Natalie Franke, GUTSY: Learning to Live with Bold, Brave, and Boundless Courage

Natalie Franke, GUTSY: Learning to Live with Bold, Brave, and Boundless Courage

Zibby interviews author and entrepreneur Natalie Franke about her refreshing, encouraging, and practical guidebook, GUTSY: Learning to Live with Bold, Brave, and Boundless Courage. Natalie addresses the ingrained habit of downplaying achievements (using words like “just,” for example) and then discusses the fears that hold individuals back from pursuing their dreams. She delves into the neuroscience of fear and offers practical advice for combating it. Listeners are treated to an insightful conversation that serves as both a guide and an inspiration for embracing courage, confronting fears, and living a truly gutsy life.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Natalie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Gutsy: Learning to Live with Bold, Brave, and Boundless Courage.

Natalie Franke: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: My pleasure. Tell everybody the story of this book. Why write the book? Why be gutsy? What is the importance of being gutsy?

Natalie: The book was truly inspired by the work that I’ve done over the last decade of my life with small business owners. That was the inception of the inspiration. I, like everyone at the beginning of 2020, thought it was going to be my year. I know that sentiment can be shared for a lot of us. I chose a word for the year, as one does. My word was home. Didn’t know that that was a foreshadowing of the quarantine to come.

Zibby: You may have caused that whole thing to happen.

Natalie: I know. If you ask some friends of mine, they would claim it is all my fault.

Zibby: What’s your word for next year?

Natalie: I’ve stopped doing it. Another story for another day, but I had to stop because I realized perhaps my words have even more power than I realized. It just became a little bit too concerning. Anyway, I chose the word home. We sold our house. We moved into a Suburban. Truly, my husband, my ten-month-old, and I put our belongings in a Suburban. At the end of 2019, early 2020, we started driving across the country to meet with our community of small business owners. I had been supporting these business owners for several years. We had a community called the Rising Tide Society. Just going city to city. There were meetups of hundreds of business owners in each of these cities. Talking with people, asking them about, what would this year look like for them in their business? What were their goals? What were they going after?

Zibby: You started it based on your own photography business.

Natalie: Yes. I’m a small business owner by trade. Now in another season of life, I am still just a big mama bear for small business. Yes, that was the origin of why that community in particular for me. We’re driving city to city, rinse and repeat, hosting these meetups, talking to people. I truly sat with over two thousand people over the course of three months. We had to stop March 5th, 2020, for obvious reasons. Went all the way around the United States. I live near DC. We drove all the way down to Florida doing these meetups, around the entire peninsula of Florida, across the United States to the coast of San Diego and then all the way up the California coast. Truly, in the trenches with this community, with what many people call the backbone of America, the small business community. I’m talking to them and asking them all of these questions. What I started to uncover is that for so many of them, it wasn’t failure that was holding them back from going after what they wanted. It wasn’t that they pursued something and failed and decided they were never going to do it again. It wasn’t that they didn’t have the resources. These are entrepreneurs. They can figure it out. They know how to figure it out with no resources. They know what it’s like to be underestimated. It wasn’t that. I kept trying to figure out — we have this room full of geniuses every week when we’re stopping in a different city. I have this room full of brilliant humans, incredible ideas, amazing potential. Why aren’t they going after these things they’re talking to me about after I get off the stage? Why is nobody going after the things they want? Why aren’t people being gutsy in the way I know they can be?

It wasn’t failure. It was fear. It was fear, and fear, in particular, of what other people would think of them. When I started to boil it down, it came back to that. It set me on a little bit of a personal quest in the years that followed — actually, while I was writing my first book, Built to Belong — to just get to the root of this. Why do we care so much about what other people think of us? Why has the advice that we’ve been given failed us? What can we learn from science that can help to inform how we navigate this self-help reality around being more courageous? Gutsy was this merging of the experience of working with brilliant, incredible entrepreneurs that had big dreams, but so many of them weren’t even taking the first step. From a background in psychology and neuroscience — I studied at UPenn and did my degree in visual studies, but I was on the science track where I studied the science of seeing, ultimately, so a little bit of nerdiness in there. Then just honestly, this desire to give everyone a little kick in the pants after three years of going through it, recognizing that we deserve a gutsy ending. We deserve a moment of bold, brave, and boundless courage in the future after everything that we’ve gone through. It’s a little combination of those factors that inspired me to write the book.

Zibby: Amazing. That’s wonderful. The way you write is as if we’re having a conversation. It’s very relatable and approachable, which is wonderful because that’s the best way to, I feel like, get through to people. Can I just read the beginning of chapter three, Remember Who Are?

Natalie: Sure.

Zibby: “In the months after my daughter Harlow was born, I struggled. Heck, I more than struggled. I felt like a complete and utter failure as postpartum depression suffocated me from the inside out. It wasn’t the first time I had battled with my mental health. However, it was the first time in a long time that it felt like the darkness was winning.” Talk about that a little bit and that time in your life and how you got through that time in your life. That is gutsy to make it through that. So many people can relate to that, whether it’s postpartum or other stages or just this national depression that we can have together.

Natalie: Before I even get into that, I say in the book a little earlier on — part of what this is supporting is the assertion that each of us has a different definition of what it means to be gutsy, what it means to be brave. I say earlier on in the book, for one person, yes, it can look like these external measures of success, bungee jumping, doing some sort of extreme athletic event, getting a tattoo, and being bold and brave enough to do the thing. There are perceptions in the world of what it means to be brave. I make an argument that for some people, the bravest thing they can do is something like look in the mirror and accept who they are or get out of bed in the morning. That level of courage that it takes some of us to just get out of bed in the morning is something the world will never applaud, but yet I don’t want us to exclude it and exclude the significant magnitude of being brave enough to do those things in moments when we are struggling because they are brave. They are gutsy. I key it up with that. Then I share, again, yes, a little bit vulnerably from my own journey. I’ve been open throughout my life about my health. I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in my early twenties and have struggled with depression and anxiety. Whether it’s connected or not, I’ll never know. I sometimes joke that it actually has nothing to do with it. It’s just I’m an eldest daughter, and we sort of are born that way.

Zibby: Wait, how many younger siblings do you have?

Natalie: Just one, but one’s enough. Let me tell you.

Zibby: Younger brother or younger sister?

Natalie: Younger sister and then three younger cousins. I was the oldest grandchild, oldest child. I share openly over the years about my own struggles with physical health, mental health, all of that. After Harlow was born, even with the tools that I had spent my life — isn’t this how it works? The tools I’ve gained over the years of my life of going through these things, the coping mechanisms, the awesome mental health professionals that I’ve worked with, all of that, still found myself in a really, really dark place. I know a lot of people can relate to that, especially in the postpartum season. Especially if people have never dealt with it before, it’s a shock when it happens for a lot of us and something people don’t like to talk about. What I also, though, want to share in that chapter and why it’s named Remember Who You Are is because I recognized, in particular, on a day when, like I said, it felt like the darkness was winning — it was over and over again this exhaustion to even pull myself from the bed and just feeling like, if I can’t even do that, what’s the point? This is a battle I’m not going to win. I really was hitting a very, very low point. My husband came up to me. It will forever be seared into my memory. I was crying. I was losing it. I remember him gently taking me by the shoulders and looking me in the eyes and saying to me, “Natalie, remember who you are. Remember what you’ve overcome. Remember how strong you are. Remember what you can do. Remember how many people need you, love you, respect you. Remember what you’re capable of. Don’t you dare forget it.”

It just jarred me in the moment and, a little bit, woke me from the daze of what I was going through, seeing that one other person truly saw me but also wanted to ensure that even though right now I couldn’t see it and even though right now I didn’t feel it, that one day, I would find my way back to myself. In the days and weeks that followed that, I remember when things would get hard or when I would start to spiral, it was as if those words would just yank me back from the twister into descending despair of saying, no, but I am strong. I am capable. I have overcome every difficult thing in my life, and I’m still here. There was this sense of reminding all of us, when you face something that scares you, when you face something you’re not sure you can overcome, that you don’t lose sight of just how much you already have overcome. You don’t lose sight of the accomplishments that maybe the world has never seen, the childhood moments where you chose to get back up again when you fell, figuratively or literally, when you dealt with a heartbreaking moment, a loss, a relationship that tore you apart. You kept going. When you fell out of love with your body postpartum and you learned to love yourself again, these are things that we so quickly dismiss, we so quickly ignore, we treat as though it’s not important. Yet I think there is tremendous power in going back to the root, remembering who we are, and also being very intentional about the stories that we tell ourselves about that past knowing that we are the author, very much, of our own story. Therefore, we have a lot of power in how we craft the words that then empower us to move forward and be gutsy in our lives.

Zibby: I hope you have a speaker’s agent or something and that you’re on the road giving this talk because I was almost crying just hearing you say all of that. It’s really motivating. As you were finishing talking, I was like, I’m going to send this to this person. I’m going to send this clip to this person. You got to take this show on the road. I’m sure you already are. It’s powerful stuff.

Natalie: You’re very kind.

Zibby: The Chumbawamba quote, by the way, “I get knocked down, but I get up again,” I literally was going to put that in a book I wrote or somewhere. Somebody was like, you can’t just make that the quote on the cover of your book. I was like, I feel like that is my anthem. I loved that. Another thing that I also say to people — you have a whole thing in here and said it much better. I always hear people saying, well, I’m just a mom. I just have one kid. I just wrote the one book. I just did the this. I’m just a whatever. I’m always like, there is no “just.” There is no “just.” Stop it. You have a much better way that you address this in the book, which I loved. You said basically the same exact thing. I promise I’m not copying you. I feel you. Can I just read this part? Is that okay?

Natalie: Yes, go for it. Go for it.

Zibby: “In the small business world, many of us have been on a mission for years to eliminate this term from our vocabulary and transform the way that we talk about ourselves and the work that we do. When used alongside parts of our identity, it becomes even more damaging, and again, most of us don’t even realize that we’re doing it. I am just a…blank. I am just a photographer. I am just a teacher. I am just a stay-at-home parent. Whew! This gets me all fired up. I wish you could see me furiously typing away at my keyboard with that angry mama bear look in my eyes. I need you to hear me when I say –” Then you have a space and then this phrase in bold and then another big space. “You are not just anything. The work that you do matters. Your contributions matter. We need to eradicate this adverb from being used in our vocabulary like this. Stop downgrading the work that you do by throwing ‘just’ immediately before your title. Language matters. It impacts how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive our self-confidence. If you swap out the word ‘just’ for any one of its synonyms, it becomes even clearer how language is harmful. Yikes. Isn’t this awful? Let’s cut it out, kick it to the curb, and hold one another accountable to stop saying it.”

Natalie: Yes, yes. I know, I’m so passionate about this. I think it’s because I was doing it. I still catch myself doing it. It’s very much engrained, I think with the, perhaps, intent of humility, like from the standpoint of, oh, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s passive language. It’s passive language, particularly, that women use. It’s been gently socialized into our very well-being of how we navigate the world, of wanting to make ourselves smaller and more palatable, pleasing to others, not take up space, not be too loud, not be more than we should be. We’re just enough. We’re quieting ourselves. Again, I could go on and on about, perhaps, the harmful nature of that. One of the learnings I’ve had, as well, in my work — not to go off on a tangent too much — is that it’s one thing if somebody else tells us who they think we are. It can hurt. It can definitely cause harm, but it is nowhere near as harmful as when we select the words to tell ourselves who we are. The hope here is to say even if outside, people are going to criticize your choice for being a teacher or a parent or a parent who works from home versus who works in an office — all parents work, by the way. All moms work. There is nothing harder, truly — in the pandemic, having certain seasons where my corporate work would stop and I was full time with my kids, immensely hard work. More than full-time work.

The point being, the world will always have opinions. We have the choice of whether we make those our opinions. There’s a huge portion in the book where I actually talk about the science of opinions, the fact that we have to acknowledge that the opinions we are surrounded by have a far more impactful day-to-day influence on our lives than we realize. From a science perspective, if you’re curious about this, there are really cool studies about this where you can completely change the way that somebody even perceives something by how you ask a question. Then they absorb it. They think about it. It is fascinating. You have to be really intentional about, one, and we talk about this in the book, being discerning in what opinions you allow to surround you. Some of it, you have no control over. Your inner circle, you do. The content you consume, to a degree, you do. You have this ability to be intentional with those opinions. Then again, most importantly, it comes down to, once you take those inputs in, how are you talking about yourself? What language are we using? Are we allowing passive language to become part of our vocabulary in describing our identity? Are we, like I said, even discounting our own courage and saying, so-and-so did X, Y, Z, why is it so hard for me to just get out of bed? Playing comparison games with something like courage, those narratives that we tell ourselves are so important. Jon Acuff calls them soundtracks and says that oftentimes, the soundtracks in our mind that repeat over and over and over again can dictate the symphony of our life, how we move forward. It’s an important thing to take into consideration.

Zibby: I’ve been talking a lot and thinking a lot lately about fear because people are afraid to speak up in the current environment on lots of different levels. There is fear in general. Right now, I feel like fear is dictating a lot. Some people are angry at the people who are scared for not doing things that they wish they would do. I’ve been trying to talk to people the way I talk to my kids. When my kid is really scared, it never makes them feel better to give them shame about their fear. You’re not going to change their fear by being like, oh, my god, that’s ridiculous that you think that something is going to happen in the dark, or saying, just stop being scared and do it. That doesn’t work. That is not how it works. I have to sit with them, be like, I understand, let’s make it just a little darker tonight. Gutsy, I feel, is the flip side of fear. It’s the antidote. There are lots of ways to get there. When people feel paralyzed by fear — I feel that fear really is paralyzing. You kind of shut down. You’re like, I can’t do anything. I’m stuck. What is the solution for grown-ups that is not sitting in the dark with someone? How would you try to get the first step away from fear? All those business owners in the room with you, for instance, what’s just the first step people can take to try to gradually get themselves away from a place of fear, even if the fear is justified?

Natalie: A couple things quickly. One, there is nothing wrong with you for being afraid. Fear is built into your neurobiology. We are afraid to keep us alive. Now, whether the fears are justified or not is another conversation. Whether they’re based in rational — I feel this way because… I can see evidence for that. That’s a different story, but fear very much exists. I can’t remember if it’s chapter one or two, I actually say, if anyone has ever told, just stop being afraid of what other people think, stop worrying about what other people think, you can’t. There’s nothing broken about you. It’s a feature, not a bug, in the tech world, is something we’ll say at times. It’s designed that way. You’re actually designed that way. I actually believe, number one, it’s accepting that it is actually okay to be afraid, that fear is natural. Fear is very much part of the human experience. It is woven in for, I believe, good reasons, to keep us alive. However — I talk about this a little bit in the book. I talk about it more, actually, in my first book. One of the most eye-opening realizations I had in studying the human brain is that the rate of evolutionary change in the brain can’t even keep up or compare to the rate of societal change and cultural change that human beings have endured. What I mean by that is we’re operating with very similar neural hardware, same brain, that ancestors two thousand years ago had. If you were to take an ancestor from two thousand years ago and drop them on Main Street, USA, today, could you imagine what a different world they would encounter, how different our lives are today from the lives that our ancestors experienced?

Meaning, the brain, it could be argued — I believe this. Although, again, hypothesis. It could be argued that although our world has evolved, the brain has not. Therefore, we are operating with ancient neural hardware that, designed with great intent to keep us alive with this fear that we experience, can actually go awry under modern circumstances. I think I mentioned this from the standpoint of, if you see a tiger chasing after you, your brain and your body is supposed to react in a certain way. You’re supposed to be afraid. You’re supposed to have a rush of adrenaline. There’s a reason why cortisol floods your body in that moment. This is all by design. It tremendously impacts your ability to run away from the predator. However, there is a big difference between an actual tiger and a man in a tiger mascot costume. These aren’t the same things. Yet metaphorically speaking, oftentimes today, fear can feel as though the real tiger is chasing us, metaphorically, when it’s Uncle Bill in a tiger mascot costume on the football field drinking a brewski. We have trouble at times discerning the difference.

I experience this all the time in my own life. I’ll give an example. Parents maybe can relate to this. I love moms listening to this. When something very small very quickly becomes kind of distorted and expanded from an anxiety lens, from a perspective of worry and concern on maybe a more passive side, I think about my kid not wanting to wear his coat in the winter. Can anyone relate to this? Again, my child not wanting to wear his coat is the man in the mascot costume. Could it cause him harm? Possibly. I’m running him in and out. That’s fine. There is a part of me, a deep fear part of me, at times, that thinks, in a spiraled way, but then what are other people going to think? Are they going to think I’m neglecting my child, that my child doesn’t have a coat? By the way, people do make comments all the time about, where are the hats? Where are the gloves? Where are the coats? It’s like, but to get him in and out of the car seat — he doesn’t want to wear it. Is it worth the fight? Then I go on. You could very easily create a fear and a concern that then expands in a way that perhaps doesn’t connect to its origin. The first thing I want to just cover here is it’s natural. Second thing I want to cover is it’s by design with good intent, I believe, but ultimately, we’ve entered an era where sometimes our neural hardware is actually hindering us just a little. These fears that were meant to protect us, were meant to keep us safe can actually hold us back and cause us harm.

Then in the book, we go into more tactical details around different ways to combat this. For one, I talk about always starting from a foundation of values. It’s a great exercise, by the way, to do, whether it’s around fear, indecision, difficulty discerning a path forward and fear playing into that. Starting with a foundation of values, it sounds sort of fluffy. It sounds very easy. I would argue that I bet anyone listening to this would say, of course, values matter to me. I’m a value-driven person. However, I think a lot of us would have more difficulty communicating what the top five values are that we hold dear. What are the top three values that we make decisions by? It’s not going to be the same person to person. I recommend actually sitting down — I credit my amazing, amazing therapist with this. This was one of the activities she did with me when I was going through the discernment process during my infertility journey around, do I keep going, or do I stop? I was torn either way. Fear was crippling me either way. It was either I invest all this money, all this physical pain, this time, this wear and tear on my body to go through IVF after all these failed other paths have led me to and not even get the result I’m hoping for — that terrified me. Then the flip side of no longer pursuing parenthood and then spending the rest of my life afraid of, what if I had? Feeling like either option was terrifying. I talk about it from this lens of these types of decisions that can be really hard. Starting with a foundation of values, getting clear on those three to five values, and then running your fears through those can be immensely helpful.

Another thing I talk about, more loosely because I am not a mental health professional — yes, I’m a nerd. I’ve studied the brain, but there is a vast difference actually working with one. If this is something that you feel is not only impacting you maybe on a goals levels, but truly day to day, there is no shame in it. If you’re afraid or you don’t know where to start, send me a DM. I will direct you. There are incredible resources to help you find somebody to chat with about it. That’s another thing you can do. Third, audit your inner circle. A lot of the time, I find, as I mentioned, opinions mattering immensely to how we perceive ourselves, how we navigate the world, our own opinions being shaped significantly by the opinions that surround us, which was something I’ve always found fascinating. For example, if you enter a friend group and you hate Gilmore Girls, but everybody loves Gilmore Girls, eventually, you’re going to like Gilmore Girls. According to science, you’ll eventually get swayed. You’re going to not know it was never your idea in the first place. That goes with politics. It goes with religion. Literally, the opinions that surround us impact us, even when we claim we’re independent thinkers. It’s just science. It’s how the brain works. It’s a protection mechanism. More in the book on that if you’re curious. You do have to craft that inner circle. If fear is holding you back, I would just ask you, who in your inner circle are the ones that challenge you? Again, I say this too, an inner circle isn’t just “yes” people. An inner circle can’t just be your cheerleaders. That’s an echo chamber. If everyone’s saying yes, they’re saying the same thing that you say, that is not an inner circle. That is an echo chamber.

What you need in an inner circle, it’s a combination of different individuals. You need people, yes, that cheer you on and root for you. They’re there because you need support. You, though, also need people that share your values, have your best interest at heart, but maybe come to the table with a different lived experience, maybe a different set of challenges they’ve overcome. Maybe they’re older. Maybe they’ve been through more. Maybe they’re younger, and they just vastly view the world in a different way. They challenge you. They either challenge you to step beyond your confirmation bias, which I talk about too, of just looking for evidence of what you already believe to be true all around you rather than seeking truth, rather than challenging your assertions. You need those people in your circle too. If fear is holding you back, I also say sometimes you have to look around you, not just within you. You have to take into account, is this fear maybe being fed by somebody or something in your world, this opinion you’re consuming? Is it social media, who you’re following? Is that making you more afraid?

You mentioned people being afraid to speak out. I know that is something that’s very real right now. There are consequences to having an opinion. There always have been. They seem to be tremendously painful in 2023 in a world where everything has a permanent footprint and everyone has access to both share their opinion and give you their take on your opinion. Yes, it’s very, very hard, but I would challenge you, as well, to say, are you just living in the consumption of cancel culture and the fear of its existence? Are you taking time offline to surround yourself in real human conversations where people can look one another in the eye and mirror neurons fire? There’s a difference. When mirror neurons fire, we have something called empathy. With empathy comes true impact and true change and, perhaps, true ability to vocalize your opinion and be open to receiving criticism that isn’t so painful, so wounding, and so permanently damaging before then expanding into other spaces. I could go on and on. I’ve rambled a lot.

Zibby: That was great.

Natalie: Literally, the whole book talks about it, so feel free to dig in.

Zibby: It’s amazing. Natalie, thank you. This is amazing. You are such a font of knowledge and inspiration. Your brain is on overdrive. It’s amazing. No, it’s good. You have a lot to share. Your passion totally comes through. We need that. We need that so much. We really just need that. Thank you for the book, which is fabulous, Learning to Live with Bold, Brave, and Boundless Courage. This is a great book for now. Fabulous cover too, by the way, with this bold yellow. Look for this book in your local stores, everybody. I’ll be following along. I feel like we need people to be out front helping other people join them.

Natalie: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Have a great day. Buh-bye.

Natalie: Bye.

GUTSY: Learning to Live with Bold, Brave, and Boundless Courage by Natalie Franke

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