Zibby Owens: Don’t get too sad, but today is the last day of my ten days of a July Book Blast. I hope that you’ve enjoyed all these ten days. If you’ve missed them, go back and listen to Memoir Monday and Debut Tuesday and Body Blast and all the rest of the episodes that hopefully will have made your July just a little bit better. Today’s our last day. It’s self-help, inspiration, empowerment Friday. Let’s just call it Empowerment Friday. I hope that you feel encouraged and inspired and just awesome after listening to these episodes today.

Evy Poumpouras is the author of Becoming Bulletproof. She is a former Secret Service agent, co-host on Bravo TV’s series Spy Games, and national media contributor who covers national security, law enforcement, and crime. She regularly appears on The Today Show, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, HLN, and GMA. Evy holds an MA in forensic psychology and an MS in journalism from Columbia University. That was a lot of abbreviations. Anyway, enjoy Evy’s episode.

Welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” Evy. I’m so excited to talk to you.

Evy Poumpouras: Thank you. I’m so excited to be on. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Becoming Bulletproof is your latest book. You’re a former Secret Service agent. You’re a total badass. If there was ever a female embodiment of that word, it is you. Can you tell listeners, please, what your book is about and what inspired you to write it?

Evy: I wanted to take everything I learned and put it in the book almost like a life how-to manual for people out there. It was the training and the experience and all these things I got to do over the years, and the education, everything, all of that, I thought, how can I put this in a book to help people in their day-to-day lives? Over the years, constantly, I’m always bombarded with questions. How do I manage this problem? How would you do this? How would you deal with that situation? I thought, you know, people need to know this stuff. The stuff that I used and learned through work, I use in everyday life, in relationships not just in work, but also in my personal relationships with family, with friends, in business, and across the board. It really also is about becoming resilient. That’s why I called it Becoming Bulletproof because you’re on a constant journey to become better, stronger, more capable, more formidable. It’s about having and be able to execute that process.

Zibby: Let’s go to the beginning of the book because it opens with the most dramatic scene from 9/11 that you wrote so well. I literally felt like I was there with you, I was coming out having trouble breathing because the dust was in my mouth. It is a graphic and very compelling introduction, if you will, to your life and your bravery and all the rest. Can you just speak for a minute about that moment in your life and the importance it’s held for you since then?

Evy: I shared that story because — I don’t want to share the story, per se. I wanted to share it because there was a meaning behind it. It was something that was an intense situation. It’s something that happened many years ago, some of which some people weren’t even around for because it’s been so long. I wanted to share what I learned from that experience. I wanted the book and every story that I put in it to be a learning lesson for people because it was a learning lesson for me. I learned in that moment where you feel that there is no hope, that you can always find hope. You always have a choice. In that moment, I stayed with some of my colleagues. We stayed to help. We worked out of the US Secret Service offices which were located there and ended up getting caught in the collapse of the tower. Even in that moment where I thought, you know what, this is it, this is my end, I realized that I still had power and I had a choice. Although maybe I couldn’t choose whether I died or not, I could choose how I would face my death. I think we don’t think about that. We think that something happens to us, we think, that’s it. All the choices are out of my hands. There’s nowhere to go from here. Everything’s out of my control. I remember that moment clearly. I think if I can find hope in that moment, a choice in that moment, a power in that moment, then you can find hope and choice in anything. I’ve been able to do that from that point forward. No matter how difficult the situation comes — sometimes they can feel so overwhelming. We think, oh, my gosh, how am I going to get through this? I think of that moment. All of a sudden, a door opens here. A window opens there. You realize, I do have a sense of control. I do have a choice. It may not be the choice I want to make, but I have a choice to change and alter this outcome in some way.

Zibby: Wow. Of course, having that sense of control is really the difference between feeling depressed and hopeless. The more of the locus of control lays with you, the more empowerment and hope and ultimately happiness that you can get out of it, right?

Evy: Yeah. We navigate our own ship. You may end up in a storm, but you can still navigate the ship through that storm to some degree. You still have power. It’s about finding power in those powerless moment. Do we surrender to it and we just let everything completely demolish us? Or do we say, okay, I realize this is happening, this is a difficult situation, but then how do I navigate it? Then how do you look at it almost as a challenge? You can look at something as insurmountable or you can look at it as something like, well, this is a pretty cool challenge. How do I do this? I choose the latter because the first one has a negative connotation. It’s negative. It’s hopeless. The latter says, okay, this is a challenge. It also helps you problem-solve. In the first situation, we get stuck. We get stuck on the problem. We repeat. We repeat. We can’t move forward because we can’t accept it. In this latter situation, you say, I accept the situation, but now I’m able to move forward.

Zibby: I love that. This whole notion of power is something that I feel like courses through your book and your talk and all the rest. One thing that I found really interesting that you said is, “The person who speaks the least has the power.” Can you tell me more about that?

Evy: I learned this when I became an interviewer. I thought that that was the truth for the longest time. I navigate the conversation. I’m in control. What I learned is that that is not true. The person who says the least, that person has the most power. If you and I are speaking — this is a great example. Granted, it’s an interview. You’re asking me all these questions. You’re doing most of the listening. I’m doing most of the talking. You’re going to learn everything about me. At the end of this conversation, I’m going to know very little about you. I’m not going to know that much about you, but you’re going to understand me, the way I think, my life journey. Then you can come into the conversation in a more thoughtful way because you’re going to know what resonates with me and what doesn’t resonate with me. That is the same is any dialogue. Look at it as an interview process, and especially in the beginning or even if you’re going in to do a pitch or a business pitch to somebody. If you can have them start the conversation in a meaningful way, then they can guide you and help you figure out where to go rather than being completely in the blind. Less talking means more power because you’re gathering intelligence. Then when you do speak, you can speak so in a more impactful way. I also call this verbal economics. We should look at words as currency, if that makes sense. The way you’re mindful in the way you spend your money, by mindful in the way you spend your words. They can be impactful or they can lose impact because you’re just throwing them out there and not thinking about how you spend them.

Zibby: Now I’m afraid to say anything.

Evy: We should speak. We should be comfortable in speaking. What I wanted to introduce is that having thoughtfulness — the way we do that is slowing down, not just blurting out everything we want to say. We’ve all been there where we say something, myself included, and then I’m like, I shouldn’t have said that. That didn’t come out right. How did that have an impact? Our words impact the way our relationships go, whether good or bad. Again, I learned that over trial and error. I learned that over the years of doing hundreds of interviews. That’s why I feel like, look, I learned from these mistakes, learn from what I learned. Use the best skills that all the best communicators and interviewers and negotiators that I know use. You don’t get to go to Secret Service training. Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to. Here it is, but it’s for your life. It’s the how-to for life.

Zibby: Who can’t use that? We all could use a guide like that. Another point that I thought was really important that you said was how when communicating a position of authority you should show and not tell it. Can you explain that one a little more too?

Evy: Oh, yeah. Have we not all had that boss or maybe even done it ourselves? I’m the boss, you need to listen to me. I’m the person in charge. I’m the parent. What we don’t realize is that when we do that, we lose power. The minute you have to tell somebody you’re in charge, do you think they don’t know you’re in charge? If I’m the parent, do your kids not know you’re the parent? The fact that you have to say it shows that you’re losing power. The shift is to not tell people, but to show people. I learned this in the interview room because when I started interviewing people — I didn’t want to be an interviewer to begin with. I didn’t want to because I didn’t think I’d be able to get people to open up, especially people who commit crimes. What I wanted to do is to impact people, but I knew I had to show my authority in some way. One of the senior interrogators told me, “You don’t tell people you’re in charge. You show people you’re in charge.” You show them in the way you enter the room. You show them in the way you carry yourself and the way you present yourself, to the way you’re dressed, to the way you conduct yourself, to whether or not you show up on time or early or late to a meeting. All those things show people that you’re in charge. All those things show people that you are put together. When people see that, that impacts them. That speaks volumes instead of you throwing out the words like, “Hey, I’m in charge. You listen to me, buddy.” It doesn’t work. It doesn’t have that impact.

Zibby: I feel like you were watching my earlier interaction today with my five-year-old son. I was literally like, “I’m the mom. You’re the kid.” You’re right. It totally didn’t work. The problem is, at least with parenting — I don’t want to divert it to something as seemingly insignificant when you’re interrogating terrorists or whatever else. Anyway, but you can’t really communicate power by dressing nice or showing up for a meeting at the TV for Paw Patrol or something like that when you’re with your kids. It’s much harder, I feel like, when you’re on the clock 24/7 around these little beings to maintain that allure of constant authority.

Evy: You bring up a good point. There’s also ways in which you can do it in the way that you address them. This is a very simple thing. When you want to convey authority, especially for women, drop and deepen your voice. When you’re talking to your kid, changing the tone of your voice and the depth of your voice, in that moment when you’re trying to convey something serious, it’s going to change the way it lands on your child. Think about that. You’re shifting. They’re going to hear that tone. They’re going to hear that change. They’re going to think, she’s being serious in this moment. It’s going to cause them to listen different. It’s about the way we move and being fluid and also bringing out the version of ourselves in a specific moment that we want to convey to someone. You don’t want to be on all the time. It’s very exhausting. It’s very difficult. For example, in those moments — I do this even with my husband. In those moments when I want to convey something, where I want to be like, this isn’t the nice Evy you’re talking to at the moment, right now I need to lay down law, I’ll sit down. I’ll lock in eye contact. I’ll change my facial features. I’ll deepen my voice. Now I’m conveying authority rather than telling you, hey, I’m your wife, you need to listen to me. I don’t need to do that. Those are really subtle things that we can do that cause people to pause and listen.

Zibby: I think I might be a little intimated to be your husband.

Evy: He’s an interrogator as well, so he does the same thing to me.

Zibby: Oh, good. At least it goes both ways, oh, my gosh. What has it been like going from the seriousness of your profession to then translating it to all these different areas now? especially Bravo’s Spy Games, which by the way, my kids, that was the coolest thing that you did out of everything. Tell me about that and the show and transitioning from everything you’re doing to everything else you’re doing. It’s across the board.

Evy: It is across the board. I have to say it was difficult. Working in government, it’s very structured. It’s very linear. You do A then B then C. Things work out a certain way. Then also, the type of personalities you deal with, it’s just very different. I never had to even advocate for myself because I would always be advocating for someone else, the president, the first lady. When I was working a case, I’m advocating justice for a victim. It’s very different. Then you transition in a world where it’s the business of you. I was completely lost at first because now I have to speak for myself, something I never had to do before. It’s amazing how difficult it can be, how difficult it even was for me to, I don’t want to say demand, but to say, this is what I’m worth. This is what my value is. This is how I think this should proceed. I had to really transition. There’s also this remarkable lightness, like with Spy Games. I think when you spend your career doing things that are so heavy, so serious, so life or death, so to speak, you welcome the change. You welcome putting some lightness into life. I really did enjoy Spy Games. Even with the contestants, I loved watching the different contestants go through their journeys, especially the ones that stayed on longer. They resonated with me because you see people come in one way and you see them change. It was a competition series, a game series, but were also trying to transform them as people. It was remarkable when you would see that transformation happen. It’s almost like when I went through training. I went in one way. In the end, I came out a whole other person.

Zibby: What made you want to go down this path to begin with?

Evy: I’d been in the US Secret Service thirteen years. Initially, it was great. I loved my job. A producer from NBC —

Zibby: — That’s interesting too, but how did you get into wanting to serve as part of the Secret Service to begin with? How did you get to be so selfless that you would be willing to give up your life to protect other people in the name of the country and everything? What was it about you? How did that even start?

Evy: I think it was a process. I can’t say when I was a kid, when I grew up, I wanted to be that. I didn’t even want to go into law enforcement. Police would pull me over. If anybody didn’t like police, it was right here, this person. I was such a brat. I didn’t think about that. I think the turning point was, when I was in college, I interned for a congresswoman. I interned with her for about two years for free. Everybody thought I was all out of mind. My friends were like, “What are you doing?” It was one of the most meaningful things I ever did. It was Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. I began seeing constituents, people in her district, coming in with problems, writing in. I learned that people come in with problems and they ask for your help. I became one of those case workers where I would help people. It was such a meaningful thing to see the impact you could have on someone’s life. Some of the cases that would come in were serious. Some of the problems people had were serious, some not so serious. Maybe they were not so serious for me or for you, but for that person, having a really high electric bill that they couldn’t afford to pay, it was serious. I think that’s where the idea of public service came in.

Then also too, I did grow up in an environment in New York City in the eighties and nineties, so much violence. I grew up in a low-income area. We lived in public housing. We didn’t grow up in the best of situations. It definitely was not the worst, but it wasn’t the greatest. Being surrounded by fear and negativity and also being victims of crime — I remember a couple of times when we were, when my family would call the police and they wouldn’t do anything. I would be so angry. I’d be like, “We were violated. Don’t you guys care?” The law enforcement that I dealt with, they were kind of nonchalant like it was no big deal to them because it was no big deal to them, but my world had been turned upside down. I think all those things collectively over the years, it’s just little bit, by little bit, by little bit navigated and pointed me into the way of serving others. That’s truly how I ended up in that path. Then when I began doing the work, I realized when you do something, when you help other people, it’s so impactful. It actually helps you more than it helps them.

Zibby: I’ve found that to be true as well. What do make, then, of all the current uproar about police and the movement to defund the police or restructure the whole thing? We don’t have to really get into it, but I was just curious your thoughts.

Evy: Look, people are speaking up because there’s a reason to speak up. It’s not coming out of nowhere. Policing has to evolve. It’s a very slow system. It’s a very big system. It’s reluctant to change. It is. Policing typically has been very much about, even with the way they recruit — this is something I’ve been vocal about because we have to evolve. Policing has to evolve. It’s always been focused on somebody’s physical capability. That’s always been the primary thing when you go through training. I’ve been through four different academies. Can you run? Can you lift? Can you carry someone? Can you fight? Obviously, important things that you need to be able to do because you are enforcing the law. As we know, a lot of people don’t go willingly and it creates a problem. At the same time, people are demanding a more fair system, a more unbiased system, a more educated system, a system in where people are communicating.

You have to look at how you hire police. If you’re hiring officers, and plenty of police departments do this, with somebody who just has a college degree and maybe a year of work experience — think about that for a moment. Think about how that’s a problem. You’re going to give somebody like that, next-to-nothing life experience with just a high school degree, just because they can run faster than somebody else and do pullups better than somebody, you’re going to give them a badge and a gun and the ability to impact another person’s life by either taking away their freedom or taking away their life. We have to look at who we make police officers. I think that’s the crux of it, the quality of the candidates we’re bringing in, raising the standards, creating national standards, even polygraph testing. It’s a very controversial thing. In the US Secret Service, I was polygraphed multiple times. Then I would polygraph applicants coming in. I cannot tell you how many times people were coming in for a job, a job, and it would end up being a criminal interview in the end or they would confess to having committed certain acts. I’m thinking, you can’t be an agent. You can’t carry a badge or gun.

We would disqualify them, but get this. Then they would leave. They would go to another law enforcement entity that did not polygraph, that could not corroborate what I just did, and they would get the job. That’s the problem. We have to raise our standards and be very thoughtful about how we hire and who we hire. When you have an educated police force, even somebody who has a college degree — think about that. When you finish high school, you’re in your hometown with your friends and the same bubble of people you’ve been in your whole life. When you go to college, when you’re around other people, a diverse group of people, you learn to communicate, a different sense of responsibility is placed upon you, an appreciation of other people. It opens your mind. The more you read, the more you learn, the more you connect with people, now you have a different type of police officer. I really do believe that therein lies the crux of the issue, changing that.

Zibby: I feel like you need to be a main spokesperson for all of this. I know you are outspoken and all the rest. I feel like you need to be on the front page of the newspaper and getting on TV constantly.

Evy: You know what’s important? I talk to the law enforcement. It’s hard because you get so connected to it because you do it and you’re on the barrage. Don’t get me wrong, people are brutal. Society is brutal and cruel. I remember when I went into the police department. I started in NYPD. I was there very little. We used to run on the FDR highway here in New York City. The cars go fifty, sixty miles per hour as they’re cruising by. I remember people spitting up, aiming to spit on us, flipping us the finger, calling me horrible names. I’m thinking, what did I do to you? I don’t even know you. Because I was in uniform, they despised what I represented. I think it goes both ways. What you do is when you spit on that person, you also don’t know who they are. You don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. The majority of law enforcement, I will tell you, they don’t do it for the paycheck. They do it because they want to impact and have a meaningful life and give meaning to other people’s lives. Even my students, I tell them — I teach as an adjunct. When they see sometimes, the injustices, they say, “How do I change this?” I tell them, “Go become a police officer. Go become a prosecutor, a DA. Go become a judge. Change it. Don’t sit there and yell and scream and throw things and make the problem worse. Change it. Do something. I think that’s where we have to look at that.

Zibby: Gosh, you are so inspiring. I’m ready to change gears here in my mid-forties and become a prosecutor or something. Tell me about your experience actually writing this book. What was that like compared to your previous career? How did you find that experience?

Evy: Hard, hard, hard. I envy any other person out there who’s like, I love writing, I’m a great author. For me, it was so difficult. One, because I wanted to write a book to help people. That was, at core, the principle of why I wrote the book. I had to fight the other entities. They were like, “More stories about you. More stories about you.” I was just like, “This is not my memoir. If I’m writing something to help people, it can’t be about me.” If I’m going to share a story, I wanted it to have a reason as to why I was sharing that story. Look, that’s just my DNA. It’s just how I felt when I was writing it. Then at the same time, trying to articulate in a book all these different things that I do, these processes — I’d been doing them for so long. Even other agents I would see employing some of these same strategies and skills, but they didn’t have a name. I would see that we would handle problems a certain way. I’d go to work. Something crazy would be happening in the world, but you’d go to work, everyone would say, “Hey, what’s up?” We were never stressed out or bombarded with the drama of the world sometimes even when bad things were happening because we had been able to adapt to stressful environments very easily. We were able to absorb and digest negativity and crises in a thoughtful way.

Then you see the difference with the public. You’re thinking, man, I want to take this stuff and give it to the public so that when things are happening you don’t feel completely lost. You don’t feel like you completely want to fall apart. Over the years I was thinking, what have people come to me with over the years, the problems, the issues? How have I given them advice? Then also, how have I evolved? What has helped me? That part was difficult in trying to figure out what was meaningful and impactful to people. I wrote it as a book to — I love books. I think books really open the mind and broaden the mind. I’m a big audiobook listener. I love audiobooks. I don’t have time to read, so I listen. I was like, how can I help transform people? How can I write a book that people will go back and that will finish? That’s the other thing they told me. Nobody ever finishes nonfiction books. I was thinking, man, I don’t want that to be my book. I don’t want people to buy it and be like, oh, great, they bought my book. I wanted them to buy it and listen to it and to get an email and say, “Thank you. It changed my life.”

Zibby: Your book is already an Audible best seller, so mission accomplished.

Evy: I know. I put so much heart into the audiobook because I love audiobooks. I love it when I hear the author and the person who wrote it talk to me because you want to feel like they’re there with you. In truth, that’s what I wanted. It came from a place of authenticity. Yes, I’m here with you. Here’s my voice. Hear me. You’re going through this. It’s going to be okay. I know it sucks, but let’s figure it out. Here’s the steps you can do. I was so happy when I saw that. I was more excited about the audiobook than anything because of how important and valuable audiobooks have been to me.

Zibby: Now I have to go back and listen to the audiobook. I only had the e-manuscript or whatever. Now I’ll put that on in the car. Perfect. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Evy: Just be patient. Be kind to yourself. Don’t worry about making it perfect. In the beginning, I just kind of vomited my stuff. I really did. I spent a couple of months just vomiting information. I wasn’t worried about how it sounded or the structure of it. I was thinking about the content. Take breaks. If you’re just in it the whole time, your brain needs a little bit of a break. I would take breaks from writing. I’d say, I need to step away. I’m in it. I’m spinning my wheels. Let me go do something completely different that’s not so cognitive heavy and then go back into it. Those were the key things for me. One more thing, and I do it now because we’re all working from home for the most part. Every morning, I would get dressed as if I were going out on the days I would write. I would write from home. I’d even put shoes on. I’d sit down at my desk as if I were going to work. It caused a mental shift for me of, nope, I’m at work now. I’m not at home. That actually helped me be more productive in my writing rather than feel like I’m home and in my pajamas. I got rid of that vibe altogether.

Zibby: Wearing shoes, who knew? I’ve been doing it all wrong.

Evy: I do it now. Every morning, I wake up, I put my shoes on. I get dressed as if I’m going out. It just shifts the mindset because you’re like, no, I’m at work. When we’re at home, we get distracted. We’re home. We’re the home version of ourselves. It’s harder to have self-discipline in that way.

Zibby: You’re absolutely right. Wow. Evy, thank you so much. This has been just so eye-opening in so many ways. Thank you. Your book was amazing. I can’t wait to listen to the audiobook version now. The advice was invaluable. I just have so much respect for you and what you’ve done. What a role model of a woman you are and that I can go tell my kids all the things that you’ve done and you’ve been able to accomplish. It’s just really, really awesome. I’m really glad I got to know you a little bit today.

Evy: Thank you. I so appreciate the time and the conversation. Definitely, when you’re talking to them, just remember authority. Drop the voice. Lock in the eye contact. Go in. You’re going to see. I’d be curious. You’re going to see a shift in they way they receive you.

Zibby: Totally. I will channel you as I try to get them to bed.

Evy: Absolutely.

Zibby: Thanks so much.

Evy: Thank you. Be well. Stay safe. Buh-bye.

Zibby: You too. Thank you. Buh-bye.

So that’s it. That’s the last day of the July Book Blast. That’s the last of the Empowerment Friday episodes. Go back. Listen to the last ten days. There are so many amazing episodes. I really hope you’ve stuck with me and listened and sampled and gotten inspired to read more and gotten some great life tips along the way and above all, felt connected through the power of storytelling. Thanks for listening.