Ep 58: Flexing the Mental Health Muscle

with Dana Udall, Ph.D.

January 12, 2022


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Dana Udall, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Headspace Health

Dana Udall, PhD, oversees coaching, therapy and psychiatry. She has spent the past two decades helping individuals and groups make positive and enduring changes in their lives. Dana has worked in residential treatment centers, intensive outpatient programs, university counseling centers, and private practice. At the cornerstone of Dana’s work is her belief in the power of relationships to help people heal and grow. She is a licensed psychologist.


Take more risks. Have the courage to do something, even if it's forging a new path, and you can't see people that look like you.



Kristi Ebong 0:18
Welcome, everyone. So excited to have you all. My name is Kristi Ebong. I am a part of the Define Ventures team, where I lead partnerships in market development. And I’m also an advisory council member for Her Story, so I’m extremely excited to have a friend and colleague here today with us, Dana Udall, who I’ve known now for many years through different professional circles. And we’ve spoken at some of the same events. But I think most importantly, I have seen Dana’s work kind of evolve from the early days of digital health and novel care delivery in the behavioral health space to just really in this cutting edge space that we’re in now. And so it’s a privilege, Dana, to have you with us.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 1:01
Thank you so much, Kristi, it’s great to see you and so fun to be in this new kind of venue together. I’m just really looking forward to this conversation.

Kristi Ebong 1:09
So a little bit about my background, I have been in healthcare and emerging technology my entire career. I actually started out at a little company out of Madison, Wisconsin called Epic Systems with a three digit employee number in the trenches, implementing electronic medical records, and really working in the early days to digitize that element of the healthcare system, then spent time in management consulting and policy. And then after grad school, came out here to San Francisco, where I started cutting my teeth in digital health and innovation. I’m very excited to get in the head of Dana Udall today, because I think one of the things I’ve learned in the last 10 years in digital health innovation, especially in my roles at Stanford Healthcare and Cedar Sinai, and then in the early stages, at the seed stage with Orbita, is how to think as both an entrepreneur as well as a clinician, as well as a technologist. And so we’re seeing this advent, I think, in a lot of spaces, and so I’m eager, Dana, for you to share a little bit more about your background with the group as well, because I just think that you’re what we call the triple threat at Define and super excited to learn more from you.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 2:18
Well, thanks for that. I never thought I would end up in digital health when I look back over my career. And partly, that’s because digital health didn’t exist when I was first conceptualizing what I wanted to be when I grew up. But it’s also just because in my family, psychology was pseudoscience at best. Feelings were not talked about. Mental health was never a topic of conversation. So I thought I’d be a pediatrician, or maybe an artist, maybe go into politics like many others from my family, but this was not on the roadmap at all. And it was really through having my own mental health struggles that I sort of was introduced to therapy and mental health and started to realize, wow, this is a really powerful intervention and there is a whole world out there that is exciting and interesting and compelling to me. So I went to graduate school, got a PhD, and then have had a career, largely as a clinician. That was my first many years and I’ve been in the field now almost 25, which makes me feel old, but many years as a clinician working in a ton of different settings. And I think, in every setting, I just had the thought, you know, this setting is good, I’m learning a lot, but I want to do something else. And there was just this sense of wanting to always kind of conquer more or solve mental health issues at scale. So I kept moving to different venues and eventually really felt like I’d reached the end of the road, where I thought I don’t know what I’m going to do in this career anymore. I’ve got all this education and all these years. And it was at that point that telehealth was really starting to come into being and I thought, all right, well, I’m really burnt out in my current role. I had started a company trying to provide consultation to parents. I was doing a lot of writing and blogging at the time, but I was kind of feeling my way into something else and I didn’t know what it was. And then telehealth sort of emerged and I just feel really grateful to have gotten here.

Kristi Ebong 4:04
Absolutely. That’s so exciting. And then a little bit more, if you will, about your early days at Ginger, because I know when you first started at Ginger, it was not the behemoth that it is now and the industry wasn’t as mature it is as it is now. So can you tell us a little bit more about what led you to that decision and kind of the evolution of that into now, the larger Headspace company?

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 4:27
So I said this, but you know, a lot of it was really driven by burnout. So as a clinician, and as a manager in other fields, just feeling like care was not going to be scaled through the one to one model. I have so many memories of walking out into the waiting room in whatever clinic or setting I was working in and just seeing a waiting room packed or seeing a line out the door and thinking we have to be able to innovate here because the one therapist to one patient on a 50-minute hour is really never going to serve the need. So I was really interested in creatively solving that and I had heard about Ginger. I came across the job posting. At that point, it was for a position that was for five hours a week. And I thought, well, you know, maybe I can do that in addition to my current job, which was at a university at the time, and then got into conversations, learned more about it quickly, through conversations, realized this is actually a much bigger role. And it was a Head of Psychology role. So I was really excited. I was able to bring my leadership skills to bear, really help develop the program, the team, but it felt like sort of jumping off into the abyss in a way because I was coming from perhaps the most traditional and stable setting, being at a university and a counseling center there and doing a lot of leadership there, but really in a pretty traditional role to a company that was new, and small, and had had some traction and market, but there was a lot yet to be proved out. And I didn’t know many people in telehealth. My husband happens to be in telehealth, so he’d made the switch maybe a year or two before, but really, it felt very new. And so I had this sense of, alright, well, I’m kind of at the end of the road for everything else I want to do. So I’m going to take this risk, and we’ll just see where it goes. And luckily, I was able to do that and privileged enough to have the support where I could make it happen.

Kristi Ebong 6:07
That’s fascinating. I’m thinking even of what’s so resonant about what you’re saying in my own journey before I went out as an independent, which I did for six, seven years, is getting to that point where you’re really looking at your own risk profile. And the aha moment for me was, well, if my plan B is that what I’m doing right now would gladly have me back, then what do I have to lose by not trying it? And I think there’s something in that with when do you say you got to the end of the road with your own options and choices, and you still have that desire to grow and learn? And then it makes me think, as people and as women, what if we thought that way more often? If my plan B is that what I’m doing right now will be available to me in some capacity to come back to, then why not try something because there’s so many hard problems to be solved.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 6:59
I love that line of thought. And I think back often about, in some ways wishing, and you know, we can’t undo anything and I think I learned a lot along the way. But I do think there’s a risk tolerance that’s really healthy. And I think as girls and women, many of us are not encouraged to have that or to think broadly. I think for me, part of the reason that I went into, I was in private practice for about 10 years in conjunction with other things. But I thought, that’s the way to have a family, is to have control over my schedule and be able to, you know, be with my kids part of the time and then work part of the time. And I truly didn’t have very many female role models who I saw that were working full time, doing it effectively, and having children, and really sort of managing everything. So I felt like I was going to sort of take this detour in a way and do private practice. And then I just also felt like I outgrew that, and I wasn’t growing and learning, so needing to get back into something in a more robust way where I had community and colleagues. But I do think, as women, that there is a lot of thinking about family planning, and I’m not sure if as many men have those thoughts inside their heads, those conversations about how to kind of stagger it. But it does become a real issue in terms of how to fit it all in if women are wanting to have children or a family and wanting to do something other than just kind of a straight career path.

Kristi Ebong 8:12
What I love about what you said is that you articulated it really as an inflection point in your career. And I had the same inflection points before starting a family. I actually had moments in my 20s where I was working with crazy, smart, bright women who were later in their careers and, you know, facing, you know, retirement in the next 5 to 10 years. And, some of them, I saw their struggle with, how do they maintain competitiveness? How do they stay ahead of the curve? Or, they took time off to care for kids or to care for other family members, older family members, and coming back was really hard. And I faced that same inflection point, those struggles, where I said, how do I still have something that’s mine, where I’m growing and contributing in a professional capacity along with that personal optionality, if you will. And so I’d love to hear more about, for you, those thought processes, when you were thinking of, you know, working in this entrepreneurial ecosystem, starting a family, navigating that, and what was in your head? Were you terrified? Were you excited? Were you like, well, my plan B is just to go back into into clinical practice at a large AMC again? Talk us through the mind of Dana, back in that time set and frame because I think that’s something that we all face as women, not just once, but multiple times throughout our careers.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 9:37
Absolutely. You know, I would say I was all of those things. I was really excited because I knew there were frontiers out there and I do have that kind of entrepreneurial spirit. I knew that I wanted to create something and develop something. And working with patients or clients one to one is very creative because a lot of it is listening, and conceptualizing, and understanding problems, and finding solutions. But it’s not at scale and it’s not building something. So I think that the idea of building and being surrounded by incredibly smart driven colleagues was so motivating that that really felt like, okay, I’m going to take the leap. And the mission was really motivating. So I think for me, it was like, yes, this is going to be a challenge. Y know, I’m not going to be able to cook dinner as much. My house is going to be a disaster. I’m going to have to really co-parent with my husband. We’re going to have to be really smart, and intentional about how we set this up. But there was this possibility that was so compelling and exciting that I thought, I’ve got to take advantage of this. I think I was aware that this felt like kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity, that it’s very rare when there is a new sort of field or so much innovation happening. And the idea that I could have been part of that just felt like, wow, how lucky am I and, you know I’d be silly to not take this opportunity. So I think, though, there was struggle and anxiety, certainly. I think my parents thought, you know, they couldn’t understand what I was doing. They sort of felt like I was doing something totally, you know, out of their world of comprehension. But it just felt like I had to take that chance and to do it, and take the chance on myself because I’d been kind of playing it safe and doing other clinical roles that I knew how to do really well. I had grown out of those. This felt like, alright, I’m really gonna invest in myself, take this chance, and see where it goes.

Kristi Ebong 11:19
I love that for so many reasons. I think one of the benefits being on this side of having my kids, right, and they’ve got three young ones now, is this increased sense of confidence that comes with, once you’ve taken that leap, once you’ve made that jump, I remember, after my my third, she was probably eight weeks old and I took a phone call for this opportunity at a seed stage startup out of Boston, and was thinking I was nuts for entertaining the prospect of commuting to Boston once or twice a month with a newborn, a two year old, and a four year old, which, for the record, still sounds nuts to me. But knowing that I’ve done it and it’s doable in that context of having a strong community and a really, really strong partnership with my partner is profound. But that theme of vulnerability and how it keeps coming back, but the more that you flex, I guess almost play around with it a little bit, it becomes like a stronger muscle, I think.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 12:22
Definitely. And it’s something that I feel like I’ve learned over and over, and Brene Brown and people are writing about it and thinking about it a lot now. There’s a lot of research around shame and vulnerability. But it is something that I think, as women, many of us have learned along the way and had to kind of flex our muscles, or from indeed any underrepresented group that, you know, has to come into a setting that maybe is new or unfamiliar, or balancing multiple responsibilities. I do think that vulnerability is really key and can allow us to lead and to get places in our career that, otherwise, we wouldn’t.

Kristi Ebong 12:50
Talk to me a bit about, what heuristics or mental tools do you use when evaluating some of these choices and decisions? So here’s an example. And some of those that I work closely with will tease me because I’ll use the heuristic sometimes of, well, what would a white male do? And it’s an interesting question because, often, those of us, maybe from either an underrepresented background or, you know, coming in as women or other gender backgrounds, we know that the rules are different for us in a lot of ways. But yet we understand that there is a set of norms, or a normative standard, amongst certain demographics in the industry. And it’s always an interesting reference point as a way to help inform the choices that we make for ourselves and how we navigate our careers. What heuristics, thought processes, tools, do you go through personally with yourself or, you know, you’re such a strong leader, with your teams to help navigate these decisions and kind of parse through them in your head?

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 13:51
I think there’s a couple different ways that I would answer that. One is I have really started meditating a lot recently and there’s something powerful about being able to drop in and really start to trust myself. So if I can take a few moments and really center, I am much better in my communication. I am much more direct. I don’t soften the language quite so much. I’m not as worried about how the other person is going to respond. So part of it is that practice and almost building that muscle. There’s just a trust that I can have in myself if I slow down and really tune in. And then the other thing I do is I will visualize in some ways how, let’s say, some of the powerful men or others in my life might say something and I almost try to embody that. I think about the language that they would use. And they wouldn’t say, I just want to let you know. They’d say I want to let you know, and being much more direct and assertive in language. And I think it’s really important to still be compassionate and relational. I think we don’t want to sort of confound those things, that you can’t be assertive and also relational. But I think there’s almost a visualization process for me that I go through and that helps me sort of power up or be ready to kind of step into this space and own it in a way that is not necessarily my default and has taken some years to learn, and wasn’t anything that I was raised with. It was about sort of being nice and relational almost all the time. So I think that’s really something that I’ve had to practice with quite a bit.

Kristi Ebong 15:09
I love that. And then, do you think that you use those heuristics, if you will, in decisions about where you’re working and how you’re working, even the type of roles that you’ve taken? So for example, if you’re in an environment where being super competitive and cutthroat is valued over teamwork, potentially, or if you’re in an environment where collaboration and collaborative care is valued over maybe more competitive, individually driven aim, how do you kind of reconcile some of those those thought processes?

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 15:43
There is almost an “acting as if” that I go through where sometimes I have to step into that. If it is a hyper competitive environment or I really have to kind of get in there, then I will intentionally sort of put on that and it feels a little false at times. But it really does get me there. So I think it’s a conscious choice. But being really intentional about leadership style is something that’s important to me. And I think that’s driven the decisions about where I work, as well as how I show up. So am I using kind of relational capital or influence? Am I using logic in an argument to really persuade someone? So I think that those all play into my communication strategy. And again, the decisions about where I work, and to be honest, I can be really flexible and Ginger, now Headspace, has changed a lot. So I have seen different environments, different leaders there. And I think I’ve been able to really flex, but I know what the sweet spot is for me. And that is a more collaborative, engaged environment where I really can show up more fully and be more vulnerable. But many environments do not support that way of working. So I’ve had to really test that out. And over the years, I’ve had some experiences, say, of sharing something vulnerable about myself. I’ve spoken about this before, but one of the mental health struggles that I encountered was anorexia. And in my second year of college, I struggled with anorexia. I needed to be hospitalized. And one of the things that I really learned from that experience was that I needed to take care of myself and be really honest about what was happening. And so that means that I might need to say, you know, I need some time off, or I’m feeling really stressed, my mental health is suffering. And if the environment doesn’t support that, and I have gotten that feedback, people saying, you know, you shouldn’t say that here, or be careful what you see at work, then that’s data for me. And it doesn’t mean I have to leave that environment. But I need to be selective and really thoughtful about what I’m sharing, because that stigma is really alive and well. So those things come into my mind a lot when I think about the types of environments that I want to work in and how I want to create that psychological safety for other people on my team as well.

Kristi Ebong 17:42
I am so blown away right now by the words, that’s data for me. And that simple phrase, that’s data for me. It comes from such a place of inner confidence that shows the resiliency that was built up through those struggles and those personal narratives, and also the bravery to be vulnerable with that and to lead with that vulnerability. To quote our dear friend, Dr. Brene Brown, it’s very powerful when you think about it that way. That’s data for me, as opposed to, I think, especially for women, oftentimes, we’re socialized to think, you know, am I enough? Is this good enough? Am I going to get found out? The imposter syndrome ticker tape, right? But to shift that to, that’s data for me, this is information I can use to do something with and not just a victim of my circumstance. Yes, things are less than ideal sometimes. But that’s data for me, how do I go somewhere with that? So my question for you is, how do you then convey this to your teams? And are you an accidental leader? Are you an intentional leader? I think I have my gut on what you might say there. But I would love to hear how you approach the teams and the mentees that are following in your footsteps.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 18:55
Yes, I would say in some ways, maybe things were accidental early on and I’ve tried to become much more intentional about how I lead. But I try to lead by example. So by talking about some of my own struggles, some of the things that I’m experiencing, but really also checking in with people about how they’re doing and trying to support them. So if there are personnel issues or management issues, being able to have those tough conversations, but in a really compassionate way, so that I am understanding where they’re coming from, using all that they’re sharing with me as data and being able to play that back in a way of saying, you know, this is what I’m hearing, and how is this landing with you? I really want to know what I could do better in this situation. Let’s talk about how to work together. So there’s a lot of those conversations, making things that are implicit explicit, that I think that is part of how I lead, is really trying to have these open conversations. Because otherwise, I think that all of us have been in those environments where there have been misunderstandings or miscues. We think that maybe somebody is asking something of us and they’re not. And so I think it’s really important to have that level of transparency and I happen to work in an organization right now that is highly invested in transparency and really values that as a leadership style. So I feel like I’ve lots of good company at Headspace Health in terms of leading in that direction.

Kristi Ebong 20:08
Absolutely. And then if you think back to that same advice and leading by example that you give to your teams and your mentees, what is one piece of advice you’d give the younger Dana, your younger you?

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 20:23
I think it would be to take risks. I am really grateful that I got to this point, I could have seen another path in which I didn’t take the risk. And I think it’s sad to think about what that would have looked like. And you know, it would have been a beautiful life in a different way. But I think taking risks and really having the courage to do something, even if it’s forging a new path, and you can’t see people that look like you. I am, you know, in many ways, very privileged to be a white woman where I do see some folks that look like me and leadership. Many folks don’t have that opportunity. So I think carving out relationships and people who can really tolerate the risk with you and who say, yes, do it, it’s a little bit scary, but what an opportunity. You should take that opportunity, take that chance. I think those things are really important. So I would just give myself that permission to do that and to not always have to kind of follow the right way, or the traditional way, or whatever paths anybody else has laid out, because I think that that was definitely my early path was, kind of doing what I thought others wanted me to do, or what was expected of me. And my life has gotten much better since I’ve been able to move away from that and really kind of lean into what I want and be much more conscious about making decisions that are truly consistent with my own values and my desires.

Kristi Ebong 21:34
Wiser words have not been spoken. I’m gonna personally take those to heart as well. It’s interesting when I think about the field of behavioral health, and I think about the events of the last year or two, and taking risk takes on so many forms when we think about vulnerability, and for me personally, it’s intersectionality, in particular, that feels so vulnerable. And I know that’s the case with a lot of folks. For me, being from 20, 30 minutes from where George Floyd was murdered, having a black partner, you know, black/brown children living in a very white San Francisco, how do you view your work at Ginger/Headspace as focusing on moving the needle in the DEI arena? I know you and I have talked about this offline, and it’s a personal area of interest and passion for us is bringing intersectionality, bringing this DEI context into behavioral health so we can meet the needs of so many folks who are navigating these really, really bizarre times, and to help us heal and to help us navigate it better.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 22:42
It is such a great question and there’s so many different ways that we could sort of take the conversation because it is so broad. But, I would say, you know, I was fortunate to go to a graduate school where there was a lot of emphasis on cros-cultural care and training. And that is very much part of my core belief system, my values. So it’s something that I always bring to the work. So it’s a commitment to that and it plays out in every way, from trying to hire a staff that is really representative to make sure that we are having inclusive hiring practices, that we’re getting representation, that folks are being sourced from all demographic backgrounds. But it also has to do with how we have the conversations. I’m even reflecting, Kristi, to what we’ve talked about today and some of my language around gender and how, you know, there’s so much intersectionality there. So I cannot assume that most women have children or have the same experiences that I do. So I think there is an iterative learning process that we have to be willing to commit to, which is about talking about what we know, talking about what we don’t know, fumbling along the way, and really learning from others. I think one of the challenges is, you know, we talk a lot about how to make sure we have all the voices at the table. And there’s no one person that can speak for a group. So it’s really important that we never make that mistake, but trying to invite people and make space for conversation so that all of us are learning and those of us that are white identified are really saying, what is my own identity? How do I contribute? How am I not an ally, because there’s some passivity to that, but how am I an advocate or a co-conspirator, which is a word that I love, to really invite this conversation even when it’s hard and even when we say the wrong things or have to kind of fall down along the way, committing to that process is really important. So we have a lot of initiatives at Headspace Health in terms of DEIB, really making this front and center. And it’s up to us to live them every day and to really make sure that we’re holding ourselves accountable because it’s easy to talk about it. If it’s not part of OKR planning, if it’s not part of strategy, then, you know, it’s pretty meaningless. So it’s an ongoing body of work and something that, you know, I and many other people are committed to, and it’s really complex, and it takes some time.

Kristi Ebong 24:49
No, I love that. I love the honesty about the area and also the context that it is a journey. There’s no end point. There’s no done here. There’s no, we get to a place and we feel really good about ourselves in terms of, you know, we accomplished that because it’s going to continue to evolve. And there is so much work to be done. So tying off on that thread a little bit, you know, looking at post-COVID, and behavioral health, and mental health, which, to me, I’m no longer a believer of, you know, do you have something or don’t you. It’s more, where on the spectrum of behavioral health or mental health influence, circumstance, you know, are you if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in the world? And so when you think about the challenges and the opportunities in the industry for behavioral mental health broadly, where do you think those challenges and opportunities lie? What’s your call to action, if you will, for the folks that are listening to this conversation for where to focus their energies where we need the most help?

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 25:52
You know, I think a lot about prevention. And one of the things that has really changed over the course of my career is that we have gone from talking about diagnoses, and treatment, and sort of taking care of folks at one end of the spectrum, to really thinking much more broadly, as you were saying, that everybody has some mental health struggle, some issue, some skill that they need to build. And so I think a lot of my thought and effort is really about, how do we catch people early? How do we teach skills? And how do we make sure that those that are from more vulnerable or underrepresented groups are part of that conversation? So we are at such an important inflection point when it comes to mental health, and DEIB. And I think the opportunity is really making sure that there is no one size fits all for treatment. So, great that we’re talking about empirically validated care. But what does that mean for particular individuals that are from groups that aren’t traditionally studied, that are underrepresented, that speak different languages? There is a whole lot of work we need to continue to do to personalize care so that it’s not just sort of a blanket, like, we use CBT. Well, that’s great. But that may look really different in different individuals. Or, you know, we know that, for some cultural groups, talking with, let’s say, a priest, is much preferred. It’s much more culturally congruent than seeking mental health services. So how do we catch people early and make sure that they have the resources in a way that really fits for their background and identity to get that support? So that’s part of it. I think telehealth is really well situated to help the great majority of folks. So we are seeing a lot of uptake. We know that there are many people around the globe who have cell phones and can therefore get access to help. So I’m really excited about that. But I think it’s going to be continuing to have to work on stigma, making sure people feel welcome, making sure that there are providers who really reflect their experience, because it’s never great to go in and it takes a lot of courage sometimes to seek help. And then if you have an experience where it feels like the person doesn’t get you, or they haven’t had any shared life experiences, that can be pretty damaging. So I think that really thinking about, broadly, how we move the needle and all the initiatives that will go into that is exciting, given that we have, you know, for bad reasons over the past couple of years, but seen a lot of trauma. But I think there is a lot of motivation that can come from that, in terms of improving our system of healthcare delivery.

Kristi Ebong 28:10
I love that. It’s resonant for me on so many levels and I think, I’m sure, for many of the folks listening as well. When you talk about trust and being able to show up and understand your patient or understand the context of the intersections that they’re at, it’s just powerful and I think it’s something that everybody sees and experiences in their own way. But it’s not something we necessarily show up with our friends and colleagues and talk about because it’s otherness, right? It’s other-hood. It’s what we think makes us maybe differentiated or maybe harder to understand. So I love that. I don’t know if you read the the new book by Oprah and Dr. Perry called “What Happened to You” on trauma-informed care. What was powerful for me in reading that book was how they’re normalizing the concept of, everyone has flavors and variations of trauma that we’re experiencing, or have experienced, especially in the last couple of years with what’s happening at a global level. And how do we navigate that and bake in those trauma informed principles into a lot of what we’re doing. And I think there’s a lot of opportunity there in those intersections, as you’re mentioning, to do that and to take advantage of this inflection point.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 29:22
Absolutely. There’s so much more recognition that there are so many different forms of trauma and that everybody has had some sort of experience with it to a greater or lesser degree. So really being able to reach folks and creating the systems of care to really enable that, I think, is exciting.

Kristi Ebong 29:36
Absolutely. One area that I want to look into a little bit more or dive a bit deeper is in navigating tough situations. I think that’s something that is pretty universal for everybody right now, and especially women, and especially in this COVID environment, and especially people from underrepresented backgrounds, different genders, different ethnic and religious backgrounds. And so, with looking back at all of the personal and professionally challenging situations you’ve navigated, especially in your career, what are some of the kind of winning tools in your toolbox, if you will, for navigating that? What do you do when you’re faced with those difficult situations? What do you draw on? Who do you go to? Where do you look?

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 30:19
You know, one of the things that I’ve learned to do over time is to kind of test things out and almost step into situations knowing that they’re going to be difficult, and gather data along the way. So, an example being, if I’m having a hard time at work, or if there’s something happening at work, or I kind of feel like we’re going in a direction in terms of strategy that I think we shouldn’t go in, I will start by kind of raising something, maybe softly, and trying to get some feedback. And that is a way of establishing safety, so making sure people are willing to hear the concerns. But it’s also a way of kind of, like, building up my muscle and allowing myself to kind of become fortified over time, rather than just diving in and saying, this is what we should do. So I tend to kind of step into it, gather data, and then see it as a process. So whatever the difficulty is, I think that I really am invested in thinking about things as though they’re learning opportunities, they are growth opportunities. And so that means that it might be challenging, but I am going to be really thoughtful as I go through it and try to learn something along the way. I truly feel as though that for me has been one of the main strategies that I go back to and I have had so many times in the past, and I see this now in my kiddos sometimes, where there is a lot of black and white thinking, like, I didn’t do it right, or I messed that up. And I think it’s not constructive and it really shuts us down. And so the idea of looking at this as an opportunity to grow. That means, though, that I tend to need support from others as I go through that process. So identifying folks on my staff, in my family in my social life, where I can go to and say, I’m really struggling, or can I run this by you, can I play this out with you beforehand, that’s really helpful for me because it just helps me find my voice and be prepared to say something, especially if it’s going to be difficult, or I’m not sure how it’s going to land. I think that kind of practicing helps me feel much more confident and build up to it. And then the idea of the kind of meditating and dropping into it is also a key thing. So I like to sort of not try to think too much about challenges, but really just that this is all part of the process, and the growth, and the learning. And thankfully, I’m at such a high growth company that there are opportunities every single day. And being a parent is the same, right, where I am constantly learning, and growing, and getting it wrong a lot and then being able to kind of say, okay, what didn’t go so well and how do I do it better the next time?

Kristi Ebong 32:37
It’s interesting, you’re almost giving yourself your own version of exposure therapy, right, by diving in and ramping up the exposure, and the visualization, and the practice, if you will.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 32:47
Yeah, that’s a great way of looking at it. And I think it helps. I think, some people, those skills come naturally. But again, that was something that I did not have any exposure to and I was from a family where we didn’t really talk. We kind of smoothed over things. And so acknowledging that there is an issue is crucial. If you are building a company, if you’re developing and staff, you have to be able to say, this is not going so well, can we talk about it, how do we address this? But I think it’s something that, for me, has taken some practice over the years to really feel confident in doing that. And, you know, I’m grateful to now be sort of on the other side of it, but always opportunities for learning.

Kristi Ebong 33:20
Absolutely. I love too that you mentioned almost this village of people that you rely on, whether it’s your team at work, peers, mentors, other women, family. One thing I noticed also in the personal/professional intersection, especially during COVID, is that we’re almost socialized into thinking that we have to find a partner and that partner needs to meet all our needs. And we need to be able to co-solve all our personal and professional problems with that person. That’s a lot of pressure for both us and the other half of that equation, if you will. And when you are speaking about all of the different people that you rely on to use your, you know, exposure therapy, if you will, it was very resonant with me because that was a mistake that I made early on is thinking, you know, I have this fantastic partner that I can run everything by. But the reality is, one person can’t be a machine and can’t be everything to the other person all of the time. And so I joke with some of my girlfriends that they’re my wives and that’s sometimes who I need to call for something because the reality is it does take a village not just to raise our families, but also to raise ourselves, raise our relationships, and build and raise our companies, to be really cheesy, but super real about it

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 34:38
Totally. And I think, in that, is this nugget of asking for help that is so important. So perfectionism was really big for me in the past and that meant having the answers and not having to be vulnerable or ask for help. And it’s been really freeing to sort of think less hierarchically, like there are lots of people available for help. And even if I’m managing somebody, I might say, I need your help with this, or, can you help me think through this? I think it’s really powerful to sort of bring people in and to feel like they have a role in solving things and in helping me. And I should be asking, for the sake of the company, because we’re going to get better outcomes if everybody is involved, and for my own mental health. I don’t have to carry it all. My partner doesn’t have to carry it all. Those are really important things and ways of kind of distributing and having more of a network approach when it comes to solving things. And it just feels better and I think works better in every way.

Kristi Ebong 35:26
Let’s dive into Dr. Udall with the asking for help phenomenon because I think one of the reasons why we don’t ask for help is because we’re terrified of what’s on the other side of that question. And the worst case scenario there is a no or not getting that help. And what then? So when you’ve asked for help, and you’ve ever hit a wall, or you haven’t figured it out right away, or you haven’t gotten what you need at that first iteration, how does Dr. Udall, if you will, work through that brick wall, that fear, which might even be a reality sometimes, too. If I ask for help, I might look a certain way, or I might appear a certain way, or I might not get what I need, or that that big feeling, that tidal wave?

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 36:13
Totally. I think it is that perception, more than the getting rejected or being told no. That is also an issue and certainly has happened. But it’s that perception of, I’m going to look weak, or like I don’t have control over the situation, or, you know, maybe that imposter syndrome that I think so many of us feel, like, I’m at this level, I should have all the answers. And so asking for help means that I’m revealing that I don’t know something. And I really have come to change my thinking. I still have to catch myself that, again, I’m going to come up with a better solution if I ask people. It’s not about me having the answer because, even if I have what I think is the best answer, it’s probably not the best answer, and other people are going to help me kind of crowdsource it and make it better. But I certainly have been told no, and that is hard. And I think it bruises the ego at times, right? Nobody likes to be told no. I think it depends on how deep my conviction is. If it’s something that I sort of feel like, okay, well, you know, that makes sense and it’s a timing issue, or I hadn’t thought about this from that other person’s perspective. That’s okay and I can kind of move on and be resilient. There are other times where I’ve had to go back to the table and say, actually, I’m really concerned about this, or I don’t think we should do this. And then it’s almost not taking no for an answer and saying, actually, I want to be sure you’re understanding what I’m saying here because I have such strong concerns about this that we have to pause and really talk through it. So sometimes I think it’s, you know, putting it in context, being resilient and just sort of seeing it as a bump in the road, finding other ways to kind of navigate the situation or get support. But other times it is sort of fighting that and saying, I actually think that maybe no is not the right answer, can we further discuss this a little bit, and not just kind of backing away, which I think takes time, and strength, and patience to do that, and certainly, again, was not natural for me. But it is something that, over time, and through trusting others and really loving the people that I work with, I feel like I’m able to say those things much more comfortably now.

Kristi Ebong 38:01
I love it. I love it. I love it, the resilience, right, that’s built and the concept of it being a muscle. Thank you so much for your time for this, for sharing both your personal and professional insights. I know I’ve learned a ton and I’m sure others have as well. And I’m just excited to continue this conversation with you. I feel like, for a long time, this has been teeing up as this is almost the calling card for our generation, right? This is the moment that we are being called to the table to do hard things and to solve hard problems, and to remember that we have each other to lean on to do that. So thank you.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 38:38
Thank you, Kristi. This has been so great. And I just think of you as such a role model and such a support. So this has just been wonderful, to be able to share and then also hear your parts as well.

Kristi Ebong 38:47
Absolutely. Thanks so much.

Dana Udall, Ph.D. 38:48
Thanks Kristi.

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