The most empowering way for women to heal is to come out of victimization, speak out, take control of the narrative, and advocate for themselves. Author, speaker, and Self-Advocacy Coach™ Maria Mastrodicasa joins Alicia Dunams in the podcast to speak of self-advocacy and sharing your story with purpose. Maria shares her own struggle against sexual harassment and domestic abuse and how it has helped her realize the importance of speaking out and having your voice heard. Maria’s journey is an inspiring tale for women who are afraid to speak out and stand for themselves. Listen and be empowered.
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The Journey Of Self-Advocacy With Maria Mastrodicasa
Everyone, I want to introduce you to Maria Mastrodicasa. Maria is a former Wall Street broker turned self-advocacy coach. She is the author of “You’ll Never. . .” The Journey to What is Possible Through Self-Advocacy. Maria, it is so great to have you here.
Thank you so much. It’s great to be here, Alicia.
Self-advocacy is such an important topic. As I look to you, I see you as ushering in this movement of self-advocacy. First, before we get started talking about the importance of self-advocacy, I want to hear from you. Why did you write the book You’ll Never. . .?
I wrote the book You’ll Never. . ., because one, I was told, “You’ll never,” since I was young. It started, I believe in third grade, or when I was about ten or a little bit after that. It was a constant seed that was trying to be planted in me, although it wasn’t. My cousin used to say, “Through my roller coaster, we all have our ups and downs in life.” It was through these downtimes that she would encourage me. She’d say, “Maria, that would make such a great book,” and kept saying it. Through the last difficult time that I had, she told me, “This would be a great chapter.” Each time she’d say it’d be a great chapter and she planted that in me. When I try to go over a difficult litigation and some difficult times, I thought, “What a great way to share my story and to possibly help other women that have gone through these situations and help them possibly avoid them.”
It sounds like you had an advocate in your cousin yourself that she was encouraging and supporting you in terms of looking at your personal story as something to share with others in terms of writing a book.
Self-advocacy is taking a stand for yourself and speaking your truth. Click To Tweet
Why is your book about self-advocacy? Why do you consider yourself and call yourself a self-advocacy coach? Please tell us about the importance of self-advocacy.
I didn’t realize that I was self-advocating when I was in grammar school, in junior high. As I looked back, I was advocating for myself through these difficult and dangerous situations. I advocated for myself when no one was there for me, whether they couldn’t be there due to work or emotionally. I got to advocate for myself and it changed the trajectory of my life, truly and that’s what I want to offer to other people and other women. The things that I went through on Wall Street, harassment, domestic violence, and how I advocated pushing through those situations through self-advocacy.
Tell us about some of the components of self-advocacy. What does it look like? How did you self-advocate for yourself? You mentioned Wall Street, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. How can one self-advocate for themselves?
When I was in junior high, I was dyslexic. I did not know that until later on and on Wall Street. I had difficulty reading. I had a low reading level and it was a struggle as it is a struggle for many to take these time tests. I advocated for myself to get help from another teacher and I was able to pass the tests and I’m so excited because it was an extremely dangerous school and I was able to get out of that if I pass this test. I passed the test and I was so elated until the principal called me in his office. He did not understand how I could go from a fourth-grade reading level to a ninth grade. He insisted I retake the test. There at a young age, sitting in front of the principal’s office being questioned, I advocated for myself and I didn’t stop until he understood my point of view. I said, “Let’s get this straight. I am lucky that I passed this test. There is no way I could stay in this school. If I have to take this test and every other student in the state of New York should have to take this test. There is no reason that you are coming to me.” I advocated for myself and thank God I got to graduate and get out of that dangerous school.
That was the first one of the first steps that I remember and on Wall Street being sexually harassed numerous times. I thought I could say, “No, why not?” I didn’t think it was a big deal. That’s how I grew up. I can’t blame a guy for trying and I was almost fired numerous times. I advocated for myself and they told me to leave the building quietly and I said, “Vinnie is the man who hired me. He was the owner of the company. He will be the man to fire me.” They told me to leave and they called him up and made up some story and I asked him if I could please tell my story. He listened to me and he was extremely concerned. He said to me, “You still have a job. Go home, relax, and take the weekend off. You’ll come back on Monday and you will have a job.”
Advocating is taking a stand for yourself and speaking your truth. It wasn’t manipulation. It was telling my truth. Why should I walk away? I did nothing wrong. All I did was say no. That’s why I’m all about the #MeToo Movement. We should feel safe in every environment and although I don’t blame a guy for trying, yes, you should blame a guy for trying. I was being nice about it. That’s how we grew up. I was this Catholic girl from Brooklyn. It’s not okay. We don’t get to be treated that way we get to speak up, but who do you speak out to? I speak into that as well as I share lessons in my book because we don’t know the avenues to take. I advocate for women to take certain steps.
You specifically said self-advocacy is speaking up, speaking out, and sharing your story. What I want to know from you, Maria is, how can people advocate for themselves to the power of storytelling?
One is to write a book and you share your story. You don’t share it from a victim’s point of view. I’m not sharing it for any other reason. This is my past. This story is done. I’m in a new chapter of my life. I am moving forward so the point of sharing my story is to help others by telling the story. Whether it brings joy, understanding, or it helps someone to not be in that situation because of triumph. Here I was, this young girl from Brooklyn told I would never, I was dyslexic, I’d never amount to anything and at the age of 26, I’m making six figures and I became the number one woman in my department at one of the top three firms on Wall Street.
Something you said was important. This is your story and you’re already on to the next chapter. Part of healing is being able to tell your story from a place instead of being inside the story and still reliving it because they say that the body can’t tell the difference. If you are a victim of your story, you continuously relive it, instead of continuously reliving it, you close the chapter and you’re telling it from a place of power, empowerment, and using it as a vehicle for learning, healing and to inspire others. That’s an important distinction. Don’t be a victim of your story and that does require some healing. Maria, speak to me and to the audience in terms of how did you heal from the you’ll nevers and from the sexual harassment? What was that healing process like?
I healed from the you’ll nevers because I have to say that the blessing for me was those negative seeds that were never planted in me. They were said to me but they never planted roots in me. It’s important that not only parents but all of us make sure that we speak positive reinforcement into people and we don’t plant negative seeds so that never took on. When I was going through this domestic violence even what happened on Wall Street never took root in me. I let it go. When I went through an eighteen-year marriage, there was domestic violence and verbal abuse, it was detrimental to me. I had to reframe, recalibrate, and shift my mindset. I read instead of dating. I did not numb the pain by drinking and not that there’s anything wrong with that. I chose to push through it and feel it. That worked for me and I took courses.
I read a lot. I didn’t date. It took three years and $300,000 to get a divorce to get my freedom. It was in doing that I thought I was free but when I put the pen to the paper and I was writing, more things came up. It’s also in writing the book that there is healing. As you know, Alicia for being in your Bestseller in a Weekend and your funnel program that I then deleted things that I had put in because it wasn’t necessary. There’s a growth in the writing. Even if you are still in the victim mode, by writing a book and putting it down on paper, you could start to delete things and filter out what’s no longer serving and tell your story in a different way.
That’s a powerful distinction you mentioned as well. It’s not being a tell-all. It’s not verbally vomiting all of this what Brené Brown speaks into. It’s not oversharing or being irresponsible in your storytelling. It’s maintaining a responsibility that you can share your story. You don’t have to go in all the dirty detail. People can experience it. It’s the lessons learned. It’s, “Yes, this happened to me and how did it happen for me?” That’s important because when you are shaming or blaming someone for your story people could have been in the wrong. You’re coming from that, it’s intention. It’s the intention behind the storytelling. What’s your intention? Is your intention to heal yourself or others? Is your intention to support people in evolving or is your intention to shame or blame someone? That’s an important distinction when it comes to the writing of your story. What is the intention?
Don’t share your story from a victim’s point of view. Share your story with a purpose. Click To Tweet
Yes and I know that in a private coaching session or in a small group in a speaking arena, you can share different things. If someone is speaking about something that you could relate to or share more deeply, because maybe by reading my book, they said, “It’s not that they can’t.” Maybe for some people, it’s got off like some of the things I went through was terrible and maybe for others, it’s not at all. I could get much deeper in more intimate situations or privately with people. I don’t need to put it in my book because my intention is to share it with purpose.
With that, imagine you’re speaking now in front of women, or people who feel that they don’t have the ability to share their voice at this moment. Even if you look around the world as we experience it here in 2020, this general global reset or this revelation, if you will, of what’s happening. We’re seeing behind the veiled curtain. It’s being opened up and we’re seeing behind that even on it with social media and news and the 24/7-week news cycle. We are seeing in front of our eyes. We’re seeing how big banks operate, how people have operated, and with that, there are people who feel that they don’t have a voice or are scared to use their voice. What advice would you give to people who are feeling stuck and voiceless?
I feel that at this time this is when real leaders show up. This is when our real character comes out and we get to have compassion for those who are having difficulty speaking up. There has to be someone that you can speak to. For me, it was my cousin. Writing is a wonderful way to release. Whether you’re writing to write a book or you’re writing in a journal to find out what is coming up and what it is that you want to feel. I always say, “Make two lists.” I used to tell my children, “Make two lists. How are you feeling and how do you want to feel?” If they were going to start something new or leave something that they’re completing and they didn’t want to restart it, I’d say, “Make a list.”
What are all the positives, negatives and what are you feeling now? How would you like to feel? What do you envision feeling? What would feel great to you? What are some of the things you did as a child that brought you joy? Simple things like certain music, coloring, writing, or drawing. You need to shift your mindset and how do you shift your mindset. Sometimes it’s simple things to make you shift. If you’re uncomfortable sharing your voice, then you need to write it down but you should be able to find one person that you can open up to and trust. It’s all about trust.
It’s all about trust and finding someone that you can open up to. With that and your book, You’ll Never. . . , I know you have lots of lessons in there in terms of what is possible through the power of self-advocacy. I’d love for you to give a couple of tips to our readers. What is possible through self-advocacy?
For me, through self-advocacy, I found my freedom and my voice. I was able to not only help myself but be able to advocate for others, for my mom, her well-being and a clear mind. Self-advocacy is being well with yourself feeling and comfortable with who you are in your skin. Sometimes those take steps of being still. I’ve had friends who say, “Don’t you want to have something to take the edge off?” No. I know why I’m going through this. Most of the time, we do know why we’re going through something. If you don’t know why you’re going through it, being still is for me the best thing that I can do.
I don’t need to go out drinking. That’s for when I’m happy, I’m celebrating and there’s something to celebrate but in the downtime or when I was feeling like I had no voice like you’re asking, I stayed in. I took bubble baths, reading, and watching YouTube and I waited until I could find my voice. Back then, I didn’t watch YouTube but now we can watch YouTube. We can watch Oprah Winfrey and Brené Brown. You can get my book and there are lessons there and each of these people that I’m speaking of have these lessons. Oprah has her lesson. She has her 2020 Vision Tour. What is your vision for yourself for your life? You get to advocate for the life that you want. That’s what I teach.
I love that and I know that you are a self-advocacy coach. Not only do you share these lessons in your book, You’ll Never. . . The Journey to What is Possible Through Self-Advocacy and that’s the work you do and in lessons that you teach in your book. You’re also a self-advocacy coach. Share with us a little bit about how you support people, your clients in self-advocating for themselves.
I spoke on it. The most important thing for me is that every woman should feel safe and valued in every environment like in school, in the workplace, and especially at your home. It is your sanctuary so you get to feel safe there. In 2020 and all that is going on, it’s our right to feel safe. When we are not safe, it’s maybe when we lose our voice because we’re in fight and flight mode. That is what I coach women on. It’s how to feel safe in every environment. If there’s harassment, I teach the steps that they can take in the workforce because who is HR hired by. They are paid and employed by the employer and so that’s who they are there to protect. Even though they are supposed to not take sides, I assure you, they will.
There are steps to take so you can advocate for yourself to make sure because I was told I had to go even though I got to keep certain jobs. At one point, I was told I had to go and I was told that I was insubordinate. I had facts and I was able at unemployment to show everything that I had and they said, “Let me call your employer back and you will get it.” I did get unemployment in the largest amount that’s given because I took the steps to prepare in advance.
This is so important because one thing I firmly believe, and I know you believe with the work that you do with women is, it’s real-time, being able to advocate for yourself and the importance of speaking up. It can be done in a way that you’re not in fight, flight, or freeze. It could come from a place of power. What I’d like for you to share with our audience is, first of all, how to work with you, find out more about you, and find out about your book, and any last words of advice that you have. Please share with our audience because I feel like there are a lot of people out there who know that there’s something and they might not have the courage to do it. What advice do you give them?
I would say, especially with technology, we could go on our phone and we could videotape ourselves, but to be able to speak your truth in grace. What I teach my children is to never send a text and email until you read it back because what you put out there is going to come back as we’ve seen in Hollywood litigations and things like that. It’s what you put out there. It’s the words that we say. Our words are powerful and plant good seeds. Being kind is not a weakness so don’t confuse kindness with weakness. You can speak your truth and kindness and grace. If someone’s going to let you go, and I was told, “Maria, you should have swallowed your pride because you’d still have your job.” I wasn’t even married at the time but I said, “Someday I may have a daughter and I don’t want her to swallow her pride from rent or money.” I had followed my truth and I was let go. I can be proud of that still now because I spoke my truth and that’s important.
Advocate for the life that you want. Click To Tweet
That’s fantastic. Speaking your truth and what you said about, “I don’t want my daughter to have to do that and swallow her pride one day.” That’s important what you shared. With that, how can people find out more about you, Maria?
They can find me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and on MariaMastrodicasa.com and I know that that is a long last name so we could probably put that in there.
Maria, it’s so great to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s been wonderful.
- Maria Mastrodicasa
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About Stu Heinecke
From impossible to possible…Creating the life you want through self-advocacy
This is the journey of a young girl from Brooklyn who was told “YOU’LL NEVER amount to anything.” Maria Mastrodicasa left high school in the tenth grade determined to make a better life for herself despite struggling with dyslexia. Maria’s drive for achievement and instinct for self-advocacy led her to Wall Street where she ran with the wolves and came out ahead of the pack, earning six figures by the time she was 26 years old.
Maria shares the powerful lessons she learned while battling the violence and apathy of the school system, the old boys’ network of Wall Street, and the heartbreak of domestic violence and divorce.
For every challenge, Maria developed a method to be her own advocate, and now shares her stories and
suggestions that can empower you to succeed against the odds.
A former Wall Street Broker, Maria Mastrodicasa is an international speaker, author and Self-Advocacy CoachTM. Maria’s life-long commitment is that all women feel safe and valued in school, the workplace, and the home. With 20 years of philanthropy experience, Maria is the founding member of The Jersey Shore Dream Center, a donor for Common Grounds non-profit, and a board member for The Guild of Ocean Medical Center. www.MariaMastrodicasa.com
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