When inspiration strikes, don’t give in to fear. Trust your cape. This is the lesson Rebecca Powers shares with Alicia Dunams as they sit down and talk about her life journey. They talk about the writing process, finishing your work and putting your ego aside. Rebecca also talks about what she learned from running and eventually letting go of Impact Austin, a women’s collective giving organization that serves Central Texas nonprofits. Tune in to pick a few gold nuggets from Rebecca’s powerful insights on collective giving, servant leadership and philanthropy.
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Trust Your Cape With Rebecca Powers
I’m excited to share you the perspective of possibility that is available from the pages of real life. This is Episode 34 featuring Rebecca Powers.
Rebecca Powers is the Founder of Impact Austin. She is known for her full and chop thick passion and empowering women to help others. I want to welcome you, Rebecca. I know that you have impacted the world. Not only Austin, Texas but you have impacted the entire United States through your passion around giving back servant leadership and philanthropy. Before we get even started, I want you to share why did you write your book Trust Your Cape: How Women Find Their Power in Giving Back?
I’ve thought a lot about exactly why I did write the book. I have a couple of reasons but the one that is most impactful is the fact that I found my voice and my calling when I was 48 years old. It was starting Impact Austin. Writing the journey that I took to start it, build it, lead it and then let go of it, I learned a lot in that process. I also want to inspire other women to find their voice, whatever it might be. It’s never too late.
A lot of times people feel like, even though that’s very young, “I’m too old to start something new.” You bust that myth.
I wouldn’t say that it was ever my life plan. That’s where I laugh. It certainly was my calling but it had never been a part of what I thought I would do in my life. It’s helped me see that I need to stay curious and be open to possibilities. This idea landed in my lap. I picked it up and ran with it. I trusted my cape. Not having any idea what was to come and ended up having a very successful organization that is impacting women everywhere.
You shared the title of your book, Trust Your Cape. Share with us that metaphor. What does Trust Your Cape mean?
For me, there’s a song by Guy Clark, a Texas musician. He talks about the little boy with a flour sack cape around his neck. He’s standing on top of his garage at home. He’s getting ready to jump because he doesn’t know he can’t fly. It’s the idea that he trusted his cape. At times we feel like we have to have all the answers. Taking a leap of faith, it can work out. It doesn’t mean that you are silly. Sometimes you’re naive. That’s helpful. By me trusting my cape and believing that the net would catch me before I fell if something were to go wrong. I also think the cape is what you have on the inside, moxie, grit, spunk, what it is that makes you keep going that whispers, “You can do this. Keep on keeping on.” Both of those ideas are very front and center in the personification of Impact Austin.
A lot of times when you trust your cape, there’s a sense of naivete, curiosity. That’s part of this process of jumping, seeing if the net will appear and being open to that.
In writing my book, here’s what I say. I laugh at this. I have been an entrepreneur since I was twelve years old. I didn’t realize it until I started laying out the story of my life and pivotal moments. I was bored at my summer of eighth grade. I decided I would have a little nursery school for the kids in the neighborhood and walked them down the street, holding hands with my wagon, with my snacks. We went to a park. I did that partly because I was bored. I wanted to buy a swimming suit that my mother wouldn’t buy for me. I thought that’s entrepreneurial. I never saw it that way. I saw it as solving a problem. I’ve had that in me for most of my life.
Share the problems that you want to solve in the world.
People don't care if you fail. We're our worst critic. Click To Tweet
It’s interesting because I don’t know if those are problems as much as it is inspiring people to take hold of opportunities that are in front of them. Sometimes it’s helpful not to think about it too long. The organization I started, I modeled after another one that I read about in a magazine. I laugh because I’m the founder of this organization in Austin. A lot of people read that magazine article but I’m the one that took the steps to put it together. People were like, “I wouldn’t know how to do that.” I didn’t know either. There was something inside from me that said, “This is your moment. You’ve got to at least try.” One of the lessons I’ve learned is that people don’t care if you fail. We’re our worst critic. Most people are not even looking at you, looking at me. They’re busy worrying about themselves. I’m worried about what others might think. That ends up being a silly notion.
It’s one of your lessons in the book. Going back to the book writing process, you and I met in a webinar that I gave to Campowerment, which is a woman’s organization, a personal transformation camp that brings together some wonderful women. That’s how we met. I was doing a webinar on writing non-fiction books. That’s how it all began.
I don’t believe in coincidence. I have a very deep faith. I know that the stars aligned for certain reasons. I had started the book years ago and put it aside. I thought that I wasn’t a writer. I couldn’t do it. I quit. When the webinar showed up, I thought, “I’ll go listen to this woman. Maybe I’ll get some inspiration.” You offered a free 30-minute consultation afterwards. I thought, “I’ll bite. I’ll talk to her. Maybe I’ll get some more encouragement.” You said something to me, which was, “Rebecca, you aren’t going to be any more prepared waiting for more months. Now is the time.”
I did your Bestseller in a Weekend class and had a manuscript to work from at the end of that weekend. I was shocked because I said, “I’ll trust you that this will happen.” I couldn’t imagine. The other lesson I learned through that, I’ve learned it a lot in life. Starting is hard. It’s messy in the middle. It’s beautiful in the end. I have experienced each of those emotions on this writing journey. It’s helped me remember that when it is messy and it’s hard, it’s supposed to be. It keeps me going. I’m getting so close to the end that I’m starting to see the beauty. I’m sitting in that and enjoying it.
There had been so many magic moments along the way. Do you want to share any of the magic of the beliefs and how there was breakthrough? I’m thinking of a couple of them in my mind.
There are so many elements to writing a book that I had no clue about. The first thing I’ve had to do was not just trust my cape but trust you. I have found that sometimes that’s hard. I’ve had to reflect on that saying, “She is the professional, the one with all of the experience. You have challenged me a couple of times that in the end has made it beautiful.” That’s where I go back to that hard, messy, beautiful. With my book cover, I thought I had totally put together from the get-go and all of a sudden, there was conversation that it probably needed to be stronger.
I was so married to what was on it. I had shared it with people. I was proud. A very smart person said to me, “Rebecca, this is not about your plan. This is about making it the best it can be.” When people have ideas about how it can be better, you need to listen. By getting rid of my defenses, you all helped me come up with a cover I love. I realized in hindsight, I liked my original cover but I loved this one. I’m learning to trust. That for me was a breakthrough and a monkey off my back. I’m no longer worrying about the cover.
I know there’s something on your mind. What did you want to share?
The other breakthrough that I had, I don’t know if this is what you’re thinking about but the editor that I worked with was the perfect match for me. I knew it from the get-go. She challenged me in a way that makes me proud of this book. Not just like my book. I don’t know if that makes sense. She said, “You need to be extremely vulnerable. You have not been. This story is not interesting if you don’t share the highs and lows. I’m going to give you a strategy for figuring out how to do that well.” When I worked on the content with the homework that she gave me, I was very nervous to send it back to her because she was going to review it and edit it some more. She said, “You nailed it. You’ve listened to me.” That was a breakthrough for me. I’m feeling like, “I’ve got a product that can inspire. It’s authentic,” which was important. She helped me. You found her. It’s awesome.
She’s been on my team for years. I have great editors all the way around. I knew that she was the one for you to challenge you, to probe you, to take you to the next level. That’s why I love the process because after Bestseller in a Weekend, you continued and published a profit. In that process, you’re still writing your book. Part of that is this editorial review and editing. I believe that people become better writers when they work with an editor to see what’s maybe not working and what they can do to make it better.
I don’t share this with you but she was so helpful. I asked her what mattered to her. She’s all about rescue animals. I made a philanthropic contribution to an organization that matters to her. That for me, made it even more authentic because I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Believing that in giving back, I find my power. She and I have had no more communication but the fact that I could show appreciation that way was the icing on the cake.
I remember another magical moment of you trusting your cape with the person who wrote the foreword of your book.
I asked Lynne Twist, who is the author of The Soul of Money, who totally changed my view of money and helped me understand that I had a lot of capacity like a lot of us do. We don’t know it to give back. She had spoken to our organization in 2008. I thought, “Put your big girl pants on because she’s exactly the person that should write the foreword.” When I sent her an email, use some words that you were awesome with, which is, “Are you open to considering writing the foreword?” She responded exactly as you hope an author does, which is, “Write what you’d hoped I would say. I’ll make it mine and send it back.” I did that. She changed very little. I have somebody that I admire, appreciate and have learned from. That was trusting my cape. She responded in less than 24 hours. I felt like she was pleased to support me that way.
Those are my favorite words in the English language. “Are you open?” Anytime you’re asking a request, “Are you open?” Everyone wants to be open.
Alicia, I’m telling you. Ever since you said that about that, I wrote an email to a friend and said, “Are you open?” It’s so non-threatening. It gives them the opportunity to say exactly how they’re feeling. It is one of my new little tools in my toolkit.
It is a beautiful exhibit of what I call conscious communication. It brings out something in people when you ask those three words. What are your thoughts to people who are considering writing a book?
Two things, you have to start and it doesn’t matter what words you write at all. I didn’t believe that at first. First of all, we all have a story and a voice. There isn’t a story that isn’t important on some level. You don’t have to be well-known. You don’t have to have done something outstanding. We all have a story. We should chronicle that. I learned in your class from one of your participants that was further along in the process than I, which has helped me. She said, “Rebecca, done is better than perfect.” That helped me move the process along rather than worry about, “This isn’t perfect.” It’s going to be perfect in the end. The right words are going to be on that page, whatever they’re supposed to be. That helped me keep moving. She gave me permission to move on to the next chapter, move on to the next stage in the process. I’ve even used that with some of my friends who are stuck in various situations. Finish, there’s power in that.
Let’s jump a little bit into your story, Rebecca. What was the impetus behind your story, behind your book writing, behind Impact Austin?
I call myself an accidental philanthropist because I had never given a penny to my community in general. I had given it at my place of worship and to my kids’ PTA organizations but those were organizations of people I knew. It wasn’t the faceless, marginalized and underserved. When I read this article about a woman who had done what I’m doing here and she had done it in Cincinnati, I was on an airplane coming back from knowing I had seen my brother for the last time. He was dying of cancer. I was angry. This article appears in People Magazine. I had bought it for fluff to escape on a late night airplane ride home.
When I read that article, two pages, more pictures than words, I said, “I can find 100 women who have $1,000.” We’re going to put it all together. We’re going to give a non-profit $100,000. It’s going to heal the hole in my heart. I’m going to move on. I saw it as a way to take my anger and channel it in a way that could be positive. The idea is not original with me but the women that supported me. They helped me build the board and the organization. We grew it and said, “There are way more than 100 women in Austin, Texas who need to be a part of this.” We wrote a plan to grow it to 500 women. To do it in a record amount of time, 500 women in five years. We’re all unknowns. Nobody knows us in town. We’re not the movers and the shakers but there are more of us in this community than there are of the knowns.
It was relatively easy to find women who wanted to pull their resources and they found that they had a voice. They’re out sitting on boards, giving more money than they’d ever given before and are educated about the needs in the community. It started because my brother was living his last days. The article showed up at the right time. It has been a game-changer, a life changer for me that I evangelize and tell people what a great model this is for the right reasons. Women find out about us somehow, friends of friends. I’ve helped women across the country start their collective giving organizations like Impact Austin. That’s fun. I’m paying it forward that way. That’s what I spend my time doing.
Let’s jump a little bit into your book. Do you have some lessons that you’d like to share with us, lessons on life and possibility from your book Trust Your Cape?
Starting is hard. It's messy in the middle. It's beautiful in the end. Click To Tweet
Part of it is there never is a right moment. When the urge hits you, take advantage of it. Regret is no fun to live with. That’s what I don’t want to have any known regret by the time I finish my life. The biggest lesson I’ve learned through as I wrote this book and laid out everything that happened was humility. Humility has kept me teachable. No matter what I already know, there is so much more to learn by listening, by being curious, by being willing to accept my shortcomings and learning to put my ego aside. There were a couple of times when my ego got the best of me especially when I was letting go of the organization. I never wanted Impact Austin to be Rebecca Powers impact Austin. I wanted it to be the communities.
For the first years that I ran it, my passion was so obvious that it was hard to turn it off and hand it over, even though I knew the time was right. I’m a builder. I’m not someone who wants to refine systems, go deeper and make it run. Give me a challenge. Let me write a book. I’ve never done that. That’s why it was exciting because I didn’t know how to do it. Learning from those mistakes I made when I handed off the organization, being able to admit them and make some apologies for some actions and words. In the end, nobody cares if you fail. It’s like, “It’s okay, Rebecca. Do what’s right and move forward.” Nobody is angry with me. I’ve learned in the process that humility is keeping me teachable. It’s important. I need to continue to do that not just with Impact Austin.
The other thing is my husband and I have young adult children, 31 and 33. Role modeling is so powerful. I used to say it but when they saw me totally change what my priorities were and what Impact Austin did for how our family looked at our responsibility in the community to give back, they said, “Mom, we’ve never seen you happier. You are where you’re supposed to be.” I’m not saying it was easy. There are parts in the book where there were family issues. Impact Austin was my mistress. My husband was like, “Reb, over here. A husband and two kids.” We had some difficult conversations. With all of that if we didn’t, there wouldn’t be any learning involved. We’re a better family for it. Each of us is very philanthropic in our own way. I giggle with my husband. I’m the one that gave back initially. He’s like, “I’ve done this.” He’s become like, “You can do it. I can do it.” It’s all good. I had never understood when my kids shared with me how happy they saw me. I realized how important everything I do, they’re watching. It matters, good and bad.
You never know who are watching. You’re inspiring people you don’t even know you’re inspiring. It’s the ripple effect.
The other lesson that I learned is being philanthropic, giving back to your community to whatever, it’s learned. You are not born being philanthropic. I wasn’t raised in a philanthropic family. At 48 because of an article and a life circumstance, I started my philanthropic journey. Our daughter saw me do that when she was thirteen and said, “I want to create a girls organization where we bring $100. We’ll pull our money. We’ll give our own to kids or girls.” She learned starting at thirteen the value of giving back. As a 31 year old, she has done some remarkable things because she got a head start over me. That’s when I thought teaching the next generation the art and importance of giving is another aspect of Impact Austin. We have girls giving grants, our younger organization. To see young women giving back and complete their life journey is another feather in our cap.
What do you want to share with our audience in regards to the first steps in terms of being a philanthropist?
Number one, you have to figure out what your passion is because you won’t give back fully. Is it the health of the community? Is it providing educational opportunities? Is it family services where people need mental health? Are you passionate about the environment? A lot of times we don’t take the time to figure that out. Once you know that, it is your job to research that. The internet is the best place to do it. We have a couple of portals in Austin, Texas that give us the opportunity to go see who does this in this category. The first thing you do is you go volunteer. You see what the organization is like if you do have that passion. Giving back can start with your time. What happens is when you find the organization that meets your passion you are inclined to give whatever is personally meaningful to you. Philanthropy can be $5. It can be $5 million. I never understood that. I thought philanthropy had many zeros after it but it doesn’t. That’s our first step.
You can go to Amazon.com to purchase Trust Your Cape: How Women Find Their Power in Giving Back by Rebecca Powers. Rebecca, tell where they can find out more about you, Impact Austin and giving back.
You can go to www.ImpactAustin.org. There is a landing page about Trust Your Cape. On May 25th you’ll be able to buy that book. You can also follow @TrustYourCapeBook on Instagram. You can follow me on Twitter @IAFounder.
Rebecca, any last words that you want to share with our audience in terms of trusting your cape and giving back?
There’s one mantra that I repeat to myself often. We wanted Impact Austin to be a leader in the field of collective giving. Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great, also wrote a very short monograph for the social sector. We’re not dealing with profit. We’re dealing with revenue. How do we get money to run our organization? His definition of leadership is, “True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to. It’s different than being a manager where you’re paid to do what the manager says.” I want to be that leader.
People are following, even though they have the freedom not to. They are compelled by your leadership. They will follow you anywhere. That is a powerful definition of leadership. Rebecca, I want to thank you so much for sharing your book and your story with us on the show. It’s been so great to have you.
See you next time.
- Rebecca Powers
- Trust Your Cape: How Women Find Their Power in Giving Back
- The Soul of Money
- @TrustYourCapeBook – Instagram
- @IAFounder – Twitter
- Good to Great
About Rebecca Powers
Rebecca Warren Powers is well known in the Austin community for her philanthropic passion and empowering people to help others. In 2003, Powers founded Impact Austin, a collective giving organization whose concept was simple and inspirational – bringing women and their financial resources together to make a profound impact in their region. Learn more in her upcoming book, Trust Your Cape: How Women Find Their Power in Giving Back.
Powers speaks nationally inspiring women to connect their capacity to give with their confidence to do it well. She also serves on the National Board of the Jeremiah Program and sits on the Strategic Advisory Board of Allies Against Slavery.
Powers graduated from the University of Richmond in Virginia with a B.S. in Business Administration in 1976 and worked as a sales rep with IBM for 14 years before retiring to raise her children. She and her husband, Phil, live in Austin, TX and have two grown children, Brad and Claire.
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