been the different person, or I’ve come across a lot of people that are different from me. And I thought, what if we changed our relationship with differences? And so finding that lane for myself became this obsessive mission of mine, where I said, you can’t just dismiss something that is not something you’re used to because you don’t know it, you have to make an effort to know it, especially if you’re an institution that is supposed to, you know, serve everyone in the community. And so it was like it yeah, it was a series of those things. And these ideas I’m sharing with you, they didn’t come linearly, like, I’ll be writing something. And I’ll come up with a phrase, that’s how use your difference to make a difference came up. Or I’ll be walking down, I’ll be interviewing someone and then I will sit marinate an idea. And I think, oh, my gosh, I’ll write a note, and then wake up one night, I’ll like, Yep, that’s it! So it was just a bunch of all these things, putting it together, then eventually, you know, bore fruit, but it was a, it was a frustrating experience, because I wasn’t making any money. And I was in school, and everyone at school thought I was outside of my mind, they thought, aren’t you supposed to be going to recruiting trips, you’re getting an MBA and Deloitte is here, go to Deloitte! And then I was like, no, I’m just trying to just podcast someone’s in Australia, so I have to wake up, you know, and they just thought, What is a podcast? What are you doing? You’re wasting money. And, yeah, so it was a bunch of all those things. But I don’t know, I just kept seeing all these ideas in my head.
Gary Crotaz 31:43
And I want people to listen really carefully to that story you’ve just told because, in my language, I talk about The IDEA Mindset, this, this, the confluence of clarity on your Identity, and your Direction for a future with deep Engagement and Authenticity. That’s the I-D-E-A of The IDEA Mindset. And you were describing, you know, when you came out from, from, from, from school, from college, and you’re applying for roles where they’re evaluating based on, you know, I don’t know, skills, experience and a bunch of other things they probably shouldn’t be measuring on, but they still were. And you’re getting 85 rejections. And then you said, you know, I could go and have a conversation with Deloitte, but I choose not to actually, I chose to decide what I personally stand for, what I think is important, what’s, you know, what, what connects with my values and purpose and you start to, to shape a narrative about that, and people got it, they, it feels very right, and you turned 85 noes into 85 yeses. And it’s fascinating. There’s a lot of people who’ve built you know, huge personal profiles in the last few years. And it comes down to authenticity, it comes down to, you know, it is completely true, that they genuinely care about the thing that they talk about. And you see a lot of people who are trying to build a profile by kind of repeating what they’ve seen somebody else say on YouTube, which sounded smart, and they’re, they’re sort of pushing that out there. But it isn’t them. It doesn’t make sense for them. It’s not their own experience. It’s not their own learning. And I think something that’s really powerful about you, and I encourage the listener to go and listen to some of the things that you’ve posted on, on, on Instagram, is I think it’s really authentic for you. And I think you’ve found that deep connection. When was the first time that you felt that you taught somebody outside of your community, you know, that needed to hear this stuff? Do you remember that sort of sense of this is, this is going outside my, my group?
Tayo Rockson 33:51
It was early days of the podcast, I gotten this long email from someone who’s much older than me. And she just bawled, like, she shared a story. She said, you know, she’s in a marriage, in an interracial marriage. I think, you know, she was also someone from an Asian descent and as she was married to someone from an African descent and then she was just sharing how hearing my story and stories really gave her ownership of her identity for the first time because she never knew what it was that she was wrestling with. And I remember thinking, Wait, me? I’m like 23 or 24! And so, but she then she would just use one detail after detail detail, and then shortly after that I got more emails from people of varying age ranges and I thought, Who is listening to this podcast? We didn’t have all the analytics then, and I was like who has listened to this podcast? And then you know in the Facebook groups I joined people would say I really like this episode, and they would really pull out specific moments, and it would become think pieces based on that, and I thought to myself, Wow, I didn’t even see this! So I was, you know, trying to start an idea of what I was, and I was doing it for myself, and hopefully people, a few people will listen in, you know, outside of my mom. But I didn’t realise that there was such a yearning for belonging out there. I felt it. But I didn’t realise that people would latch on to it. And so, once that started to happen, and I started to get emails, to me, that was enough for me, I thought. Well, I just have to do this, you know, I have to figure this out, you know, I have to make sure that I continue to show up consistently for this. And then it was that, but it was an email, yeah.
Gary Crotaz 35:37
And it’s really interesting, I come back to that, the age thing, I’ve been talking to people recently about this idea that, you know, when I, when I look to my own experience, and you always forget that other people are different from you, and they have different experiences, they have different needs, and desires, and so on. And, you know, I was listening recently, there’s a guy in the UK called Steven Bartlett, who does one of the biggest podcasts in the UK. And he was, he’s still in his 20s. And he’s, you know, got millions of viewers, millions of listeners and viewers on YouTube. And he was interviewing the, the guy that founded Gymshark, the athletic wear chain, who’s also in his 20s. And I’m sitting there going, I feel really old right now. But I think one of the things that’s really interesting, I’ve heard so many people listen to this particular interview, and, you know, who are, you know, decades older, and, you know, often very, very experienced retailers, for example. And, and they’ve learned so much from hearing two people who are young, and sort of not knocked back by decades of, sort of, you know, the kind of rat race, and they’ve got that fresh thinking. And actually, I do think the wonderful thing about the podcasts, sort of, community now is it doesn’t matter whether you’re 23, or you’re 53, or you’re 103. You know, it’s about have you said something that made somebody think, you know, and I think there’s there’s something in that, that, that I think it’s really powerful.
Tayo Rockson 37:07
Yes, yes, I agree. Even when I’m a professor, as a professor, what I always ultimately want to give my students is that just permission to think, you know, is to critically think through everything. And for me, you asked earlier about why I always, I don’t know, always wanted to push against whatever was a standard is because, you know, all around me, I used to always see things that I felt like were wrong, but people will just accept. And in my head, maybe it’s because my parents made me read so early on, you have to read, you have to read, I just couldn’t reconcile the heroes that I would look at in the book and the community that we were, I was watching, and I thought, like, is this how? Oh, it’s not I know you know it’s not okay for you, just like it’s okay. So, for some reason, I felt like if we had more people being willing to push against the status quo, we’ll actually have a better society as opposed to people just accepting the status quo. So yeah.
Gary Crotaz 38:04
I talk to a lot of organisations at the moment that are relatively early in their journeys of properly getting their heads around diversity, equity and inclusion. And from your experience, what are some of the kinds of things that organisations at that stage are really getting it right? And what are the areas where, where they’re getting it wrong, or, or haven’t yet got off the starting blocks, what they do to get going, would you say?
Tayo Rockson 38:28
The thing that people don’t talk about enough with diversity, equity and inclusion is that there’s an awareness of self that has to come first. This is where a lot of people get it wrong, right? Awareness of self and awareness of environment. And the reason I said awareness of self is, you need to know what you think about certain issues and you need to be honest about it. This is just you, in front of the mirror or with your family members. Don’t worry about judgement or anything, you need to be able to tell yourself if you are sexist, or homophobic, or whatever it is, and you need to then reflect on the roots of those things. Because if you don’t start with yourself, and you start with, I don’t know, I think I’m supposed to do this, it’s never going to be authentic, you know, you will miss out on how to create a safe space for belonging. And so when you start with yourself, you’re then able to recognise what your biases are, what your triggers are, and what your values are, right? So you then know your, your, what I call your BTVs, your biases, triggers and your values. And from that point, you can make a decision to work on those and to unlearn certain things and relearn certain things. That’s, that has to be the start and those organisations that are good at creating safe spaces for people to really unpack and unlearn those things are usually the ones that can then do it as a habit because they will have the conversation amongst themselves. Yeah, you know, when I hired that person, I was thinking of this first or, Yeah, you know, I grew up in this background. That’s why I think this way, I’m working on all these things. Organisations that often fail are the ones that just go, they just react, right. They don’t reflect, just go… Yeah, there’s a movement around this. We got to capitalise on this. Let’s do that. But the people that get hurt in the process are the people that you’re supposed to be serving, or you know, you’re not truly seeing them. You know, they just feel like they’re numbers in your, in your, in your quota system. And then when they, when they feel like they’re just numbers, what happens is, when the trend dies, you know that they’re not going to feel, you know, you didn’t do the work to feel, make them feel safe. So they’ll leave. And so I always say, it starts with education of self, and then education of environment, right, you have to know how you think, and then why the world reacts a certain way. But when you are educating me and moving from education of self to education of environment, you then become more aware of things like privileges, and, you know, things that cause marginalisation, or, Oh, people accept me because of this, or like that dadadah. Or this makes me marginalised in this area. And so if you can do those things in tandem, you’d be at a good place.
Gary Crotaz 40:51
And so when you’re in that, you know, that first conversation with the chairman or the CEO of the, you know, some big shot organisation, and you have that conversation with them, you know, that’s a hard, I mean, that’s a hard conversation to have for you? And it’s a hard thing for them to hear?
Tayo Rockson 41:08
Gary Crotaz 41:09
Do you have some people who, who get it and accept it, and you have other people that push back on the idea?
Tayo Rockson 41:15
Oh, yeah, I get a lot of pushback, consistently. And it’s funny, I used to get more pushback initially. And I remember when the murder of George Floyd happened, you know, you could really see the difference, right? You could see people who, a lot of companies just felt like they had to do it, otherwise, they will be in trouble. But when you’re asking the question, I always ask the same question. Why do you want to do this? You know, and I always go to the multiple levels of why, you know, not outside of George Floyd then tell me why. And anyone that can’t really answer the question of, well, you know, we’ve failed fundamentally, we feel like this is gonna be, you know, a problem. We don’t do that, we, I know that this person is complaining about this, that just lets me know what my starting point is. And then I will often offer them, I’ll say, your answer has to be deeper than that. Because I’ll tell you this for a fact, this is going to fade away, if you’re only doing it because of what’s happened in the moment. And I’m off. I mean, I’m on this now I have the privilege of choice of clients. But before that, I will say there’s many entrepreneurs before that, one of the things that I used to do is, I used to take any, anyone, I just thought, Yes, I got a client! And that was never fulfilling for me, but at least it paid rent for the, for the, for the, for the first few months. And then I think once I started really understanding the power of my voice, and then understanding that I could speak as well, I started looking at ways to become a speaker of it as well, so that I could attract outbound leads, instead of just always seeking. And that gave me more opportunity to be able to say no to people, but yeah, I mean, I can’t say it’s not difficult. It’s just, you have to pick your battles sometimes with organisations!
Gary Crotaz 43:01
And when you’re on the TEDx stage, or in some other sort of speaking environment, and, and, you know, you’re reaching so many more people, you know, with the podcast and the book and so on, you’re reaching so many more people. And you play that back to that moment in, you know, you’re sliding down the carriageway in the car, and you’re thinking, you know, have I achieved my potential? Now you reflect, do you, do you feel like you’re achieving your potential? Or do you feel like there’s a load more to go you haven’t even imagined yet?
Tayo Rockson 43:29
Oh, there’s a lot more to go. I haven’t scratched the surface, but I’m in the process of achieving it. I, you know, I am, the three industries that I want to be able to to fundamentally disrupt are media, education and workplaces, right. So education as a professor right now. I’m in the process of learning and putting in my hours, right. So I can eventually learn the best way to redesign curriculums. With my workspaces, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and making sure that I’m continuously coming up with case studies that, that, that can share and then with media, there’s a lot of, I have a lot of goals I haven’t achieved, right, podcasting is one element, but I eventually want to be able to showrun shows and write more books and tell stories that haven’t been told. And I understand that it’s all a process, right? As I gather more stories, meet more people, those ideas will be sparked, the connections will be made. But me, yeah, no, I’m excited by whatever the possibilities, but I have, I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched anything yet. Because there’s so much to achieve.
Gary Crotaz 44:32
And this is a hard question but, but what does, what does legacy mean for you? You said to me once I have to define my own legacy.
Tayo Rockson 44:40
Yeah. You know, I, to me, legacy is, by its definition, how you’re remembered right? How people will remember you, good or bad. And when I think about my personal legacy, I just hope that people can say, because of him, they were, you know, they felt more confident or comfortable being themselves. And, and the reason why I want it to be that is because I truly believe we live in a world of people that are strangers to themselves. And they might be successful. Right financially, right? But I don’t know if they’re always successful internally, right? And so if, if someone can come across, you know, any of my works and feel like I want to do something that I’ve always wanted to do, I feel like I’ve done my job then.
Gary Crotaz 45:31
Amazing. Where can people find out more about you and the work that you do?
Tayo Rockson 45:34
So TayoRockson everywhere. I’m now more Tiktok these days, but, so TayoRockson on LinkedIn, on Tiktok or any social media platform, my podcast is called As Told By Nomads and my book is called Use Your difference To Make A Difference.
Gary Crotaz 45:49
Yeah, it’s amazing. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For Tayo Rockson, it was a near-death experience in a car accident that shifted his mindset from a crippling fear of failure to fear of not achieving his potential. It sparked a reassessment of his priorities and goals. And he’s having so much impact today in the work he’s doing in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future, and I’ve loved this conversation. Tayo, thank you so much for joining me today on The Unlock Moment.
Tayo Rockson 46:22
Thank you, Gary.
Gary Crotaz 46:26
This has been The Unlock Moment a podcast with me, Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook format. Follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!