We live with multiple identities: the one we show to the public, our families, friends, and ourselves. How could you live with yourself if you lie to yourself and everyone else? Playing charades can be exhausting and will also destroy everything. Today, Dr. Karen Bradford, the CEO of CLG | Karen Bradford Consulting, expresses her insights on how to guard yourself, to live with yourself. Dr. Karen emphasizes that you don’t need to address everything, even if you have inner strength and hope because there is solace is golden. Dr. Kim Grimes and Dr. Karen agree on the value of communication in relationships and why it is key to strengthening the connection. Don’t stray away from yourself, and find solace with Dr. Karen Bradford in this episode.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
How To Guard Yourself To Live With Yourself With Dr. Karen Bradford
We are here for another exciting episode. It’s always an honor to have you join us. I’m grateful and full of joy to have you take the time out to be here with us. We’re still on the same topic. You know how we do things around here, but if this is your first time jumping in with us, we have a topic and I bring in multiple guests that will talk on the same topic. Why? Because we want different perspectives. We all are different. That’s why the show is called You Are You Unapologetically because we all are different. Let’s jump in.
Since we’ve been on this topic every week, somewhere along the line, you are going to read in the newsfeed or hear it on the news where somebody was found out. This person had a secret. They had something going on in the background of their life and now everybody knows it. It has been discovered that they’ve been living a double life. They’ve been lying to the people that depend on them, lying to their families, friends, colleagues, coworkers, and people in their community, and not to mention, to themselves as well.
Now, they have been found out, discovered, uncovered, or busted because they’ve been harboring and living with a secret. How could they do such a thing? How could they live with themselves? One might ask, “How could they carry on for so long, keeping up a charade? Can you see them showing up for dinner and acting normal as if nothing happened while looking into their spouse’s eyes and their children’s faces? How could they betray their family? How could they betray their friends, not to mention their community, knowing that one day it may become public knowledge?
Once it does, it’s going to destroy everything. It’s going to destroy their families and friends. It’s going to undermine their career and their life. How they live with themselves is the question. The reason it is so difficult for me to imagine how could they live with themselves is that we put ourselves in their situation and think, “I couldn’t live with myself,” or “I couldn’t do what they did and live with myself. My conscience or my integrity will not allow me to do such a thing and live with myself.”
Here’s the truth, we can live with ourselves. If my current self is left unattended, if my current inner self or landscape is left neglected, or if my current inner being does not see a better future for myself, I can live with myself. In fact, my current self will live with myself in spite of the unhealthy version I have become.
Let me get to this point where my external self or the side where people see what is so far away from what I truly am on the inside, it’s easy for me to think, “It can’t happen to me.” It’s easy for you to think the same thing, but as I said, that’s what we think. It can’t happen. Here’s the thing, it does happen. In our series, we are still talking about how to guard your inner self or your true being, so that you can live with yourself. This series is all about you living with you. How can you live with yourself?
Allow me to share a scripture reference. As you know, I am a Jesus follower. A few days ago, was Resurrection Sunday. I want to give a cheer to Jesus. Proverbs 4:23 says, “We should guard our heart with all diligence because from out of it flows the issue of life. I’m prompted to hold my arms here when I say my heart, but I also want us to remember that our mind can be our heart too. This scripture here implies that whatever we allow to enter into our hearts, if not examined or evaluated properly, will undoubtedly be expressed in our lives and actions in positive or negative ways. No ifs, ands, and buts about it.
I talked about this book called As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. The title of this book was also pulled out from Proverbs chapter 23:7. It says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” A quote from the book says, “The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, and his power for good. The calmness of the mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves.” Even though we say man, we’re talking about men and women, or humanity. Circumstances do not make the man, it reveals him or her to themselves.The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater his success, influence, and power for good. Click To Tweet
In this series, we are interchanging the word heart for inner self or inner being. Here’s something else that we do know. When we talk about life, we know that life is not always kind. For some of us, life has been rough and has dealt us some bad hands. We don’t have to live long to know that it’s hard on our souls.
When I say soul, I’m talking about my interior life or inner being or your inner being. It’s that inside part of you, fears, worries, hopes, dreams, wishes, experiences, disappointments, and failures, all while putting on a happy face. Who do people get when they get you? Who do people get when you show up? Who do they get when you go to work or school? When you’re hanging out with your friends, interacting with your loved ones, and spending time with your spouse and your children, who do people get when they get you? How do you show up? Are you one way with a group of people and another person with another group of people? Is your person on the outside completely different than the person on the inside?
Here’s the thing, whether it’s our appearance, performance, or reputation, we attend to those outward things much faster than we do our inner things. It’s because we know people are looking at us and the world is watching us. They’re expecting stuff from us. They’re competing with us. They’re competing for approval, acceptance, attention, and progress. It’s natural for us to pay attention to our exterior landscape. It’s natural. I want you all to know that. We all have a public life that is on display every single day, but there is only one person who can be attentive to your soul. There is only one person who can be attentive to what is going on in your heart and your inner being.
How can you live with yourself? What habits do you have that will ensure that the self you are living with is the self that is on display? What convictions, values, and beliefs do you have that will ensure that what people see on the outside is what they’re getting? Here’s a fact. If our inner being is healthy or even super healthy inner being is left unattended, it can become unhealthy. Nothing gets better when left unattended. Think about it, what gets better when left unattended?
The health of your inner being determines your capacity or ability to live with a version of yourself that you don’t like or never desire to be. The health of your inner being determines how wide the gap is between who you are and who you pretend to be. It determines how far that gap is going to expand before you finally crack, confess, break down, or be found out. The health of your inner being, your heart, or your soul has very little tolerance for the lack of integrity.
A healthy heart or healthy inner being realizes that what’s going on inside is not reflected on the outside. When they see that what is reflected on the outside is showing up better than what’s on the inside, that healthy inner being or healthy inner self is going to say to you, “We need to do some work. Let’s go and check on you. Let’s get this right.”
The healthy inner self is one. The integrity on the inside and the outside are in sync and should be in sync. The health of your inner being or inner self determined how far things can go before you are conscious and won’t let you pretend anymore. The health of your soul determines how willing you are to lie to other people and how easy it is for you to lie to yourself.
When you are no longer the self you used to be, the self you want to be, or the self you always thought you would be, and the true you that people can see, you are truly neglecting the health of your inner self. Neglect the health of your inner being and it will ultimately come back and haunt you. It will hurt you. More specifically, it will hurt the people that are around you who are most important to you. Don’t fool yourself because it will.Neglect the health of your inner being, and it will come back and haunt you. Click To Tweet
It’s so hard for me to fool myself because we all have the potential to become someone we would despise if our inner beings are left unattended. We will become unimaginable. You could do the unthinkable and unimaginable thing, and live with yourself. People do it all the time. It happens every day. People think that it could not happen to them. I don’t want you guys to get it twisted because it will.
The difference between those who avoid becoming unimaginable and doing the unthinkable is the health of their inner being, inner landscape, heart, or soul. They have the willingness and ability to pay close attention to what’s going on inside. Let me ask you, do you? If not, how can you live with yourself? If so, how can you live with yourself? That’s the topic that we’re discussing. We’re in our 5th or 6th episode. This is a 6 to 8-episode series discussing how can you live with yourself. We do that because we want different perspectives for our diverse audience.
Now, I want to introduce you to our next amazing, awesome, and phenomenal guest. This person is all of the above. Our amazing, awesome, and phenomenal guest is the CEO of CLG Karen Bradford Consulting, providing leadership development and project management services to clients in the public and private sectors. She is a sought-after expert, thought partner, and information architect.
Karen serves as the State Systemic Improvement Lead for the South Carolina State Department of Special Education Services with a $51 million allocation. She has positively impacted 86 school districts and over 200,000 students, families, and educators. Karen is a consultant in the ed tech industry guiding large-scale implementation that embed inclusive and equitable learning solutions. I told you she is all of the above, amazing, awesome, and phenomenal. Please help me to welcome, Dr. Karen Bradford to the show. Welcome, Karen. I’m so glad that you’re here.
Thank you, Dr. Kim. It’s a pleasure being with you and your audience.
I’m so glad that you said yes and be on the show. Here’s something that I ask all of my guests because I want our audience to connect the dots. Can you share with our audience how did we meet?
I remember months ago, I was in my coaching cohort early in the morning. This very exuberant personality bombards our cohort. I’m like, “Who is this amazing woman? She’s full of energy first thing in the morning.” We have our coaching calls and we take a moment to assimilate to the new learning and things. We’ve got to know each other a little bit better as we come on the coaching calls with one of our phenomenal executive coaches.
It has been a pleasure to hear more and more about you as we continue to grow individually and personally as well in our businesses. We’re on this ride of getting better and being constant thinkers and reflective practitioners of our craft. It was a pleasure meeting you and I continue to look forward to future opportunities.
Thank you. I too was so excited to be in that tribe of women who is all about serving and giving back. It’s not about us taking. It’s about how can we serve like, “I want to do it, pick me.” It is truly a great community and tribe. I am so glad you are a part of it. Thank you for those kind words. I also asked this question because the name of the show is You Are You Unapologetically. Please tell me or share with our audience what it means to you to be you unapologetically.
To be an unapologetically Karen is to be honest. I’m almost honest to a default. To me, that’s very important. That was a characteristic that I grew up with. It’s to always be honest. I’m also a deep thinker. Being a deep thinker means that I can perhaps come off as not in tune or I’m just observing. I don’t like to be impulsive and speak beforehand. I’m oftentimes looking and listening before I necessarily make a comment or make action.
I’m also very intentional. I’m coming with an analytical mind and the ability to think and observe. I’m also very much purposeful and intentional before I do something because I’m always passionate about whatever I put my hands to. When I think about those things, with that passion comes caring. I deeply care for people and their life’s purpose. Those are the things that come to mind. It is my desire for those who come in contact with me on a regular basis to receive from me as well.
At the end of the day, it’s about you being you. You shared all of the qualities and characteristics that show up in you when you show up. That sounds awesome. Thank you so much. I like when you said honest and sometimes you’re too honest, but it’s still a good thing as well. At this point in your life, are you happy living with yourself or are you still working on becoming the person you can live with?
I’ve done the inner work or heart work in the last couple of years to say that now I’m happy with who I see in the mirror. I hadn’t always been there for several different reasons. To be honest, our executive coach, Mary, I met her at a very opportune time. She asks very profound questions as I’ve been doing that self-improvement. The Karen I see in the mirror today has shed lots of different skin. While in the past, I’ve been scared to be honest, even though I say I’m honest. Now, I’m honest unapologetically and it is what it is.
That’s what I’m talking about. I say all the time that I owe nobody an apology when I’m being me. When I’m faking phony, let me go around and start apologizing. When I’m being me, I don’t owe you an apology. I appreciate that. Thank you for sharing that the Karen that you see now in the mirror was not what you saw years back because it’s a growth process.
I’m so glad you said that too because if you still see that same Karen that you saw years back, it indicates either you’re stagnant, something is something going on, or you’re stuck somewhere. We’re talking about whether can you live with yourself. What are some incidents or a situation that you can share with our audience that caused you not to want to live with yourself? Is there something that occurred that you’re like, “This has to change?”
It is cataclysmic. About seven years ago, unfortunately, we lost my daughter in a car accident. Forty-five days later, I received letters from women who said they had affairs with my husband which ended up being true, and it became more of a public debacle. It was at that time when I had to truly take time out to look at who Karen was. I called that co-grief in my book, that whole simultaneous process of grieving a loss of a child, but also grieving what I thought was my marriage, I’m thinking I’m living unapologetically being a wife and doing, but it wasn’t what I thought it was.
Being able to shed those skin and peel back those layers and get back to the core of, “Who is Karen? Let’s do some self-examination. Let’s peel away before we try to heal and act or pretend like we’re okay. Let’s heal from the inside out. Let’s do the work and get it right.” I took eighteen months off of work and said, “I’m going to truly ensure that Karen is unapologetically Karen, so when I come back out, I don’t have to apologize, explain, and be something that I’m not. I can just speak and move forward.”Do some self-examination. Peel away the mask before we try to heal and pretend we're okay. Let's heal from the inside out. Click To Tweet
Though it was detrimental, I’m thankful that we were able to resurrect our marriage. We are in better places now, but it was hard to look at myself in the mirror for a while. It’s like, “Who are you really?” Especially when situations like that come about, you learn who truly are your friends. Were they really what they appear to be or were they manipulative and had other agendas? You assess everything. When you come out, what’s left is the core of what needs to remain. All else passes away.
My condolences for your loss. When we got on, we said it’s not an easy thing. My audience knows that at the age of 24, I was a widow. I was broken, bitter, mad, and all those things. That’s what inspired me because I transformed. What I heard you say was you worked on yourself. You stopped and took the time out and said, “Before I take another step or go another further, I need to work on Karen.” You didn’t rush through it. You took your time because grieving is one thing, but being hurt is another. As an emotional literacy life coach, you cannot run and hide from your emotions. You have to deal with them head-on. You have to sit with them and have a conversation with them. I want to commend you because that was not easy at all.
I’m thinking of what I went through when I lost my husband and lost my identity, and how I was showing up. Fast forward, I’m nothing like I used to be. Thank you, Jesus. I want to acknowledge you for that because it’s not easy. The one thing I heard you say is that you worked on yourself. It’s about doing the work.
Some people don’t want to do the work. That’s why it’s easy for them to be busted and found out because they don’t want to do the work on themselves. They don’t want to check in on their inner selves to see what’s going on. You indicated that there are times when you couldn’t even look at yourself in the mirror. How did that impact you and impact your life? I then want you to flip it because you have done the work. Having that inner self, how has it made your life better?
I’m going to go to the Bible. Proverbs 14:10 says, “Don’t expect anyone else to fully understand both the bitterness and the joys of all you’ve experienced in your life.”
I want to know, when you were in that space, the impact that it had on you and the people around you. As you were sharing where you were, you had to get out of that space. In that space, you still had to interact. How were you showing up? What was happening? When you did the work, which then transformed you, how did that make your life better?
I’m the one that withdraws when there’s trauma. I don’t fight. I described it in the book, and I got this from a grieving book, as almost being frozen in place and slowly defrosting, but I was doing it all in one location. I wasn’t fleeing to a place. I retreated. I felt like I was going back into the cocoon. I literally withdrew to examine because remember, I’m an analytical thinker. I’m thinking about my connections, family, friends, and work relationships. At this time, I just got my doctoral degree in this area and I said, “This is not what I thought it was going to be. I don’t want to be on this side. I want to be on the other side.” I have all these things going on and I withdrew.
When I withdrew, that silence was peace to me, but deafening to others. I’m the helper. If anybody needs something, I’m giving and doing it honestly. I’m doing it from my heart. I’m intentional about it. After going through all these different pieces of trauma from different areas of my life, I’m like, “What part of my life is real?” Instead of me continuing perhaps a false narrative or a false connection, let me retreat to make sure I show up as my real self so when I come through on the other side, I was able to clearly set my boundaries. I wasn’t as clear before. Perhaps, I might have allowed the lines to be blurred.
When I came back out as that transformed person, I could clearly say, “This is what I want. This is what I don’t want. Thank you for the offer but no thank you. Not at this time.” That gave me voice and value in a new way where people didn’t see me as the damsel in distress or this poor person. I’ve always had an inner strength and inner hope. I might not necessarily have expressed it before but what they see is this resolve and no worries in terms of I don’t have to address everything. Sometimes silence is golden.
As a talker, I had to learn that.
It impacted those around me because then they had to assess themselves because I wasn’t automatically catering to what I would’ve catered to before. When we work on ourselves because that’s what they tell you in relationships or in marriages, “Work on yourself.” You work on yourself being a spouse. That’s true in any relationship, friendship, family, or whatever. That’s what began to happen. Slowly but surely, there were some relationships that didn’t continue, but at this healed place, I was okay with that. When I was in an unhealed place, I was anxious, worried, and concerned. Now that I know who I am, I am confident, and have my voice back, I’m good.
I always say, especially when I’m working with young people, as an adult, we get to choose. I get to choose whose playground I’m going play in. I get to choose who gets to come into my playground. If I’m going to play in your playground, I’d be checking out to see if your sliding board is broken, your swings are raggedy, or your seesaw has lost the see and it’s only saw. I’m going to be looking. If I see that your playground is jacked, I’m going to be like, “I don’t know about you coming up in here because you have to take care of your playground.”
I use that metaphor in a number of ways. One is talking about our inner self because it shows on the outside, even though we try to hide it, but also talking about relationships. You shared about your marriage and said it was resurrected. You’ve already shared the hurt. Someone is in that place or is dealing with that right now. They are in it and they don’t know what to do. Can you please share and empower and pour into them how to move forward in such a situation like that?
The first thing is that any couple should be sure that both parties want to do the work. Oftentimes, it’s one spouse or one partner and not the other. One times zero equals zero. You are going nowhere. It’s not going to change. Thankfully, my husband’s background is in counseling and those things, so he was able to pause and say, “I do want this marriage.” My question was, “We need to get to the root because of why we had these problems.” We took the courageous step of seeking a neutral counselor or therapist that can help us. I didn’t say pastor or clergy, I said a trained person in marriage and family therapy. There’s a difference.
As an African-American, we tend to go run to the pastor. The scripture is not always what you need to hear to help you with your situation. What we got from my counselor was, “Did you hear that Karen likes this instead of this? Did you notice that Napoleon needed this and not this?” We were like, “No.” We totally missed that interpersonal communication. We thought we were these great communicators and here we were not communicating in the ways that we needed to.The scripture is not always what you need to hear to help you with the situation. Click To Tweet
The other more profound thing that I did was I chose to empathize. As a former teacher, I know that every behavior happens for a reason. It is called the antecedent. There is a reason why or something happened before that started the behavior. I need to find out what that was. I could empathize, not that I can necessarily stand in his shoes, but give him empathy. Let’s figure out what this is, heal that, then I know that our marriage could move forward from there.
Some Black males don’t want to go to counseling, but he was 100% all in this time. We were able to do the hard work and it took hard work. It wasn’t overnight or six months. It was day in and day out of being accountable to ourselves and each other. Over time, that bond and relationship were healed. I chose to forgive and I chose to work on the marriage that I already had instead of ending it. That was my personal decision. I’m thankful that I’ve been blessed.
You triumphed in that area, which is amazing. It is so amazing because society will tell you that it can’t work. You hit the nail on the head when you said that you both want to work. I share as well with couples that it requires both of you, not 50/50. It’s 100% and sometimes 150%. You both have to be willing to put that work in. I say this a lot as well. It’s my responsibility to teach my husband how to love me. That falls on me.
If he gets it wrong, it’s not him because we’re coming from different backgrounds. We had a lot of social and economical expectations of family and relationships. All those things come in when we meet someone. We have to be willing to recognize our uniqueness and differences, but more than anything, I had to learn how to love myself. When I got it right in loving me, I turned around and taught him. He has gotten it right. Share with me how long you guys have been together now.
Napoleon and I have known each other since first grade, but we’ve been married for 22 years.
Do you have those first-grade pictures?
We do. We were in the same class. He had the Afro and I had the pigtails.
I love it. Congratulations on the 22 years. Thank you so much for being transparent and sharing, but there are people out there who are living their lives from the outside and not going in on the inside. What advice would you give someone whose outside is different from their inside?
It goes back to probably the theme that I’ve said before and that you’ve mentioned in your introduction. It’s doing the hard work. I call it healing well. It’s that whole idea of you’ve got to start at the heart level. There’s no way around putting on the facade, starting at the physical level, and getting it right on the outside. We all know about the mask. It’s going deeper and being able to search for yourself to truly answer the hard questions. Sometimes we stray away or are afraid to answer those hard questions, but those are the questions we need to answer in order to be able to live healthy, be healed, and be at peace. Not just peace and quiet, but in peace.
When we talk about peace, we’re talking about peace surpassing all understanding.
It’s being content. Those fruits of the spirit, you need all of that to be at work in you in order to be able to impact, live healthily, and have those healthy relationships with others. It’s all about finding that essence of self and being able to heal well.
As you spoke of the fruit, I do a daily devotion. It’s not something every day, but I choose to read it every day. I say, “Today, I choose love, peace, joy, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience, and self-control.” I think I missed one. I choose those things initially so they can start my day. These are the things that will govern it. I think I missed goodness. I say it out loud and say, “This is what I choose today.”
If I get them right, I’m going to give him thanks. If I get it wrong, I’m going to ask for grace. At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, I’m going to lay my head on my pillow and rest and wait for the next day to come. You have been a phenomenal, awesome, and amazing guest. I would love for you to share with our audience how can someone get in contact with you. You have shared some good information and your transparency is off the scale. I know that there are people who would love to connect with you so please share.
I am on Instagram, @IamKarenBradford. That’s probably the easiest one, but I also do have a website, KarenBradfordConsulting.com, and all of my contact information, social media buttons, and things are there. Those are probably the two main ways to get in touch with me and follow some of the things I say. Perhaps, it may have an impact.
All good things have to come to an end and this has been a phenomenal time. I’m so grateful for your time. I would love for you to give some closing remarks for our audience. How can they live with themselves? How do you live with yourself? Talk about the topic and what we are discussing because there are people who are struggling to be themselves. We know it’s hard for them to live with themselves. What can you share that can be a takeaway or something for them to chew on between now and our next episode?
It’s important for our audience to ensure that every day that they wake up that they activate some portion of themselves that’s positive. Whether it be a gift or talent. It could be a virtue that we’ve talked about or something that they love about themselves. When you start out your day positively activating something good about you as you go through your day, even when you have those bumps and those moments where you’re having to stop, take a breath, and start again, it helps you to reflect and continue to evolve and grow and not regress or be negative. Always start out each day with intentionality and activating the positive.Always start each day with intentionality and activate the positive it helps you to reflect and continue to evolve and grow and not regress or be negative. Click To Tweet
You guys got it from Dr. Karen Bradford. Thank you, Karen, so very much for saying yes. Thank you for being here and for sharing. There’s nothing like people realizing that they’re not alone. That’s why I do what I do because I want those who are tuning in to this show to know that they’re not alone. Whenever we have a discussion, we’re going to say something that’s going to touch them and help them to realize that it may be hard, but they can get through it. One thing is for sure, you are not alone. You are an amazing, awesome, and phenomenal woman. Thank you so much for being here.
Guys, you know I’m always asking this question. How many decisions would you say that you are away from totally screwing up or wrecking your life? It is so easy to lose yourself in today’s clashing ideas, conflicting beliefs, and the flood or tsunami of information. We are overwhelmed with information. With society’s rigid expectations, endless opinions, self-expression, and self-appreciation, a lot of you are looking or trying your best to find it.
To some of you, it feels challenging and daunting. It causes you most of the time to dumb down, hide your emotion, run, and not be who you really are. Instead, you just go with the flow. I’m here to tell you, you are you unapologetically, and that means being true to how you were created and not allowing people’s opinions to affect how you show up in life. People are going to talk. They’re going to say whatever it is that they’re going to say, let them say it. You have no time to be intimidated by the presence of others and think little of yourself.
When you show up without pretense and hesitation, the world can’t dull your glamor. Most importantly, you will be inspired to shine your light. Not only that, you will share it and help others to tap into their own brilliance. That’s what I’m talking about. Let’s put an end to the disparaging mindset and begin to own our authentic selves.
Join me here as we create a safe space where I’m going to initiate an influential conversation about you being you. I know you are you unapologetically and there is no one better at being you than you. I dare you to find them. Thank you so much for being here. We can’t do it without your support. We love you guys. Bye-bye for now.
- As a Man Thinketh
- CLG Karen Bradford Consulting
- South Carolina State Department of Special Education Services
- @IamKarenBradford – Instagram
- Chrysalis: Coded to Thrive
About Dr. Karen Bradford
Dr. Karen Bradford is the CEO of CLG | Karen Bradford Consulting, providing leadership development and project management services to clients in the public and private sectors. She is a sought-after expert, thought partner, and information architect.
Karen served as the State Systemic Improvement Lead for South Carolina’s State Department of Special Education Services. With a $51 million dollar allocation, Karen positively impacted 86 school districts and over 200,000 students, families, and educators.
Currently, Karen is a consultant in the EdTech industry, guiding large-scale implementations that embed inclusive and equitable learning solutions.
Currently, Karen resides in Bowie, MD, and enjoys life with her 1st-grade friend, Napoleon. She is an ecstatic mom to Napoleon Koren, while honoring the memory of Noelle Kannise, who remains forever in her heart.