Be a part of Celia’s audience
Get first-hand access to Celia’s updates and online content on leading with significance. You’ll receive her FREE guide on The Four Essential Tenets of Overcoming Unexpected Leadership Challenges.
Gracious & Strong Podcast with Celia Swanson
The following is a transcription of a podcast and may contain grammatical errors.
Celia Swanson: Hi, everyone, Celia Swanson. And I want to welcome you to today’s Gracious and Strong podcast, where you can discover the authentic resilient leader inside of you.
Hello listeners, and welcome to the Gracious and Strong podcast I’m excited to have you joining me today in this episode on overcoming self-limiting beliefs through faith. I don’t often talk about my faith or my faith journey, but I was invited to be a guest speaker at the Women in the Marketplace Connect event last week. The event was very powerful, and the messages I received back from the audience were so reinforcing that I wanted to share this content with you today. I was invited by a colleague and an individual I’ve had the opportunity to work with in a couple of different ways over the years. Her name is Catherine Gates, and Catherine is the executive director of Women in the Marketplace. Their mission is to equip working women to confidently grow in their faith and career for the glory of God. They do that in three ways: They invest in women through content, such as the episode that you’ll hear today to grow their faith. They also focus on creating fellowship, and, last, creating an impact in the community. So it’s my pleasure to be able to share this episode with you. It’s chocked full of content. It’s also filled with some great stories, and I hope you have a pen and paper in hand, so you can take great notes. Thank you, and enjoy.
Catherine Gates: Welcome, everyone. I am Catherine Gates, executive director of Women in the Marketplace, and I am so happy that you’re joining us this evening. I’m going to open us up in prayer and then we will get started. Heavenly Father, we just thank you so much for the opportunity to join together with other women. We thank you for our speake, Celia Swanson. Father, we pray that you fill her with your holy spirit and speak through her and help us Lord to to prepare our hearts, to hear the message that that you want us most to hear. I pray that you bless every participant and every volunteer. And I thank you, Lord, I just thank you so much for this opportunity and ask Lord that this time would bring you glory in Jesus name. Amen.
All right. Well before I get started, I’d love to just share very quickly with you a little bit about Women in the Marketplace. I’m going to share my screen. For those of you who are new to us, Women in the Marketplace exists to equip working women to constantly pursue their faith and career for the glory of God. And we do that in a couple of ways; we help women grow in faith through events like this and through our workplace Bible studies and small groups, and that gives people an opportunity to create fellowship, and you’ll get to experience a little bit of that this evening when we do our breakout after after a Celia speaks. And that is something that we found that women are so hungry for is that community and fellowship. And then finally, we also provide opportunities to give back to the community so that we can do that together and serve together.
So I’m going to go ahead and introduce our speaker, Celia Swanson. And I am so excited that Celia is joining us this evening. Celia is a highly accomplished executive. She is notably the first female executive vice president for Walmart, her deep expertise in retail, large-scale transformation, company culture, multi-generational workforce engagement is the cornerstone of her career legacy. Celia is also passionate about serving her community. She was the recipient of the Northwest Arkansas Athena Woman of the Year award for excellence in community service, board leadership and regional impact. I had the privilege of seeing Celia in action when I worked for a company that provided curriculum development services and Celia was leading the talent development team at the time. And I can tell you from personal experience that Celia was deeply committed to caring for her team, taking really good care of her team. She’s also deeply committed to excellence, and she was very passionate about the organization and its culture.
I’ve also had the opportunity to see Celia speak, and I’ve read her book Gracious and Strong. And what I think you’ll appreciate, and I certainly do, is that Celia shares the experiences that have contributed to her growth with such transparency and authenticity. And so. I hope you’re ready to be inspired and take lots of notes because you will be talking about it later, but that also you’ll want to hold onto those because I know that you’re going to take away many things that are applicable to your own professional growth. So, Celia, welcome.
Celia Swanson: Oh, thank you, Catherine. I’m thrilled to be here and I’m particularly excited to talk about the topic of overcoming self-limiting beliefs through faith. Catherine, you mentioned that we had the opportunity to work together and you have the opportunity to see me at some highs and some low moments in my career. It was tough slogging there in talent development for a while, but you were part of a group of professionals that helped us really deliver excellence in the work that we did. So to have you inviting me now at this stage in our careers is, is really quite a compliment. And I appreciate being invited to join tonight. For those of you as participants and guests today, my platform is really focused on helping individuals discover the resilient leader inside of them. I had a career of 40 years in retailing and when I made my decision to get into retailing, I prayed and I had a lot of great counsel and advice from my husband and found that I connected to my passion in fashion merchandising. And I’ve been able to stay in that career through February of 2016 when I retired from Walmart Stores, Inc.
But what I learned through that entire journey was really the importance of resilience and how critical that competency and skill set of resilience was to being a gracious and strong leader because it takes courage. It takes courage to understand the gifts that you’ve been given. It takes courage to use your voice and to share your gifts and talents. It takes courage to stand up against fear and facing adversity, and it takes courage to adapt and learn from tough situations that you’ve been placed in before. Fear is at the core of overcoming self-limiting beliefs and at the core of really limiting beliefs, and fear is real. Leaders who try to say that fear is not part of the life environment that we’re in are really painting the brush with a rosy color because it’s not true. And so many situations that I had the opportunity to deep in over that 40 year period of time, evoked fear. And it’s really a protection response, almost a defense mechanism, but the key for a truly resilient leader is to first be able to understand what are your belief windows about that situation that you’re facing that’s causing you fear—that adversity that you’re facing at the time; and then how to just break through it, run through it. And so we’re going to talk about that skill and how to practice it and how to understand what are self-limiting beliefs that you may be facing. I’m going to share three with you during our conversation today, and then I’d love for you to be writing down as we’re talking some self-limiting beliefs that you have faced during your time. I’d also love it. If I’m describing one that you go, oh yeah, amen, I have, I’ve been there, that’s one I would say has been a self-limiting belief of mine, put it in the chat, so I can see that I’m hitting on chords that really matter to you and are significant in the content that I’m delivering today. And then in the breakout segment, I’m going to ask a few of you to share your self-limiting belief that you’ve had and discuss some techniques that you’ve used to face into the situation and break through it and turn it into a catalyst rather than a limiter. And that’s the goal here, turning these self-limiting beliefs into catalyst opportunities.
So let’s start by digging into my first limiting belief. And that is, I have to be contrary to who I really am. You see when I joined the ranks of a director and a vice president in the retailing environment there weren’t a lot of women who were sitting in those levels of roles in the organization. So, I was often the only woman in the room and sometimes the first woman in the room. And what that caused me to think was that I could not be authentic. I thought I had to act like a man in order to move ahead and be accepted and be heard. And, what I, gratefully, learned after leaving so many opportunities on the table was that they didn’t invite me to be sitting at those tables because I was just like a man; they invited me because I had a very different experience, and I had a very different perspective that they needed to hear. And I was actually doing a disservice by not sharing that perspective. And I really thought that conformity was the right way to make an impact, and it was absolutely not. What I learned is that, you know, in those early years of my career that I could be feminine and that it was the woman who was the decision maker, as it relates to the shopping experience; it was the mom who was the individual working inside our stores across the company. And it was the leader within me, the authentic leader within me that really had the opportunity to share different perspectives and to create change because I took that opportunity to share that perspective. On the very first day that I got promoted to executive vice president at Walmart Stores, Inc, they did the announcement at a Saturday morning meeting. There was a lot of cheering and, and it felt really good. But the very first question I got asked was what are you going to do for the rest of the women? And without batting an eye, I said “bring them along” because I knew that God did not place me in this position just because it was all about me. In fact, it was not about me. It was about breaking through glass ceilings and creating opportunities where women and minorities could achieve their fullest potential. And it was in about the third trimester of my career towards the end of my career, actually, when I was taking stock of what kind of leadership style was going to be my legacy and what were the things that I wanted to be described as, as I was getting near the end of my leadership journey at a corporation, and I got described as gracious and strong, and that became the title of my book when I had the courage to write my book. But I learned grace from, you know, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I learned the importance of grace and being gracious. I received a gift from God being a strong woman and a strong leader. And it was the pairing of those two things that really created the opportunity for a legacy that I’m proud to have left at work with my family and in the community.
And probably the best example that I can give. I’m going to give you, too, is I wrote my personal mission statement in my mind before I ever wrote it down on paper and began to live out what I thought was my mission and purpose in life. And what I began to understand was that my personal mission statement is to use my voice for women and children, empowering them to break through barriers that limit their ability to be significant. Now what’s interesting about that personal mission statement is I knew I always wanted to advocate for women and women being given all the opportunities they possibly could be given and should have been given. But I didn’t realize how important children and speaking on behalf of kids who could not speak for themselves in many of the corporate environments, in healthcare environments, et cetera, and as I had a child later in life and began to understand what the role of motherhood really was like, and the responsibility of being a parent, that became very profound in what I chose to be as my legacy going forward. And so I do believe in writing a personal mission statement to help you guide yourself through your journey as well.
But I’ll give you one short story about the importance of using your voice. This was what I call the well-baby care story for benefits and plans at Walmart. At that point in time, there were 24 people on the executive committee, 20 men and four women. Each year we were brought the benefits packages alternatives to vote on based on cost, based on need, based on employee associate input, and this year well baby care was the one being discussed. Well, the men had come into the meeting, and they’d already been starting to talk about the cost and pretty much setting up the expectation this was not going to be the year that we could afford to put well-baby care into our benefit offering. Our insurance plan was catastrophic care. So if you got sick, really sick, we had great care. We didn’t have preventative and well-baby care. But Lee Scott, who was the CEO at the time, didn’t hear any women talking. He only heard the men talking about the numbers, and he stopped the conversation. And I was the one that had been sitting there the longest. And he said, Swanson, I haven’t heard a peep from you or any of the women. I want to hear your perspective. And in a flash, I had to think about how do I tell my story so that I provide influence and a perspective that the men sitting around the table just couldn’t have. And I told the story of moving to Northwest Arkansas and my husband being a stay-at-home dad, and he took my daughter to the pediatrician to get her shots before she went into preschool. And the doctor recommended that we go to public health assistance for her shots, because it was not covered by our insurance plan. And he was mortified, and he said, we can afford to pay for those shots, please immunize my daughter. Well, he came home and he was on the ceiling, just so upset that a company that was so family-oriented was not paying for well-baby care. And it took me months to talk him off the ledge to say it is still a great company, and when we can make change, we’ll make change, and here was my moment to help make change. You could hear a pin drop in, in the room and that all of a sudden, the next woman jumps on that story. And she said, I had the exact same experience. And I had to talk a new really recruited leader that we just brought to the company off the ledge today because their family just went through the same experience. The third woman jumped on and saidI have to echo that same experience myself. And the fourth female was the one who ran all the benefits functions for the organization, and she was able to come in with the numbers and the need from our associate base. And when Lee Scott asked for a vote on whether or not we would adopt well-baby care that year, it passed unanimously. That’s the power of being able to use your voice, share your unique perspective in a way, no one can argue with it, and it can reshape and reframe the outcome. So the three takeaways from that point, is tell your story in a way that’s authentic, use your voice to be sure that all the perspectives have been shared in the discussion, and then third would be, don’t let opportunities pass you up by not speaking up.
So then I’ll jump into my second belief window. And I think a lot of women have this same belief window and it is, I am not good enough. When are they going to figure out that I got promoted too early, that I’m an impostor or that I’m really not as good as they think I am. So I just, I call it, I’m not good enough. And I, I just think this is such a demoralizing at limiting belief because it just causes that negative self-talk to dominate the way that you’re thinking about a situation. And what I found at those moments in time is that I was really questioning my capabilities, and I was really questioning, you know, the gifts I had been given by God and I wasn’t using them to my fullest. In fact, what I had been doing was I was leading for my boss and I was working diligently to make sure that my boss was pleased and my boss looked good, but I wasn’t leading for what I knew to be the my full leadership potential and the and what I knew from God and God’s teachings and Jesus’ teachings about what great leadership looked like.
And I’ll never forget the moment in time when I was making a move from the Sam’s Club division over to the Walmart division. And I was asked to play a role where I was helping a new executive vice president come into Walmart from the outside. And he was brilliant and he was going to be leading the people division, but he was abrasive. And the way that he created change was through turmoil by creating turmoil. And so they asked me to go be his buddy and mentor and help him be effective as he transitioned into the company. What I learned is that how much he needed to hear my perspective, but I had to be very clear about sharing my perspective about how to be successful at Walmart, and I had to share it at all moments in all situations, because it was just kind of counter to the way that he would lead. What he learned from me was a level of respect that he, he could hear the truth, he would be told the truth, and he can make a choice on how he wanted to interact in situations. And, over time, what started happening is he was coming to me and asking for my advice sometimes before he even created the turmoil, sometimes after he created the turmoil, just to see how he was, it was how effective he had been or had not been. But the day I, I realized that I had really turned a corner was when I got my first promotion on the Walmart US division side. And he walked into my office and he said, I’m coming in to congratulate you. And I want to tell you, the reason that this opportunity was provided to you was because you stopped leading for me as a boss and you started leading for you. Well, I knew what it took to be a great leader. I had learned it from again, studying the Bible and through studying the life of Jesus, but I didn’t always take the opportunity to be sure that I was demonstrating it and calling it out for and in others. So the real moral of this is, understand it inside yourself of what it takes to be a great leader, and then be sure to demonstrate it and call it out when it needs to be called out.
Probably the most compelling story I could share in this situation is what I’ll call the trash cans story. And I call it the trash cans story because I was called out by the vice chairman of the company out of a financial action committee meeting where he was displeased with something that I was trying to propose as a way to grow membership at Sam’s Club. And he had come in recently to lead the organization because Sam’s Club had been through five presidents in 10 years, and so the direction was waffling and it was not clear what the differentiation of Sam’s Club from Walmart was going to be, and he was all about being in business for small business. And I’d made a proposal that he did not appreciate. At the very end of that finance action meeting, he said, Swanson, I want to see you after the meeting outside. Well, he just publicly announced to everybody that I was in trouble. And then he took me to the trash cans between the two buildings between Sam’s Club and Walmart home office at the time. And he began to just chew me out, and it was very directive, there was no two-way conversation. He said, what about being in business for small business? Do you not understand? And I said, there again, no conversation. And he said, you have 24 hours to tell me if you’re on the team or if you’re off the team. And I hope to see you tomorrow and then walked off. Well, again, this was about as public of a space as anybody could have provided this, this calling out. And it was a really rough night, but it was a night spent in prayer and in conversation with my most trusted partner, which was my husband, to really decide if this was the place where I was going to continue. and was I going to be able to be the kind of leader that I knew how to be? And the next morning I went to see him and I said, I’m on the team. And he was very surprised; he completely expected that I was going to say, you know, I’m out of here; I don’t need to put up with this. And when I said to him, I’m on the team because you really need me, you’ve gone through five presidents and I’m the only constant here and I have the trust and respect of the people in this organization so you need me to be successful and I can be successful. But the way that I need to be successful is that when I bring new concepts to you, I want you to listen and I want you to give them full consideration and not just rail off with an opinion that you haven’t heard the other side. He was shocked, but what he said was, okay, I can do that. And I returned to work with a renewed focus on what it meant to be a great leader and to stand up for myself and to be sure that I was setting the standards for how I was going to be treated in the organization and therefore how my people were going to be treated. So the key points here really are: You’re good enough when you believe you are; Trust in God to be your compass and your wisdom, he won’t let you down, stand up for yourself and advocate for what you bring to the table. And then, third, ask for what you need. So many times we don’t ask for what we need and it will come to us if we pray and, and if we articulate our needs.
I know I’m running out of time, but I’m going to hit the third limiting belief here very quickly, and that’s, I can succeed on my own; I don’t need anybody else to help me. That’s so false. And I think it, again, is something that women hear a lot in their careers, which is do great work, keep your head down, your results are gonna, you know, drive great results, and then the promotions will follow. And I did that for years. I worked harder than anybody else. My results were excellent and the promotions kept going on around me and busting through this belief window really gave me the freedom to lift up my head, and say it isn’t all about me. And I actually need to build a network of people through mentors and sponsors and, you know, studying great leadership skills and characteristics. And then adding to my gaps, closing my gaps as a leader through work, not only through a networking, but also giving back in the community and learning skills and applying skills on nonprofit boards and serving in a capacity that really expanded my, my footprint and legacy in the community. And what I also learned is to rely on God, that when I needed his wisdom and his strength, he came through every time, every time. And so it’s through prayer that I said, help me figure out how to create a world where I can be present at work. I can be present in my family, and I can be present in the community and bring all of those components of my life together to make a difference. The reason that is so important is two examples. The only way I was able to move across divisions at Walmart from Sam’s Club to Walmart US is because I had a sponsor and in the rooms where I was not present talking about career opportunities, I had a sponsor who was advocating for me. He would never have been able to advocate for me if I had not built a mentorship relationship with him and ultimately a sponsor relationship. And I would tell you, even today, he opened doors for me. And I just got my first corporate board of director assignment, and it was because of that mentor.
The second story that I will tell you is that serving in the community and receiving that Athena Woman of the Year award from the Northwest Arkansas business community for my work and service and through nonprofit. When I retired from Walmart, it was February 2nd. And the, the telephone didn’t ring, no emails were in my email box. No one was asking for my opinion that day. And it’s like hard stop, cold turkey, you’re balls to the wall working, and then the next day, crickets; and I, that was really hard when you’re working at such intensity and at such kind of scrutiny, in such scrutiny, and for the community to come back and say, we waited until you retired from Walmart, because we wanted you to understand it was your work that we are recognizing here. It’s not the work of Walmart, and we want you to know that you’re the one of influence that’s created this award opportunity for yourself. And so, as I think about all the challenges I faced, once I was in my later years of Walmart and then retiring from Walmart, I could not have done any of those things on my own. Number one, you’re never alone in this process. And who are the individuals who are your network, who are the individuals who lift you up and celebrate you and help you navigate through life? Make sure that they know who they are and how important they are to you and stay in touch with them. That’s really a critical key. The second is this also includes your relationship with God; make sure that God understands how important he is with, to you, make sure that you are going to him in prayer and in gratitude and thanking him for the opportunities and the impact that you’ve been able to make. And then third is to find ways to pick your head up, build a network, give back in the community because it’s this broad network that’s going to be the thing that allows you to navigate the next chapters of your life or some of the most difficult chapters of your life.
So, in closing, the key to breaking through self limiting beliefs is the ability to step back from a situation. And to ask yourself just a few key questions, there’s four. What about this situation is causing me fear and causing me to hold myself back and being non-confident and non courageous? Number two, when I faced a situation similar to this, what did I learn? And what would I have done differently in that situation that I can apply this time around? The third is how can I quiet that negative self-talk and how can I just set that aside so it does not distract me from finding the courage and confidence to do what will stretch me and get me through the situation? And then last is, and not least, have I taken this to God through prayer? Have I asked for wisdom, confidence and courage to guide me through this situation, to face the unknown and to break through in a positive way? What you believe matters, and it impacts the lens through which you see all of life and breaking through those self limiting beliefs and fears, and adversity is a real art, but it’s one that you can build—a skill and a capability.
Catherine Gates: Celia, it was fantastic. I think a lot of people got some great stuff out of that. I love that you talked about, you know, the need, like how are you going to bring other women along the need for community, there is so much here, Celia. Thank you so much. Fantastic job.
Celia Swanson: I hope you enjoyed this episode on overcoming self-limiting beliefs through faith. If you did, please leave me a five-star rating and please share it with your friends and colleagues. I’d also love it if you sent me a note, just to tell me what limiting beliefs are you facing today that are holding you back, and what practices did you take from the content that you can put into place today to help move you from being paralyzed, to being a catalyst. I’m so glad you joined us for this special episode. Join us again for the next episode of Gracious and Strong. Have a great week.