This episode’s guest is the inspirational and accomplished: Tami Simon. Tami Simon is the founder of Sounds True, a multimedia publishing company dedicated to disseminating spiritual wisdom.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, Sounds True has published more than 800 audio, video, music, and book titles along with online courses and events. A two-time winner of the Inc 500 award as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in America, Sounds True is widely recognized as a pioneer in providing life-changing, practical tools that accelerate spiritual awakening and personal transformation. This podcast is especially juicy, as Tami and I were emerging into a new phase of our relationship as my 10 year career at Sounds True came to a close.
In this episode, Tami Simon and I speak about:
- Handling the everyday fear
- “Everything depends on how much you trust”
- Authenticity and its acceptance in society
- Mentorship and the best way to mentor
- The energy of tenacity and will and when to let go
Tune in to listen to my conversation “Emerging Into Being” with Tami Simon.
Chantal Pierrat: Welcome, Tami. It’s really great to be here with you. I thought that we could start this podcast by doing a check-in. And I might take a few minutes to just explain what that is to our listeners. At Sounds True, you’ve developed a policy to connect people before a team meeting or before a meeting of any significance. We go around the room and we [each] take a minute to say something personal about the state that we’re in at the beginning of the meeting, what might be going on in our lives or in our business and work lives that would be particularly illuminating for the meeting.
It’s just a really nice way to drop in and connect to people before we actually have an exchange. So I wanted to do that check-in process, and I’ve missed the check-in process, because it’s been a few months now since I’ve been out of Sounds True and launching my own business. So it just feels so natural for me to start with that. I could start or you could start. How does that feel?
Tami Simon: Why don’t you start?
CP: OK. So I feel—and it’s good to get this out on the table—a little nervous. I feel that I’m showing my first poem to my favorite poet. I’m interviewing the interviewer, and it just feels like I’m navigating unknown waters here. I also feel so much gratitude to be here with you. I feel like you’ve really had such a big impact on my life, and to see our relationship go from me working with you intimately and working for you at Sounds True, and now here I am, I’m almost rubbing my hands together because I have you all to myself and I can ask you all these questions and we can do a deep dive. So I feel a lot of gratitude for that and my whole experience at Sounds True.
I think I also feel just genuinely happy. I feel like this whole trajectory and my history—everything that’s happened between me and you at Sounds True, working to build Sounds True to where it is, it’s just made such an impact on me, both personally and in a business setting. And I feel like this is a very big crescendo that will maybe also extend and have many, many more crescendos. It just feels very significant for me. And I’m happy to be here. [Pause] Usually we say, “Welcome.”
TS: Welcome, welcome. I noticed, when you said the possibility of doing a check-in, I suddenly felt tension in my stomach, and a sense of, “Oh, I’m going to be asked to come forward with how I’m actually feeling right now.” And I know that check-ins are the most powerful when people tell the most truth and go to the most depth of their being. And it’s one thing to check in with four or five people in a meeting, and it’s another thing to check in with a microphone and know that your check-in is being broadcast to God knows who for how long.
So I feel a little terror, or, “How much do I say?” I noticed that it’s a lot easier to be interviewed than to interview somebody. I do a lot of interviewing and I have a sense of, “Oh, good, I just get to be here in the moment and I don’t have to keep a thread of meaning woven throughout this conversation. That’s Chantal’s responsibility. Mine is just to be myself.”
And I think if I were to identify some of the tension working with you in your new capacity at Emerging Women—it’s a new relationship for us. We had an old relationship for 10 years where you worked at Sounds True as our Director of Sales and Marketing and Events, and this is a new relationship—one that I’m still finding my way in and one that has a lot of unknowns in it. And so I think I feel some uncertainty and even—I don’t know if “fear” is quite the right word, but some emotion that feels on the fear spectrum in association with that.
TS: Thank you.
CP: It’s interesting because your podcast is called Insights at the Edge, and I remember when we were going through the titling of that you really liked the “edge,” because you wanted to dig into people’s experiences in the moment or in their lives at the time that you would interview them that would put them on edge. And I just feel like it’s interesting that right now this is a little bit of an edge, I think, for both of us. And it feels juicy, somehow. So maybe we can kind of weave that in, if it comes up again.
But I do want to lean into the concept of fear. On one hand, you’re not really quite emerging because you’ve had a business for almost 30 years at this point, and yet I feel that there are many emergences in our lives. One of the things that happens when we emerge into something is that there’s most likely some kind of fear or anxiety because there’s some unknown in that unfoldment.
And I’m curious to see if you have experienced fear through your career here at Sounds True. Has that come up recently, now that you’ve had a company for 30 years? And how do you handle that if it does? What does it feel like as opposed to when it came up when you were first starting Sounds True? Is it the same texture?
TS: So I’m very comfortable with fear being a part of my life every day. I mentioned that I felt something that comes on the fear continuum right here, entering this conversation with you. And I think we’re not just always emerging, as in phases of our life when we have new challenges and new opportunities to creatively express ourselves; we’re actually emerging fresh in every moment. We’re always truly emerging.
And fear is actually that breeze of being out of control. “I don’t know what’s going to happen here, and I’m entering something that is unknown.” And I read emails on a regular basis. I just open an email and I feel afraid. I read that and I’m like, “Really? Oh my God, I thought that this was going to happen and it’s not going to happen.” I notice that my body is flushed with something that you could call fear.
I think the reason that I feel OK with it is that I love being courageous. I love seeing people act courageously and I love watching myself respond to events with courage. And there wouldn’t really be acts of courage, real courage, if there wasn’t fear. If that was absent, then it wouldn’t require this pulling and drawing on inner strength and finding our inner resources. Because we would never be challenged to even tap that well.
And so I love it all. I love the fear and then I love the courage that comes when we say, right with it, “I have faith in my heart that I will tell the truth in this moment. I have faith in the universe that if this thing that’s happening that’s disappointing or not turning out right, that there’s some meaning in it. I trust that.” And so the fear lives right with—partnering with, actually—I would call it indomitable faith in the unfolding of events, and they actually coexist.
Now, you asked [if it’s] different now than it was when I was younger. I think I’m more accustomed to the rhythm inside me—the rhythm that says, “Jump anyway. Leap anyway. Oh my God! I took this leap, I did it, and now I’m terrified and I’m falling. Oh, I’m familiar with this. I do this all the time. I get it.” So now I think I understand it so much better.
CP: And is there a practice beyond the perspective that you’re going to be OK when you fall or the memory of you being here in the pattern over time of having experienced this? Is there a particular practice that you fall on or you lean on in times when it gets really acute?
TS: I’d say there’s a practice and then there’s a perspective. The practice would just be tuning into the body, breathing, allowing the force of gravity, relaxing, and experiencing at a somatic level a sense of just being OK with whatever’s happening in the body and letting the breath come and go in unencumbered ways. So just a form of natural breathing. That would be the practice.
The perspective [comes from] the meditation teacher that I’ve studied with now for 12 years, Reggie Ray, who was a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. [Reggie] said at one point in a talk, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Everything depends on how much you trust.” So I’ve studied that phrase, that sentence, “Everything depends on how much you trust.” And it’s a trust in what’s happening, in the actual intelligence, the feedback that’s coming in one’s own heart, the goodness that’s inside of us that we can call on and bring to the situation.
So I reflect on that and bring that forward. “Everything depends on how much you trust.” And I received an email this morning that was disappointing to me, one in which I wanted things to go differently, and I thought to myself, “Trust it. Trust this.”
CP: What I like about that is it’s both—you know, you hear that a lot, “Trust in the mystery,” and on the one hand there’s something really profound about that. But it’s a hard pill to swallow, sometimes, when you are deeply disappointed. But what I like about what you said was [to] trust on the inside, that you’re actually connected with what’s happening. And I think that that takes it—it’s not just about the future and how events are unfolding, but that you have what you need to handle whatever is happening on the external.
TS: All of it. The whole package. Trusting everything that has happened in the past, trusting everything that’s happening right now, and trusting everything that could happen in the future. So all three time zones, and then also trusting—and I’m using the [phrase] “our own goodness,” but I think that’s so important because that’s what, at least for me, I can relax into.
CP: Yes. I just did a podcast with Kristin Neff and she has this practice where you actually put your hand on your heart, and I’ve been doing that. It makes it a lot easier to trust in your own goodness because sometimes, when you have a lot of challenges, it’s the one thing you forget. And it’s just been a reminder for me.
Great, OK. So one of our taglines at Emerging Women is, “Live the truth of who you are.” And you are a person that I hold in high esteem because I feel like you live the truth of who you are. Has it always been that way? When did that start for you?
TS: Well, my mother used to say, when we would have guests over to the house for dinner, she used to call me aside and [say], “Stop making that terrible face when the gentleman is speaking!” And I’m like, “What terrible face?” And she’s like, “You’re making a terrible face!” And I’m like, “Well, I can’t stand that man.” And she’s like, “But don’t make that face.” And I’m like, “I can’t control what expression my face goes into!”
So I think that I’ve always been someone who, for whatever reason, plays with an open hand, at least to the best of my abilities. Of course, different situations require different kinds of things. But I like leading with genuineness as much as possible. So yes, I think that’s been true about me my whole life.
CP: And has it always been received—right now it just feels so fresh when someone’s truly authentic. The work of Brené Brown is catching on like wildfire and more and more people are recognizing authenticity as it’s being delivered in certain people. I’m just curious if you remember, as someone who, at a very early age, was exhibiting this, whether that was always received or was it off-putting? How did the world absorb that?
TS: Well, I would say I’ve often not been well-received and have felt like an outsider in very, very, very many situations. And part of the reason I think I ended up starting my own business was because I don’t think there was some existing business that I could plug into. So I don’t think my genuineness has been particularly well-received, historically.
I think for a long time I felt kind of like an alien. I was like, “Maybe I came from some different star and somehow got into a human body, I don’t know how.” And here, now, at 51 years old, I don’t feel like an alien anymore. I feel so happy to feel like I belong to the human race and that I have a community—teachers and friends and a meditation community. I feel a real deep sense of belonging, but it wasn’t always like that, and my authenticity as not always been well-received.
CP: And yet, I’ve seen you over the last 10 years as just [being] unwavering. Do you ever feel like you are challenged, that you have to tamper it in any way? Are you sensitive to other people’s reaction to it?
TS: I’ve tried to become more skillful in entering and working with different populations and communities, just to communicate well—a “when in Rome” kind of thing. So I’ve tried to become more skillful. Here at Sounds True we have 90 employees, and I’ve tried to be what I would call politically sensitive in ways that maybe I wasn’t in the beginning days of the company.
So it’s one thing to be genuine, but it’s also to really understand, what is this context and what do other people need? What will help and inspire people? And that’s not always, “Just blurt everything out.” It’s to pick and choose and to have a good edit function that can filter what’s needed to say what will actually be efficacious in a situation. So I think I’ve grown in that way.
CP: Great. You have. Just to comment on that, I think there’s still something so fresh about the way you comment on things that doesn’t really have that political filter.
TS: Well, I mean, the company’s called Sounds True. And I remember, as a young person, watching politicians on television. And I was like, “I can tell they’re lying.” I could see in the voice, in the delivery, that there was something that was out of sync between what was happening inside the human and what they were saying. And it outraged me. It deeply disturbed me. I was like, “How could it be that the leaders in our country are not actually congruent in what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, and what they mean?”
And a lack of congruence in somebody saying something but meaning something else is highly disturbing to me. Part of what I wanted in starting Sounds True was to work with and record and be in contact with and put out the work of people who had a congruence in their inner life and in their vocal expression and in the work they were trying to do—where it all lined up, where it all made sense. Because I know when I’m with somebody who has that kind of congruence, I actually relax. I feel safe. I feel like I can come forward. What you see is what you get in them and what you see is what you get in me. And those are my favorite kinds of meetings and encounters.
CP: It’s interesting—and once again, I’ve been working for you and been inspired by you for the last 10 years. But you have an ability to lead just by being who you are, and I think that’s such an amazing leadership style. It’s probably the easiest leadership style, right? You just be who you are, you don’t have to negotiate and try and put this overlay and political agendas.
And yet, I wonder if that can be intimidating for people if [someone is] not sensitive in the way that you are, if people just come out and they blast people with, “Hey, I’m living my truth!” and they’re not sensitive to the people that are working around them. I feel like you have a real gift for that, and I’m curious to see—and again, this might get into the edgy water, since you have been my mentor—how you feel about that.
To what degree do you consciously mentor and shape people in that way, beyond just being sensitive to their needs and creating a communication style that’s inclusive? In what way do you use your leadership to bring the best out in people and to actually grow them? How does that feel for you to be in that role? Because you’re in that role, not just for me, but for the other 90 people that work here.
TS: Well, to me the best way to mentor people or to magnetize people or to lead people is to actually love them, to actually really love them, to find things in them that are genuinely loveable, and to want to magnify their gifts, to want to draw out their gifts, to want to help them find ways that they can bring their own inspiration and calling forward and manifest it.
So it’s natural for me to love people because we’re built for it. And people are intensely loveable. They really are. And to find that part—and it might be in loving somebody that I love them so much and I can see, in loving them, that they’re in the wrong place, that they shouldn’t be working here or they should be working in a different department. And because I love them, I actually want them to leave and go someplace else and do something else. But I do think it’s through love.
CP: At one point we were talking, a couple of years ago, or maybe it was just last year, and you were really starting to connect with the heart—not that you weren’t before, but it was really becoming amplified for you. And I’m wondering, since you’re talking about love, if you could talk a little bit more about how that become more important for you, that connection to the heart and how it plays out, both in business and in your spiritual life.
TS: I think I’ve been extremely fortunate, and probably one of the greatest blessings in my life is that about 12 years ago, I met Julie Marie Kramer, who is my life partner. And she has a gorgeous heart and is extremely empathetic, and has taught me and continues to teach me so much about relationship, about attuning to the other people who are in the room—something that really wasn’t very natural to me.
She would be like, “Why didn’t you stop and say ‘hi’ to that person?” And I’m like, “What person? What are you talking about? I was thinking about something, or I was planning something, or I was inside myself.” I think I’m more of a task-oriented person, and she’s much more of a relational person. And she’s been my teacher in how to really receive what’s happening with everybody in the room, in the space.
I also think that as I’ve grown and cultivated a deeper meditation practice, I’ve just become more sensitive. It’s like the armor or the levels of skin aren’t there that used to be there, and I just pick up a lot more on what’s happening with other people. And once I pick up on it, I naturally want to respond to it.
CP: It’s just been interesting, because you’re out in the public a lot, and I think that you have to be careful about when you are introspective—to protect that, and also to be accessible to others, especially as a leader, [because] you want both. Striking the balance must be difficult sometimes when a lot of people are demanding your time, and yet you need to tap in deeply to that creative space. So I think you’ve done a great job with that.
TS: I require a lot of introversion and I take it. I take time for that.
CP: There’s another dynamic that I think a lot of business leaders experience, especially when they’re in 30, 40, 50 years, and that is the energy of tenacity and will, and also knowing when to surrender or to let go. I’m curious if you have any specific experience with that and how that dance has played out for you.
TS: I try to tune in to what’s being asked of me in a situation. And interestingly, this year at Sounds True, we’ve been doing these rituals at the beginning of the year, which you’ll know, where we ask for guidance about, how can the best of us be brought forward for the company’s benefit and for our own growth in the year to come?
And the message that I got this year was: “Let go, let go, let go. Trust the team, trust the team. Get out of the way, Tami. This is your year to let things go.” So that’s interesting. There have been other times where I’ve gotten messages like, “Dig in deep like you’re digging a ditch outside. Just get the shovel and just keep digging. That’s what you have to do, just keep digging.”
For me, it’s not like one’s better and one’s worse. It [about,] what is needed in this situation right now? What’s needed? And how can I see that clearly? I might not be able to see it clearly through whatever ego filters I have, but I can see it clearly through prayer. And when I pray and I ask, “Show me, oh universe of love and intelligence, what is needed for me in this situation so that I can do your work of healing and amplifying goodness in the world? What’s needed?”
And then I hear instructions, and I think all of us have that capacity. You can call it the still, small voice within or your conscience or a sense of guidance, whatever. And then, do we follow it? Yes, tenacity is needed. Letting go is needed. And in any given moment, situation, or business cycle, a different degree of each might be needed.
CP: Yes. That’s what we’re trying to do with Emerging Women, to bring in more of a balance between those masculine and feminine tendencies. I think a lot of people get into business mode—and I’m experiencing this myself—where the tenacity and the will, especially when you’re in the start-up phase, can take over.
And being able to let go, even in the face of not knowing [how] that’s going to result takes a lot of courage. So we’re back to that. And appreciating that courage is a good one. I’m glad we started with that because you’re just going to draw on it over and over again if you’re in this situation. I’m in that dance myself.
Well, we have time for a couple more questions, and I wanted to ask you something that you’ve done recently that you feel proud of. Now, the words “pride” and “proud”—it’s kind of a tricky one. But I want to say that. I actually want to say it, especially for our listeners because I think women in general have a hard time feeling proud about the things that they do. We tend to diminish and push away accolades. I was sort of going back and forth on that question, but I want to say: What have you felt particularly proud of in the last, let’s say, two weeks?
TS: Two weeks?
CP: Yes! We could go longer if you feel—
TS: Well, I’ll tell you the first thing that occurred to me, and it did happen this year at least. I feel very proud of the Self-Acceptance series that Sounds True put out. This is a series of 22 interviews followed by a summary of the highlights of what I learned. Part of the reason I feel proud of it was it was a free series that we put out, and it was so beneficial to people. People got so much out of it. I received literally hundreds of emails from people telling me that it impacted them and changed their lives.
And I think what I feel proud of was that I really came to it with this question that I was asking, and I was genuinely asking it, which is: Why is it so difficult for people, even people who have meditated for decades, even people who have been in therapy for decades, why is it still so difficult—I actually don’t really get it. How can this be so hard for us to be kind and compassionate to ourselves, especially in difficult circumstances? How can that be? I don’t get it! How come most of the meditation students I work with, that becomes the one thing that no matter how many interactions we have, they still will come back and report to me some way that they’re flagellating themselves about something or other?
So I had this very genuine inquiry in me, and I learned so much from the series, and I feel changed by it. And I think it also gave a lot to a lot of people. And it’s still available for free! So I feel really proud about that.
CP: For our listeners, that’s on the SoundsTrue.com website? We can access that [there]?
CP: OK. Great. I know you had a lot of wonderful authors and speakers there. And our last question would be: If you had one piece of advice to give a woman who is in that state of emergence, where she’s creating something—whether it’s a business or a creative project or she’s stepping into a leadership role—and there is a lot of unknown and there is a lot of fear, but there’s also a lot of juice because there’s that commitment to living the truth of who she is, what would your advice be for somebody in that situation?
TS: Well, again, I want to underscore that I think we are always in a state of emergence. And the reason I’m saying that is I think my advice is: Take one next step. Just do that. You don’t have to know the whole thing. You don’t have to take some huge leap. We just step. And one next step leads to the next step, leads to the next step, leads to the next step.
And I think part of what gets us all effed up is that we want all kinds of assurances, we want to see the big picture, we want to know where this is taking us, we want to know, “If I take one step, what’s the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh step?” And I don’t think it’s like that. I think in this very moment, there’s one next step to take. One phone call to make. One journal entry to write. One piece of furniture to buy.
And then pause after the step and listen to the universe. Listen to space. Listen to the creative force. And listen for what is the next true step, the next step that’s in alignment with that guidance. And some steps will feel terrifying and some won’t. But once we get used to stepping, we’re emerging. Our walk is a walk of emergence all the time. And constantly, new creative life is pouring out of us—new projects and new opportunities.
You take a step and, oh my, who is meeting you? What new opportunity is meeting you? And you thought maybe you were walking in one direction, and you meet someone or something happens and you start moving a little in the other. You don’t really know. And so if you plan the whole thing out too far, then you’re actually not in the moment in which the information is given to you about what the true next step is.
CP: Beautiful. Thank you, Tami.
TS: Thank you! Fun to talk to you! Wonderful.