035: How to Persist and Overcome Impossible Odds with Myra Nawabi

When you look up at the night sky and see the stars, what do you feel inside? Imagine crawling on your hands and knees, dangerously traversing the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan at night, fleeing your home at the age of six, just hoping for safety… and look up.

Now how do you feel?

In this episode, you will hear a story of overcoming impossible odds with aerospace engineering leader, Myra Nawabi.

Her resume is already impressive. Executive Director of Operations at PLX, before that a Senior Manager at Lockheed Martin, she has her Aeronautical Engineering Degree from Arizona State, a Masters in Leadership from Cal State, and Myra is just getting started.

It has not been easy.

She is a refugee who survived war in her home country. Her college professor told her she should be at home, barefoot and pregnant. She dropped out of engineering and became a teacher, leaving her lifelong dream of working in the space sector.

Then she got a second chance.

So press play and let’s chat… because Myra will inspire you to persist and overcome any challenge you face!

 

The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 035: HOW TO PERSIST AND OVERCOME IMPOSSIBLE ODDS WITH MYRA NAWABI

 

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HOW TO PERSIST AND OVERCOME IMPOSSIBLE ODDS

This was such an emotional and challenging conversation for me. I’m so moved and inspired by Myra’s courage and her story of what she has overcome. Can you even imagine what it would be like as a child to have to flee your home country? 

I can’t. 

I really cannot imagine what this would be like. Maybe you can, you might have a Myra story in your life. If so, my heart is with you. It’s absolutely tragic that people like Myra have to go through such trauma, and it’s happening all around the world.

I honestly did not want to write this debrief with some quick bulleted reminders about the 4C’s (awesome, by the way), without being really present and honest about just how this conversation touched my heart. And I hope it moved you too. So instead of a blog post or another action plan, go listen to my audio debrief at the end of the podcast.

In there, I share my heart with you. 

Thanks Myra for moving us all to a place of greater courage!

Previous Episode 34: Injustice at Work – The 8 Stages of Alienation with Anton Gunn

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ABOUT MYRA NAWABI

Facilitating the largest Lean In circle in Northern California allows Myra to indulge in two of her passions at once: Help women to increase their self-confidence, and give back to her community. Her dynamism and warmth create a safe, supportive environment for the group, where the members can help each other become more confident and successful.

In her spare time, Myra consults with mobile app start-ups, volunteers to teach women and girls how to get the most from technology, mentors with Technovation and TechWomen.

As if this were not enough, Myra is a princess in an ancient Afghan lineage (really!) She and her family lived through the horrors of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, finally escaping and finding asylum in the United States in 1987.

Myra is a Silicon Valley Business Journal 2016 Women Of Influence, Women In IT Award, Business Leader of the Year 2018, YWCA Silicon Valley Women of Tribute 2019. 

Myra holds a BA in Liberal Studies and a MS in Educational Leadership from California State University, East Bay, with minors in Mathematics and History and options in Early Childhood Development and Urban Teacher Leadership.

 

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FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Happy engineers. Welcome back. So glad to be with you. You’re in for a real treat today with my dear friend, Myra Nawab. Who’s here with an incredible vision and incredible passion and some really powerful things to share from her heart today. Myra, I can’t thank you enough for making time to be here with me and the, the happy engineer audience out there.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:22] Thanks for making time for us. Thank you for having me. We met man, maybe even a year ago. And one of the things that just struck. About you from the first moment we talked is how much passion and vision you have for making an impact, not just in engineering and in aviation and aerospace and the industries that you support from a technology and leadership perspective, but the people and the human aspects of being an engineer and how you want to drive change into the world through. [00:01:00] Your life and your story. And I was so struck by that, and I’m really excited for you to unpack some of that with us today and maybe to start and take us to a moment that sets the stage for part of why this is such an amazing, amazing thing is to see how far you’ve already come. And before we started recording today, you shared with me a moment during your college years. [00:01:26] That really stands out as a turning point and a learning point for you. Myra, can you just share with us, what was it that was going on there in your heart and mind your fourth year of. [00:01:40] Myra Nawabi: Sure. Um, so my, um, so I was enrolled at Arizona state university, um, in their nautical engineering program and I was one of two females in the entire school, um, that was getting this degree. [00:01:51] And what had happened is, um, I was assigned to a group project. And the, the gentlemen that I was working with had stolen a copy of, uh, of the answers from the TA. Uh, now they knew that I, if they had told me about it, um, that I would have titled to the professor. So they secretly met and did the work and copied all the information. [00:02:12] And even though I did my part and I submitted it to them separately, Um, because there was typos that was in the book that they had copied. I was accused of plagiarizing along with them. And so I was facing expulsion from the university. And, um, obviously I have to ask. Demonstrated a university that I was not part of it. [00:02:34] And thankfully one of the guys finally fessed up and said, uh, she’s right, she did not participate in those. Um, but at that point here I am in my fourth year of my first semester of my fourth year. I’m so close to the finish line. You know, I have two semesters left. I decided that it was too hard to become an engineer. [00:02:51] And I dropped out of aeronautical engineering and then decided to become a teacher instead, which has, you know, this is what I was, I was always told at home. Maybe you want to be a teacher or a nurse. Maybe engineering is too hard and it’s not better suited for females. And so think about that as a career. [00:03:10] Don’t think about this as a career. [00:03:13] Zach White: So you’re in your fourth year of engineering school and everyone listening knows. Like you’ve already gone through most of the hardest parts by that stage. And then this really like unbelievably unfair and tragic thing happens Myra, tell us what was going on for you during that time. [00:03:31] What was that like to be facing expulsion? When you knew you hadn’t done anything wrong? [00:03:38] Myra Nawabi: I felt like I was in this pressure cooker and then somebody had just really turned on the heat all the way high. And I just, and it, I think it was like that, you know, when, when the pressure cook, it gets too hot and explodes. [00:03:51] And I think it was, it was not my moment for me. Um, I just thought this is too hard. I have no support system at home when I go home. And I T I like my family never really understood even. There were male engineers in the family. Like two of my uncles were mechanical engineers, the idea was like, well, you could be an engineer. [00:04:10] Like them just never it. And even today, I’m still the only female engineer in the family. the family says it, like, I don’t know why you did that. Like, I dunno why you chose to go them a pat, um, And what of what would have been really great as if I had a support system that said, because at that point I really started believing the, the, the, the conversation that was happening around me, which was, I just was not cut out for engineering, [00:04:34] Zach White: started to believe the conversation happening around you. [00:04:39] That’s such an important. Statement, how many different voices there were in your world saying, what are you doing? Why are you going down this really hard road when you could do something else? You know, whatever that belief system was be a teacher, et cetera. So Myra tell us, like, why did you want to be an engineer in the first. [00:05:01] Myra Nawabi: Well, at the age of six, I fell in love with the night sky. And you know, to me, I would look at the stars every night and I would wonder what else was up there. Um, I wondered if there was another little girl living in the moon and what did she wear? What did she eat? Did she have parents? And I would ask people what’s on the moon and they would say, oh, well, a bunch of rocks. [00:05:22] And I didn’t accept that. And the six year old that I was, I was, I believed that maybe there was, you know, this, these humans that not humans, but, you know, Entities and other planets that were invisible and they were just not showing themselves to DC humans that they couldn’t trust. So if I went there, then they would show themselves to me, you know, of course I’m a six year old. [00:05:44] What do I know? Right. that’s where my love for aerospace came is that as a child, I just loved the night sky. I wanted to learn more about it. I wanted to explore it. I wanted to go to outer space and see for myself all the different stars out there. I wanted to see the art from outer space. Um, so that was that’s where this love of engineering came for [00:06:07] Zach White: me. [00:06:08] When you look at the night sky now, Myra, do you still feel that same part of you that was a six year old with that wild imagination? Yes. [00:06:18] Myra Nawabi: Every [00:06:18] Zach White: day, every day. I love that. I love that. So six year old, Myra falls in love with the night sky. Just tell us really briefly, what was that journey like to entering engineering school from age six to. [00:06:34] You know, fourth year and dropping out just what happened in that time in between [00:06:40] Myra Nawabi: a lot happened at the age of six, um, Afghanistan, which is the country of my birth was invaded by the Russians. At the age of 10, I ended up being a refugee. I lived for two years as a refugee in Pakistan. Then at the age of 12, I came to United States as a refugee. [00:06:57] So. A lot of, um, a lot to happen. There’s a lot to unpack there. Um, but it was, it was great for me because when I came to United States, I, I read about Sally ride and I was like, oh, well, if she can go to outer space, look it up. Um, and so the one thing. That became solid for me was this dream of becoming a aeronautical engineer. [00:07:16] That was a pat, if you know, in a country like Afghanistan, the space program didn’t exist. So I, that I chose to go to Russia or came to America. So that part was taken care of. Um, but, but there was a lot that happened. And in, when I enrolled in, engineering, um, that, that, you know, like I was once wait-listed for a class, I had taken calculus one and two and I was waiting to take three. [00:07:39] When I talked to the professor, he said I should be home bare feet and pregnant. And ironically, I ended up taking the class with his sister-in-law. [00:07:47] Zach White: okay, hold on. I got we just need to pause for a moment and acknowledge that the last like 30 seconds, there’s so much gravity behind what you’re describing. [00:08:00] And first of all, that’s just disgusting that that ever happened to you. And I’m so sorry about that. Let me back up just a moment and I can maybe even speak for myself, Myra it’s really, I want to say impossible to even imagine that journey from age six to entering engineering school, with the background I come from and by no means, will we get me into your world fully today, but can you just describe, you know, for someone who who’s not yet. [00:08:31] In the same stratosphere, like what was the biggest thing that shifted or changed in you during that time? If you are going to say like, here’s how that made me, who I am today. What’s what’s that kind of big takeaway. [00:08:47] Myra Nawabi: Uh, it’s, it’s going, it’s staying connected to that dream of that six year old that fell in love with the night sky. [00:08:53] Right. Um, as, as I went through my journey and things got more and more difficult, uh, I had to keep reminding of myself that, that even when the war broke out and I would, the, the night sky was my solace. Right. I. The rockets were flying, as bombs were exploding all around me at the, that was the one place that I could just look up to and they give me comfort. [00:09:15] It gives me, it gives me the strength that I needed to keep going. Uh, the hardest part was that the two weeks that it took to, to flee Afghanistan on foot it’s, it’s one of the most hard to do this, uh, difficult journey that you could go through and it’s fraught. dangerous everywhere. Um, cause you’re going through at night during two difficult terrain, it’s hard to see. [00:09:37] And um, you know, if you did it during the day, you would probably, it would freak out the living daylights, other view, um, you know, crawling through mountains Mount it that most mountaineers would have gear for you yet. You don’t have any of that. You’re just crawling through the mountain, hands and feet. [00:09:52] , And you’re doing it at night. So, um, To me it, the night sky, I would, I just kept looking at it and it hadn’t changed while my life had changed completely drastically. And it was filled with all kinds of horrors. The night sky was still just as comforting and it was still the same. And, and, you know, and I could look at the stars and they would twinkle at me and I just. [00:10:15] That comfort belonging. [00:10:18] Zach White: Wow. I mean, it’s like brings tears to my eyes, Myra, just imagining you as a child going through that. And I’m so honored that you’re here with us today to tell that story and for a reason. So let’s keep, keep this role. And we could just talk about that all day. There’s so much, you know, wow. [00:10:38] But here we are. Fourth year of engineering school, then. You get to that breaking point and you drop out and you said you went into teaching. Is that right? And so today, you know, here we are talking and you are an engineering leader. So something happened. You didn’t become a teacher. Tell us the rest of that story. [00:10:59] How did you then get back into your passion for. [00:11:04] Myra Nawabi: So I did become a teacher and they even taught for four years. Um, and while it’s a noble field, it, it just, you can tell it’s my passion is not there. Um, I love the students and I, I, I, I believe that as an educator, I like the one-on-one, but I didn’t like being in the classroom until it gets to, you know, take out their books, shut up and, you know, Let’s do. [00:11:24] And I also didn’t like that there was very little creativity, right. They would give me the script and they would tell me to teach to the script because the, you know, we had to teach so that the kids could pass the exam so that the schools, you know, kept getting their funding. Um, I didn’t, I didn’t believe in that sort of teaching. [00:11:40] Um, so I had this opportunity to do an eight week internship at Lockheed and it was, I treated that as my do or die moment. And I said, I’m out of 65 interns here I am. And I hope to walk out of here without with a job. And apparently that’s what I did. Um, so. In my final week of my eight week internship, I had to do a presentation, um, with, uh, you know, all the executives in the room. [00:12:05] So there’s all these executives of Lockheed Martin sitting in the room. Every intern gets up there and they present what they had worked on, what their takeaway was. And I made my presentation and then I sat down and the vice president of engineering and operations put his card down on my desk. After I went back to sit down and he said, talk to me when this is over. [00:12:28] And afterwards, I went up to him and I said, sir, you want to talk to me? And he said, this is not. Um, it’s Kevin. And I was like, okay, what do you, what do you want to talk about? And he said, first of all, I loved your idea. Um, and second of all, how would you like to come work at lucky that I was like, sign me up. [00:12:46] Um, and, and I want to say that the, the determining factor between me and 64 other interns, the reason why I got to talk, nobody else did is that I was able to look at. Something that Lockheed already had a product that they already had. I figured out how to make tweaks to it and created a new market for it. [00:13:04] And I think that is what engineers are so good at is problem solving. And when I asked him, I said, why did you select me out of 65 interns and asked me to come and work for you? He said, I have engineers. Have gone to the best of schools, they can differentiate, integrate, you know, the they’ve done the math classes, the science classes, but they can’t do what you just did. [00:13:27] And I was very forthright with him. I said, look, I dropped out of my Fort in my fourth year. I dropped out of aeronautical engineering. You know, you are you sure you want me to come and work for you? And he said, I pay engineers very good money. And they can do what you just. In in eight weeks, you, you said this is not a market that Lockheed Martin wants to go into, but the fact that you have that ability, that’s what I’m paying you for. [00:13:51] That’s what I want you to come and work on my team. Um, and so that’s how I made my way at Lockheed and was there for 15 years. [00:14:00] Zach White: I love that story and really encouraged to remember that, you know, every moment. Counts. You just never know who and what is going to be that magic moment where something can completely change the trajectory of your life. [00:14:15] And that’s awesome. So Kevin, if you’re out there and you hear this, you know, thank you for giving Myra a chance and you know, for those of you listening, who are not Kevin, who have that opportunity to give the Myers of the future chance, I hope you’ll do so. You’re at Lockheed as a lover of the night sky, a dream place to be doing some amazing work. [00:14:40] Tell us, like, what was that like for you to find yourself now in the zone of your passion and finishing engineering school and all the things I went from there? Like what were the highlights of, of, of work that transpired those years? That. [00:14:53] Myra Nawabi: So for me, I, I considered myself incredibly blessed to, to be on this path, especially since I took a detour. [00:14:59] Um, and so every day that I showed up it was, was with this understanding that, you know, I’m here. I’ve been given this opportunity, the second chance. And I’m not going to blow it for any reason. Right. And so, um, I’m not going to say that it’s always glamorous a lot of what, what goes on into aerospace is, is what I call the wax on wax off days, you only get one chance to launch a $2.2 billion satellite orbit and it, that it work. [00:15:26] And so you. Work with incredibly gifted men and women who are so much better than you are every day. And you never the smartest person in the room. There’s always somebody that’s smarter than you. Um, I would say the things that helped me succeed was the fact that I, I was willing to learn from everybody. [00:15:45] I was willing to show up and be the person that was in the lab, um, at, you know, at two o’clock in the morning at three o’clock in the morning. Um, and I would turn them out, go home and sleep for a couple of hours. I would shower and change and how to turn around and come back and not be in the lab at six o’clock and gain it in the morning. [00:16:00] And you know, that, that takes incredible dedication, but I just feel that this was my opportunity I wasn’t going to squander it for anybody. Um, the most impactful moment of my life was when I was at Cape Canaveral. and I was watching the satellite launch and as it flew over my head, I, I broke down into tears and I cried and I thought, oh my gosh, I’m being such a girl. [00:16:26] And I turned to our quality engineer who was sitting next to me and he too had tears in his eyes and I said, okay, I’m not being the total girl here then. And I said to him, I said, gosh, you’re crying. And he was like, so are you a nicely, you know, it’s an incredible moment. And he said, you know, For me too. [00:16:44] And he said, this makes my career. And I, I said, but you’ve had 38 years in this industry. And he said, yes, but this is still is the most incredible moment of my life. And he said, now I can retire happily from the company. surely the next year he retired from the company. But I, I would say that, you know, Every day, you don’t get to go to Cape Canaveral and watch a law. [00:17:08] And it takes 12 years to get to that point. And those 12 years of a lot of grunt work, but, um, nothing beats that moment though. [00:17:19] Zach White: My ride may be hard to do, but if you go back to Cape Canaveral in your mind right now, and just kind of see that rocket, what words best describe the emotion that. [00:17:33] Myra Nawabi: It’s Def most, um, fulfilling moment of my life and I’ve given birth to a child, but it totally means, um, because it’s, you know, I mean, I mean, everybody, every human being, um, you know, females anyway, has the ability to give birth to a child. [00:17:50] Right. I, you know, not very many people can can say I got the opportunity to launch a satellite into space. I mean, very few of us get to do that. And it’s, it’s one of those, you know, one in a lifetime kind of a moment. And I. Um, I still, to this day, I have no way of explaining to you other than that, it was incredible. [00:18:12] The, the, you know, you feel the vibration on as, as the rocket is launching and then the, in the satellites on its way to orbit and, and you, you see everyone like. 3000 people are sitting there cheering. And you’re part of that. And you know that you and you made an incredible dent in, in, in what I call, you know, your little universe and my universe was, was building satellites. [00:18:35] Um, so I CA I, I still don’t think. [00:18:38] Zach White: Doubts Myra is absolute passion for this space. I feel like that Mo that statement defines it. Like, it’s kind of like, you know, water is essential to live, but diamonds are more scarce. So we value them, you know, that moment being so incredibly scarce and special. So that’s fantastic. [00:18:55] Myra let’s then share all these. Incredibly hard work, your dedication and this relentless spirit about not squandering this second chance that you were given. And you know, at this point in your leadership, really doing a lot to mentor and give back to especially female engineers who want to follow in the kinds of footsteps that you have, and, you know, you’ve experienced the barriers you’ve experienced these challenges. [00:19:26] Can you tell us a little. About, you know, what that journey has been like and then how you have kind of distilled this down to some really useful things for anybody who feels stuck on the path that you’ve been on. [00:19:38] Myra Nawabi: Sure. Um, it’s, it’s fun that you mentioned the diamonds and diamond being rare, you know, in the diamond industry, they have their foresees, right? [00:19:45] They talk about the cut and clarity and whatever the other two are. Um, I, I created my own foresees, uh, And I created them with the diamond industry in mind. And there’s four CS that act as barrier and it’s across the world and it particularly it’s about women, but it can be that way men too, to some degree. [00:20:07] And it’s called. It’s confidence, it’s cash. And this childcare, um, even women who make it into the field and become engineers, they still have burden of childcare and that could keep them out of it. Um, so these forces to me are the barriers that keep women out of. Out of engineering out of the workforce, um, out of showing up what their full potential, no matter where they are, um, on the flip side, I’ve, I’ve also come up with four CS that every individual can can contribute to, regardless of your gender. [00:20:39] These are forces that we can all do from one another. And that has to do with being collaborators, being confidence, being coaches and cheerleaders. And no, I don’t mean you have to wear skimpy outfits and bombs. I just mean that. You can, you can share the person on as they’re making their way through these struggles. [00:20:58] Um, Um, you know, at, at Lockheed, I was blessed that I had cheerleaders that and confidence and coaches and collaborators, um, my first mentor at Lockheed, I’ll never forget him. He drilled the seven habits, Stephen Covey’s seven habits of successful people in my head and especially the circle of influence. [00:21:17] You know, you know, he made me read the book, reread the book, discuss it. Uh, there were days when I was like, Mr. Hayes, can I, can we just take a break from Stephen Covey already? But I think he gave me the foundations how I became a servant leader. And I, became who I have become. Uh, it’s it’s sad that, you know, Mr. [00:21:36] Harris has passed away and I, I. Don’t get to tell him does, but he was one of the first people who helped me craft my four CS of the coaches, the confidant collaborators. [00:21:48] Zach White: That’s really powerful. So let’s go back to the first four and, and help help me understand what each of these words means to you. You know, I have, uh, maybe a default belief of what these are cultural. [00:22:02] Confidence cash and childcare. Just describe briefly, you know, how each of these manifests as a barrier to, to your point, any engineer, but especially a female engineer who wants to build an impactful and successful career like you are doing. What are those really all about? [00:22:20] Myra Nawabi: So in terms of culture of, you know, we’ve, we’ve talked a lot about that. [00:22:23] The, you know, know, the prevalent belief that women aren’t cut out to be engineers. Um, culture has a lot to do with that. It’s the way we raise our sons, the way we raise our daughters, um, it’s changing, but it hasn’t changed that much. And especially in, in other countries, I think Europe and America are doing much better than countries like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. [00:22:45] W, you know, in, in, in those places. Um, so when it comes to cash, uh, you know, and again, this doesn’t apply so much to United States. I think United States is doing much better in terms of equal pay, but in other countries, you know, uh, there are, for example, In, in certain countries, you know, a girl is married off and, and the dowery is used to educate the son. [00:23:06] And so a lot of women are losing out on getting educated and coming into the workforce because that opportunity was taken away from them. And then obviously childcare. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s a problem in the United States, but, but it’s even more of a problem in other countries. And I think due to COVID, we’ve started to see how bad problem is because women who in the past had access to childcare. [00:23:29] All of a sudden don’t have, because the daycares are, and a lot more women are leaving the workforce again. Um, so, so childcare does act as a barrier and when the burden of, childcare falls on, on the women, more than on the men, then you’re going to see more women being kept out of the workforce. Um, and finally the stock about confidence, right? [00:23:49] When you have all these voices in your head, all the voices around you, they’re telling you that. Maybe you weren’t cut out for this, maybe this isn’t where you want to be. Maybe you should consider something else. Eventually that becomes, um, those voices start to help you. I mean, in my case, I was like, okay, well, forget it. [00:24:09] Let’s just drop out. And, and it, you know, you know, you, you can’t be what you can’t see. So if, if, if you’re not seeing more women who are, this is one of the main reasons why I’m so passionate about mentoring more young women. And the, the thing is, is that I thought, you know, okay, it happened to me. It shouldn’t be happening to more women, but unfortunately the more I did interviews as an engineering leader at schools, these are, these are women and girls that are just graduating. [00:24:38] And I was, I was recruiting. And now with here this, you know, when I would ask them, what is one thing you’re improving? I would hear imposter syndrome will come up a lot. Now men never told me about their imposter syndrome, but women told me a lot about that. And so I think that confidence is still something that we, we have. [00:24:54] We have a lot of weight to work at, but men and women have confidence issues, but I just think that, uh, the culture is definitely contributing to women’s confidence in themselves as engineers. [00:25:07] Zach White: It’s interesting to me hearing you describe these Myra, how these four CS that are barriers in a way can, can kind of feed off of each other as well. [00:25:17] And the presence of one in your life can, can make another one more impactful and this sort of snowballs, and I love what you said about confidence. You can’t be what you can’t see. I’m curious for you. When was the. That you actually saw that something else was possible. Something more was possible for Myra. [00:25:43] Myra Nawabi: You know, it’s, it’s, it’s always been a battle for me and it’s been a battle because I there’s these voices of my head that I picked up from, from around me, uh, the tummy I’m not good enough. And then there’s voices that I’ve had to replace them with someone like Mr. Hayes, who said, you got this, do you belong in a bigger stage? [00:26:00] Um, and, and, and. When I first started at Lockheed, I have to say, I, my confidence was tagged. I was like, I did, there’s so much smarter people around me. How could I possibly, um, you know, keep this career here. Um, but what helped was that, you know, someone like Mr. Hayden. You got this and, and this is why I came up with my other forces, right? [00:26:17] Because confidence, the coaches, the cheerleaders, the collaborators eventually helped me to see myself. And I, I became a, it’s what Amy Cuddy talks about in her book and in her talk, you know, you fake it till you become it. I, I, I guess I faked it enough until I became it. Um, but it, the journey was, was when I met, uh, So I had, I had the, pleasure of meeting, um, uh, Nosha and sorry, who’s the first Iranian woman to use her own money to go to outer space. [00:26:43] She became a cosmonaut. And when I met her and she described that dream of being a child looking at the night sky and falling in love with it, I realized, okay, I’m not alone. Like there’s, there’s. And I, I met her as an adult. I never knew that there were, you know, cause I, you know, do we, Iranian women become cosmonauts and astronauts do African women. [00:27:07] I, you know, that role model ever existed. So I had to, I had to picture myself as Sally ride. Um, or as you know, um, may Jamison. Those were the women that, that were, that I had seen. And to me, if they had overcome it, then I could have overcome it. Um, but it’s important. You know, like I always talk about under Sean, sorry, wherever I go, because to me, I think what she did is incredible, uh, to be able to do that. [00:27:33] And be honest, their sacrifices that she had to make, there were sacrifices that I had to make, but each one of them was willing to do. I was willing to make them, she was willing to make them because this, this dream was bigger than us. And to me, I still believe that there are other little girls out there that are dreaming about that night sky and want to be an astronaut. [00:27:57] And I want them to know that it’s possible. So I didn’t become an astronaut, but I sent stuff into outer space. And I think that’s good [00:28:04] Zach White: enough for me. An amazing accomplishment. No question. Interesting Myra. And I agree with you, you know, anecdotally what I see with the engineering leaders, who I coach and the literature and everything that this is a more prevalent challenge, confidence for women than for men and how it manifests at least. [00:28:24] But I remember vividly. Facing the decision to go into coaching full-time and start my business versus continue in my engineering career. And then, you know, at Whirlpool and where I was having success. So that was the easy path. And I had that moment of, you know, who am I do this asking some of those same questions. [00:28:43] And I think it’s something we all face. And I had my own version of a Mr. Hayes, someone who came along and said, You know, I I’m been coaching for decades and look at my clients and these people are much smarter than me, it’s not about me being better than them at what they do. It’s about what am I going to bring and just changed whole paradigm around why moving into this would would be right line with my own passion and heart and capabilities, but even as good of an engineer and coaches, I was, I faced that same moment. [00:29:15] Wow. Can I really step into an environment like a Google or an Amazon when I’m this rust belt mechanical engineer turned coach and you know, fortunately the answer is absolutely yes, but that role model and that ability to see it was huge in my life as well. Let’s go back to the positive side, then these other four CS. [00:29:37] And, you know, whether it’s you facing the barriers. And you need to seek these things out to break through, or maybe, you know, this is for the engineer and the leader listening. Who’s not dealing with it themselves, but you can become this to the leader who needs your help. Tell us about these other forces and how they, you know, how they help with the breakthrough. [00:29:59] What is it about them that negates some of the effects of the barrier? [00:30:05] Myra Nawabi: Well, we can start with the cheerleaders, right? The cheerleaders help you to sort of get rid of those nasty voices in your head that you’ve picked up along the way. And you know, so when, when the voices in your head is saying, who are you to do this? [00:30:18] And you’re not good enough, then the cheerleaders are saying, you got this. I have confidence in you. with Mr. Hayes, who said you belong in a bigger stage. I’d love to see you there. Even if I’m not alive, just know that I will be watching you and supporting you from whatever that is. Awesome. And in a, you know, it it’s till this day, I take that with me and whatever, before I ever reached every talk, I believe that Mr. [00:30:42] Hayes is there. He’s watching, um, from whatever he is, um, you know, And so to me, we can, you know, when, when the confidence is taking the cheerleader step in. When, when you have people that you can confide in people that you can say to, Hey, I’m, I’m really struggling with seeing myself you know, I’m about to delve into it as a really big problem. [00:31:02] And I, I really don’t know that if I can do it again, your cheerleaders, your confidence, these are the people who will say, you know, you’ve got. I’ve I, I have faith in you. And if you falter, you’re always welcome to come talk to me. I will, I will get you through to us, your confidence, your coaches are. again, for me, Mr. Hayes was all four of those things, right. He coached me. He’s the one who made me, you know, Stephen Covey in my head. And he was like, you have what it takes. You just need that push. And I’m here to give you that push. And I’ll never forget because he said, look, I’m a bit of an odd ball and some seems like you are too. [00:31:40] And the universe has thrown us together. So let’s make. All of this. And, you know, he, he knew he was retiring and he was not willing to take anybody on as a mentee, but he said, somehow universe wants me to mentor you. So you know, I’m going to do it for the short time that I’m at lucky, then. Well visit whatever happens. [00:32:00] And, and I, I believe he was said to set the foundation drive and then once he set the foundations, other stepped in and helped me build the house. Um, and, um, I’m grateful then today, incredible mentors who. Was all of those things for me. Right. They were my cheerleaders and my moments when I was down and now I was doubting myself. [00:32:21] They were my confidence. I was, you know, the way I met Mr. Hayes is I actually walked into his office and said the most incredibly stupid thing you could possibly say, um, I walked into his office and I closed the door and I said, Mr. Hayes, you’re black. And he was like, ah, Thanks for noting the obvious [00:32:42] I’m sorry. I meant, I said, I’m sorry. I’m meant African-American was like, no blacks fine. What’s going on? And I was having an incredibly challenging time with someone and I said, I just, I feel like I’m going crazy, Mr. Hayes, can I just, you know, I offloaded and. Okay. I can see why and I, now your first statement makes sense. [00:33:05] And, and I, you know, thankfully he, he didn’t, testify for that. And, you know, he took the incredible. Thanks for pointing the obvious. [00:33:09] Zach White: What a moment Mr. Hayes. You’re black. You’re right. I cannot recommend that anybody open a conversation that way, but that’s such a beautiful, beautiful story. [00:33:22] Um, wow. Well, Myra, I I’m so encouraged by this. And one thing that stands out too. About your second set of four C’s, you know, being a collaborator, a confidant, a coach, and a cheerleader is that these are not technical skill sets or, you know, things you get out of a textbook or even, you know, an important strategy around how to navigate politics in the office. [00:33:46] It’s all about the human to human. Connection and a real relationship with someone who needs it and, and having that servant selfless leadership to just say, I can be that for you with no expectation of anything in return. And I think that’s really powerful. And so maybe as what’s one more question, if somebody does not have that person or persons in their life, Right now, you know, they don’t have a Mr. [00:34:16] Hayes, what would you recommend? Someone’s first step be if they need that help [00:34:22] Myra Nawabi: in, in her. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Heidi Howard case study, it’s an interesting case study about a bias towards women and gender. And it was the first one that, you know, it was done by, uh, Harvard. [00:34:36] And then it was replicated by Stanford than other business schools. But basically what they did is Heidi Roizen was an actual human being. Um, I’ve met her. She’s amazing. And she was the, she was a woman who started her own company, sold it to apple. She became an executive at apple. She’s currently a venture capitalist invest in companies like space X others. [00:34:56] you know, so what they did is they took Heidi Roizen his resume and they showed it to 250 students in the graduate business school. And when the name was Heidi, it was 92% negative. And when the name was Howard, it was 89% positive. And so Heidi was a ball Buster, her credentials weren’t real. She was not a, you know, she. [00:35:17] Uh, you name it. It was very negative, but when it was Howard, everybody accepted it and everybody was like, oh, Howard is this personable guy. And he’s hard working. And, you know, and, and so when I had opportunity to meet Heidi, I asked her what it was like to be in this incredibly. Environment, um, as a woman and what did she do to seek out people? [00:35:42] And she said, she believes in this concept of fab five and filed five is five people that she has never gone to school with, that she’s never worked with. But those are people that she has met professionally in some capacity or another. And she has befriended them built. Friendship with them. And they act as those confidence, coaches, collaborators, cheerleaders for her. [00:36:08] And I would say that, you know, it’s important that, that we all surround ourselves with five people that we have never gone to school with. We will not neighbors. And they don’t know us since those days when we were in kindergarten and we were eating bugs. Um, but you People who are professionals that we have met, but we’ve never worked with. [00:36:27] And that’s the incredible important thing to Remember, these are not people you’ve worked with. These are people that you’ve met professionally in some society or some conference or somewhere that you be befriend that you keep in touch with, that you are there for them, and they’re there for you. [00:36:43] And that. Um, keep them close by you and that fab five is supposed to help you get unstuck. [00:36:51] Zach White: I love that. A great, actionable thing for everyone to take away. If you don’t have that to go be proactive and start seeking out those relationships, you know, go to the conference, connect with someone on LinkedIn and ask them to be a part of your, your fab five. [00:37:07] I think that’s amazing. Myra so much we could cover. thank you again for being so courageous and sharing your story. And I know just tremendous value for every engineering leader listening to this, but to wrap up, I really believe great engineering has in common with great coaching and great leadership. [00:37:28] That questions. And the answers follow-up. And so for that engineering leader, who’s been listening to this conversation who wants to have a big impact and wants to enjoy and be happy and fulfilled along the way. What is the best question that you would lead them with today? [00:37:53] Myra Nawabi: Know, I always ask everybody this question because every person that I talked to the answer is different and it is different because of the place that they’re at. [00:38:03] And the more they go up at the, at the level that the more sophisticated the problem becomes and the more they have to face those challenges. But I always asked every person that I need this question. And I ask them this question, because I think it’s, it’s incredibly insightful. And that is what keeps you up with. [00:38:21] Um, and so. You know, when I, when I interview people, it’s always question that I ask it’s, it’s a question that, you know, even if I’m not asking an interview, I still offer the answer to, um, because to me, I think when, when, when you’re working together, you’re looking for two things, you’re looking for confidence and you’re looking for resilience and I’ve demonstrated that I’ve had, I’ve definitely had confidence issues in the past, but I’ve also demonstrated that I’ve, I’ve had resilience. [00:38:46] And both of these things define me. And, you know, um, I once had somebody tell me that I, um, had Hitler Napoleon complex, and I had to take a step back and say, what do you mean by that? And he said, well, you’re a short person and you have all this ambition. And I was like, I don’t know what that means, but okay. [00:39:04] and to me, I’ve unapologetically been ambitious about my dreams, my vision, and I’ve gone after them, despite the fact that, you know, everybody around me said, you’re not cut out for this. It’s important to remember that, especially in moments when you know it it’s hard you just want to give up, remember that, um, you know, the. [00:39:24] What keeps you up at night is, is, is your, your place where you need to be. And it’s universe trying to tease out that, it wants you to play bigger. so ask yourself that question, you know, what is keeping me up at night? If you have a small child you know, know that that’s, that’s gonna go away, but what professional personal thing is keeping you up at night? [00:39:47] if you can answer that for yourself, I think you you’ll be in a much better place. [00:39:53] Zach White: Um, cool question. What keeps you up at night? I hope everyone will go. Take an honest look at what Myra is talking about here. Myra can’t thank you enough for making time for us. And if someone wants to reach out and connect with you or just follow your story and success from here, where’s the best place that someone could do that [00:40:19] Myra Nawabi: I’m on LinkedIn. [00:40:20] So Myra NABI is, is the best way to connect with me. Um, do send me a message. So I know you’re not a robot. I I’ve because I’ve, I’ve worked in aerospace industry. Uh, our, you know, people that work in the aerospace industry is targeted a lot by the Chinese and the Russians. So if you’re from China or Russia and you want to connect with me, that’s not to say, I don’t want to connect with you. [00:40:43] I just need to know that you’re a human being. Some entity with malicious intent. I’m so aligned that says, Hey, I heard your podcast or saw you at some is perfectly fine. And I’m happy to connect with people. And I’m happy to, to, be a sounding board. Uh, you know, we talked about the four CS of co coaches, confidence, collaborators, and, uh, cheerleaders. [00:41:06] The more you do that for others, the more people will reciprocate. And so. So I’ve, I’ve done that for others, apparently others reciprocated in kind. So, um, I’m always grateful and, and to anybody who’s struggling, um, I’m willing to be that sounding board, [00:41:22] Zach White: what an amazing opportunity. So make sure you let Myra know that you heard her on the happy engineer podcast. [00:41:28] So she’ll know you’re a human and Myra, thank you again so much. Just the tremendous heart and vision that you bring to this conversation. And I look forward so much to watching your success from here. Thanks again.

 

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