Episode 21

You are the Hero with Jessa de la Morena

Published on: 27th October, 2021

After battling cancer twice and finding the positive support of people in similar situations lacking, Jessa de la Morena decided to start a community called “You Are The Hero”. Her goal was to provide a safe space for people to share transformational stories and connect with others who have lived through the same loneliness. In this conversation, Jessa talks about:

  • viewing adversity and disruption as a gift
  • setting boundaries in conversations with others
  • looking within yourself to find your inner hero  
  • taking control of your decisions and doing what feels right
  • understanding your own reactions to situations and events

Find out more about Jessa’s community at uarethehero.com

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Maribel:

Well, welcome very much, Jessa, to our podcast AudaciousNess, I'm very pleased to have you here. I must say, you're one of the few who comes forward and reaches out to one of us and says, Hey, I have an audacious enterprise, or I've done audacious things, interview me! So you're one of a few. I was very happy to receive your message, then we hopped on a call and I thought, this woman, we need to listen to what she has to say. I loved your energy and your story. So, if I may start, Jessa, by asking, what are some of the audacious things that you have done, and that you are doing?

Jessa:

Well, first of all, thanks for having me. I'm really excited to be here today to have this conversation with both of you. Well, I would say that the audacious thing that I'm doing right now is building the community that I would have liked to have had when I started out with a disruptive situation in my life, which came about as an illness, cancer specifically, and I was not able to find much positivity around me. Nor was I able to find the encouragement to transform what was happening into something positive, and into something that would give me purpose. And so, luckily, my personality is helping in this regard, where I've always been very positive and kind of, serendipity has always been my mantra, so I was looking for that positivity all along, but I didn't have much support in that context, from, like, patient groups or from other people going through similar situations. I had an amazing support network of friends and family and colleagues from work but not people who had been through similar things. So I decided that I wanted to build that for others, so that I would like that every single person on Earth going through anything, basically any adversity that is going to really shake the foundations of your life, that we have a place, a community where we can feel not alone, where we feel that others are going through similar things, and where we can read stories that really inspire us and empower us and show us that no matter what that adversity is, there is a way to overcome it and to access that inner hero we all have within. And yeah, and get recommendations that normally you would only get word of mouth. So I would like to create a community that's global and that allows for this kind of information-sharing, that is just life-saving in many contexts, to be globalized, and that we can all benefit from everyone else's stories and inspirational journeys. So, yeah, that is my audacious activity currently and it's audacious because I would like this to be available to, well, my goal is 760 million people all over the world, in the next five years. So that is my audacious goal. So yeah, I just, I don't want anyone else to ever have to feel alone like I did at the onset of my adversity.

Maribel:

I can imagine that. That must have been a moment that stopped you on your tracks and, kind of like, shook you up. What would you say is it that, specifically, that you would have needed? Was it just one awakening, was it more things that were happening in your life that you were just maybe going on and doing because you had to? What other awakenings, or discoveries, happened at the moment that you were seeking for support?

Jessa:

Well, so the gift that cancer gave me was it stopped me, as you were saying. I feel like we all live very frenetic lifestyles. Society is pretty crazy, with kids and full time jobs and a lot of intensity and that leads us to not stop and evaluate whether our values are aligned with our behaviors, and whether what we're dedicating our time to, and the people we're dedicating our time to, and the activities we're dedicating our time to, whether they are aligned with our essence and our values. And so indeed cancer stopped me in my tracks. It made me have to process a lot of difficult emotions initially and then while I was going through it, I decided that I wanted to be a part of my healing actively. And so I embarked on a journey of self-introspection and seeked out complementary therapy. And this is where the word of mouth was very helpful. And that's why I would like to integrate that into my community. And these complementary therapies such as hypnosis, reflexology, psychology, biodecoding, ayurveda, all these things, they all contribute to my wellbeing, to my emotional, mental and spiritual healing, which made me really kind of unbox or unpack a lot of things about me that were hidden there under the layers of years and years of experiences that really made me see things differently. And so I started making lots of new choices. And when you're in a situation like that where you're at a limit, where you feel like, you know, for a while there I didn't know what was gonna happen or if I was going to survive the situation, then you were thinking two things. One is, I want to enjoy every single minute the most I can, and that's complicated because you're going through treatment so you don't feel well, but you really want to make the most of every moment. And the second thing is, you know what? I have a completely white, brand new canvas that I can choose to paint however I want it. And I'm going to decide exactly what I want to do. And try to imagine what that perfect, beautiful ideal situation for me would be. And just take steps to make it happen.

Helen:

This is absolutely amazing. For our listeners who can't see your face, Jessa, there’s just a smile on your face the whole time that you're talking here, and I can sense the joy emanating out from you. It's probably coming out in your voice as well, that you're just happy to be alive and happy to be here. A couple of things that I want to pick up on: one of the things that you said was, when you were talking about adversity, you used the word adversity or challenge or, you know, things that you've gone through. And you said that that's a gift. And I think that's a fantastic way of looking at something that happens in your life. We automatically say, why is this happening to me? And we’ve had this conversation on previous episodes, why is this happening to me? But you really do see it as a gift that, if this gift hadn't been sent to you, you wouldn't have been able to start this journey of self-healing, and looking at all of these different ways of looking at your health, and then also connecting with all of these other people about it. I wonder if you could go into that a little bit further, about adversity as a gift. Could you explore that with us a little bit more?

Jessa:

Yeah, so there are numerous layers to that, Helen. So, on the one hand, as I said my mantra, even as a child, was serendipity. So I always was looking for the positive opportunity in everything. But I would do that about everything, about superficial things. When I say that, I mean imagine I had an appointment or like plans to go to the movies and my friend canceled. And then instead of being disappointed I would think, okay, then this allows me to rest, or you know, I needed time for myself or I can do this instead. So I would always be just turning it into something, seeing the positive part about that. Now, when you do that all the time, that's wonderful. But when something big like an illness like this happens, there is a piece where you're obviously processing what you just described, it's this, oh my god like this ton of bricks has just hit me. You do go through that feeling of, why me, why now, why do I have to go through this? And that brings a lot of emotions of fear, anger, etc. And it's totally normal and you need to process that. Now, my mantra helped me a lot, because even just daily I would be looking for the gift. So, if that day, I had chemo, and then I was going to know that I was not going to feel well, I knew it was temporary, but I knew that it was going to give me downtime to rest. So I would just say, Okay, this is time that I don't feel well. It's healing me, and I'm very lucky that I can be having this medicine. It's making me feel like crap, but it's also making me rest and giving me downtime. So daily I was looking for those little things. And then, as time passes, you get perspective, and then you're able to see the bigger gift. So there's lots of little gifts along the way, you know, the situation with the treatment, for example, made me have conversations with my daughters that I had never had before, where we talked about that my hair was falling out, and I was completely impacted by this, as most women, and men I guess who go through certain, you know this, but women especially I think we very much kind of identify with our hair and, I don't know, it’s a thing with women. But it was starting to fall out and I was just so alarmed and I just decided over dinner to just talk about it and they were at the time, 10 and 8. And I had long brown hair down my back. And I said I woke up this morning and found clumps on my pillow. And so my daughter said, very naturally, ‘cause she has no stigmas and has no previous beliefs about any of this, right? I had told her, Look, Mommy's having medicine, it’s gonna make me not feel very well and one of the ways we will see that the medicine is really working is that my hair will fall out. So I had already had that preparation conversation. So when it was starting to happen I'm very shocked by it, even if you know it's coming, and I told her, at dinner, I told them. And so my eldest daughter, she just said, Well, why don't you just shave it off? You know, because it's uncomfortable, right? And I was showing her, I was putting my hand in my hair and showing her how the hair was coming out. And it was making me more and more agitated, and she was just like, Just shave it off. And I thought, you know what? She’s so right. And then she said, you can wear a hat and I said, Well, maybe we can go together and get a hat and she said, Well, when you’re at home you don't have to wear a hat, you know, we're at home, it's just us, it’s okay. And then my youngest daughter said, It's okay if you don't wear a hat but when my friends come over please wear a hat. They might think it's a little strange. So it’s just a very natural conversation that we had about something very, well it didn't feel natural to me, but they were seeing it as, you know, it's part of the process I had described to them. The next day I went and I had my hair shaved and then I just went about my business and so it was so interesting to see how they, with their total lack of stigma and beliefs about cancer and about all these things, they were able to help me navigate some tough things, in a more natural way. So that was another gift, kind of connecting, they helped me in countless ways, but that's just one little example. But yeah, when you then zoom out and then look back and say, wow, you know like, just generally, I mean, I say it all the time and it's one of my favorite Joe Dispenza posts, you know? It's like, what if the worst thing that ever happened to you was the best thing that could have ever happened to you? And I really feel that way about my journey. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, nor would I want to repeat it, but now, it's like I'm a totally different person, and just living my life in a totally different way and just so much more happy.

Helen:

Wow, that’s lovely.

Maribel:

Impressive.

Helen:

So, it sounds like you're getting a lot of support from your daughters and from your family. But from what you were saying at the beginning, Jessa, it sounded like you didn't find the support from other people, or you wanted, you were searching for support from others and that wasn't forthcoming and so that was why you created this community yourself. So, what were you looking for and why do you think that there wasn't already a community out there? I mean, I'm quite surprised that there wasn't a community already.

Jessa:

Well, there were loads of patient support groups and there were loads of websites. But the thing is that when I would go online and go to these patient support groups and these Facebook groups and all that, and again I haven't been on all of them, therefore we should never generalize. But my experience was that I would go to these things and there was just such negativity, it's like that there was such a focus on how horrible what was happening was and all the side effects they were going through and, of course that's part of going through the illness. But I don't want to focus on that, I wanted to focus on, What are the things that helped you? What are the things that you know transformed you? What are the things that really brought you better wellbeing? What made you feel better? That's what I wanted to focus on, so I really had to.., it's interesting because people tend to..., I was just so, so lucky to have such an amazing support network around my family, friends and colleagues, as I was saying, but it's funny how people don't think before they speak many times. So I would have the typical person trying to..., that they're showing just such love and support and care, and in the conversation, they want to connect with you and they want to empathize and so they haven't had the experience you have had, but then they're sharing an experience of a family member, right? And then they might say to you, my mom had cancer and then they start telling you the story and the first time it occurred to me, basically the person told me that their father had had cancer and then passed away. And I was just completely shocked by this because it's like, that's not what I need to hear right now. And though I know deep down that person's intention was to connect with me and to emphasize and show me that they knew that they had an experience that was connected to me, you know, that wasn't serving me, right? So I had to very much learn quickly, just in survival mode because that day I was a mess, and the next day I said, you know what? I can't do that anymore. So I decided that I was going to very politely decline people's offers to share their stories. So I would basically have to start a conversation, if someone started in that direction, of course, sharing their love and telling me how sad they were for me, etc., when they would start to say, my aunt, and then I would say, Just a moment, is what you're about to say going to make me feel really uplifted and inspired? And then I would say, because, you know, I really need to feel that way right now and so I very much appreciate you being here for me but please if it's not going to inspire and uplift me, could we leave that conversation for another time when I can listen to you better? Right now I need to be uplifted. And so I had to set boundaries and that was a big learning experience for me. That, I mean, there I had to do it because it was survival or just be miserable for the rest of my time going through this experience. But yeah, I just wanted to be around people that were transforming, that were really..., I wanted to see inspiration stories and if you look at the community that I've created, I've really, I have a kind of a template which explains how to share the story for people who maybe need a little guidance but you'll notice that all the stories are written where they share a little bit, like, what happens, but the main bulk of the story is, during the process, what were the things that most help them, and how you can get the most out of it and then who they are now and how they've been transformed and what they've learned and how they can help others. And that's what I was looking for, what I desperately needed because I knew that what I had was a very aggressive thing, and I just didn't want to read about it. I didn’t want to know statistics. I didn’t want to know mortality rates. I didn't want to know any of that. I just wanted to see people that have the capacity to overcome that and to transform, and try to take steps in that direction myself. And so that's what I was looking for. And, yeah, it was, I found it, little by little and different people that I would connect with. But I would have loved to have a place like what I've created to just go to and just be completely surrounded by stories of inspiration and empowerment and realize that, of course the inner hero resides within all of us, and it's just a question of knowing it, and trusting in it, and just working through it. But yeah, so that's the negative. I mean, I didn't mean to be, what's the word, critical of other people, everyone has their way of dealing with things. And I know lots of patient groups, support groups on Facebook and in different places, they serve their purpose and it's very helpful for a lot of people. I think that's wonderful. But it's just, I personally, for me that was, it had the opposite effect. I was already going through tough stuff in my day-to-day and I wanted to be uplifted and inspired, and I wasn't in the place to listen to others’ miseries, if you will.

Helen:

I guess that was then another gift that presented itself, the fact that such a group wasn't in existence already caused you to bring it to life.

Jessa:

Yeah, well, maybe there is some group somewhere that I’m not aware of, but I certainly couldn't find it. And so I decided, and actually after my first, so I’ve been through cancer twice. But after the first remission, I had it in the back of my mind that I would love to create it, and I just, I was really focused on resting and recovering from the whole process and so I didn't create that community at the time. And then when I had my relapse and had a metastasis, that's when I decided, you know what? I need to do this because it's going to inspire me. And it's going to, hopefully, make me feel really good, that I'm helping others going through similar things. And creating it while I was going through my own process was a bit of a two-sided sword. On the one hand it was giving me a lot of inspiration, so I spoke to so many people and read so many stories that were just amazing and gave me just massive inspiration even on the worst of my days. But it also meant that I was talking to a lot of people that were going through really tough stuff. And when you're going through really tough stuff, you're a little bit more raw emotionally and so I did struggle a little bit, I must admit, with this, because it’s not the same to be in a stable, healthy, good place and be supportive of others going through things from there, than to be yourself in a very uncertain unstable situation. But I just chose to focus on how amazingly inspirational these people have been, and it's just been such a great journey.

Maribel:

That’s great. I find you amazing, Jessa. From what you're saying, it seems like inspiration is something that's really important to you, and also from all these stories, what I hear is that you're using two strategies in order to cope with all of this. One is to mark your boundaries, and politely tell people, Listen, I need inspiration. If you want, you can come in and be inspired and if not, just go away. So, marking your boundaries, and the other one you call it, serendipity, and it's kind of like being focused on staying positive. I would call it reframing, seeing a situation, you can see it from a victim position, or you can see it from an empowering position. So my question to you is: is this something that you're born with? Can you learn that? Are there role models, people that did that, so that you learned that from them?

Jessa:

That’s a great question. So I think we're all born with it. However, I think that we are all programmed to unlearn that. And what I mean by that is that I think society and our cultures, at least the ones that I've been exposed to, we've been, and especially women, we've been programmed to look outside of ourselves for guidance, for protection, for everything. And so we've been somehow disempowered by that. And so if you watch a Disney movie or, I know now there's lots of politically correct and all this stuff about Disney movies, which is another story, but I'm just saying this concept of the prince that’s gonna protect the princess and that someone’s gonna protect you and help you and I think we project that sometimes in relationship. In traditional marriages of our grandparents, the women were completely dependent on their husbands and they lived in a certain way. And so, we've been programmed all our lives to look outward from ourselves and to feel little, and to feel that the heroes are outside of us, and that we need professionals or experts to help us with different things. And so it's like, you have to kind of unlearn that, and then break free from that and come back and realize that, No, wait a minute, like the actual hero that I'm looking for and that knowledge that I'm looking for, or that information, I'm trying to make a decision and I’m asking for different pieces of advice. That knowledge resides within me. And we’re very disconnected from ourselves. Or at least that’s what my feeling was. I was very disconnected from myself and I see that a lot around me. And in my case personally, my mom was also a cancer, she is a cancer survivor, and she is one of the most resilient and positive people I know, so she definitely had a huge influence on me. Now this piece around my inner hero and discovering my inner hero. That was something I discovered through the process. And I’ve made a lot of decisions about my health situation about whether I should have a surgery or do a certain treatment or who should be my surgeon, you know you interview your doctors. You have to, like you really have to take control, and be empowered and say what feels right. What is the right situation for me? And the only way to know that, you can make lists and debate and be analytical about it and be as mental as you want, because I used to be a very mental person, and get input from different people. But in the end, what I would do is, after gathering all that information, I would just sit quietly with myself, meditate, and just ask myself, How do I feel? How do I feel about each thing? And then I would know the answer. I made decisions that were crazy, I mean crazy in the sense that they seemed impossible to make, like how can you as a patient be given four different options and you have no medical background to actually discern which is the right one and my case is a very rare case. So, all the doctors have their perspective which was equally valid, right? Some are more traditional, some are more modern, I mean equally valid, all great perspectives. But then, it rests upon you to make a decision about what you're going to do. So the only way to know that answer is to sit with yourself and really feel inside, and feel what feels right to you. And so that was also something I really have practiced quite a lot during the course of my journey, and I used to be very analytical and I would debate things and discuss with my friends and I have to make this decision and I would go, the pros and the cons and the this and the that, and I don't do any of that anymore. It's just tiring, and I mean, I inform myself, I interview people who have more resources than I do about certain information. And then I take it back, and I just sit with it, and I say Okay, what feels right to me? And that's where you're aligning that decision with your values and your core essence.

Helen:

Wow, I love this, I love the fact that you've found your inner hero, I love that expression, that you sit and you listen to your inner hero and you take control over what's going on. I feel that you're just showering me with gifts. I really feel that I’m receiving gift after gift, Jessa, you’re just throwing them at me there. I feel blessed listening to you, I have to say.

Jessa:

Well, that’s really nice. It’s great to have conversations with people about this, because I feel like, I don't know, I just would like everyone to know they have their inner hero and know that it's something that, it's not just there's few people that know and whatever. We all have it. And the question is, it does take some work but I was gonna say doing the work of uncovering it and digging deep and going in and yeah I mean, it's uncomfortable sometimes, you have to unpeel different layers and we've gone through a lot of experiences that were, at my age now, you know, I'm 42. I've made a lot of things, lots of experiences, those are layers of my life that I have to unpeel and remove. And each one of those layers has, each experience gives you beliefs, structures of thinking, all these things that are limiting, potentially. And so, if you want to go beyond them, then you have to address them. And so you have to peel them off one by one. And it's not as horrible as it sounds, in the sense that you don't have to relive the traumas or whatever, but you just have to observe them and remove them, and then it's just such an amazing feeling of freedom when you're liberated from it, because you notice that you discover that you were doing something and you didn't even know it. So it's like you suddenly realize, Wow, I was behaving this way and I can understand why because I had this experience and that taught me that I needed to behave this way to survive in that case. And you know what? Now, I can choose whether I want to do that or not. And so it's just so liberating. And that's why I talk about this kind of white canvas because you just realize like, everything we do and think is mostly automatic and so if you start observing little by little, you're able to uncover each piece of it, and make a choice, then decide and realize that you can un-automate it. And decide whether maybe it still makes sense for you, then great keep doing it, but it might be worthwhile revisiting and thinking about whether it still serves your current views and beliefs and your current values. So You Are The Hero is this community that I built, it’s a website right now. It's a global website, it's in English, Spanish and Portuguese. And so this is something that I was able to do with my friends, my closest friends, when COVID began and when I started my journey with my second cancer. I told them about it and they, I wasn't feeling very well, obviously, and they said, well, we'll help you make your dream come true. And so together we built this website. And now I’ve returned to my corporate job after my second remission in cancer, and I am now working in an area of transformational leadership. And so I had been certified as a transformational leadership group coach some years ago because I was already into coaching and these types of things, but I was always doing, kind of, business development, sales, marketing strategy-type roles, finance, in multinational environments. And now I've come back to focus on helping the executives with these transformational leadership practices, helping them reach these audacious goals. So yeah, my personal journey has been very, I would say, important for me and my transformation because it's really helping me reach a lot of tools and a lot of understandings that I didn't have before, that are allowing me to help people transform because, you asked that also at the beginning of the question, which is, we're all born with it, then we have to unlearn it, and then kind of come back to it. But the other big catalyst to transformation for people is seeing transformation of others. And so that's why You Are The Hero also has this piece where I really wanted that the stories focus on the transformation because if people are exposed to transformation, that's what is the catalyst for them to see that they too can transform.

Maribel:

Amazing, excellent. I think it's time for our final question. Helen, anything else you'd like to…?

Helen:

No, go ahead. Go ahead, Maribel.

Maribel:

Alright. So, Jessa, AudaciousNess, our understanding of that word means a solid grounding, where you pursue your goals. And our final question is, while you were pursuing your goal, or you still are, where did you get that solid grounding to continue while everything else was moving around you? How do you stay grounded in your vision, despite of everything?

Jessa:

Well, I guess here we could, there’s two things we could talk about. One is my cancer journey. What grounded me in my cancer journey was my life purpose and my life purpose is my daughters, right? So, everything I did was just focused on I need to heal physically, and to heal physically I need to also heal mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And I need to do this because I want to continue to be my daughters’ mother and I want to be here and support them in their whole life. So that's my goal. So, obviously, for my family, but my main concern was obviously my daughters. Now, from a perspective of this goal that I have with the You Are The Hero community, indeed it goes a lot slower than I would like because I have a lot of priorities around self-care, around having a full-time job and this is just my kind of hobby, if you will. It’s something I do to give back to the world and I just want to do it. And so, I have an audacious dream, which is to reach 760 million people and I will get there. How do I stay grounded to keep moving forward in that direction? Well, it’s just to focus on my essence, on why I'm doing that. And I'm doing it because I firmly believe that I don't want others to feel alone like I did. And so, that's just my passion that drives me forward with this. And so, if it's just one person, if it just helps one person I'm... I would like to reach the 760 million, but, just every day when I get a little message from someone or a direct message or people write to me a lot for transformational coaching and they ask me questions and they told me their story, I mean, just for someone to step out of their comfort zone and be vulnerable and share their story with me already is something really beautiful and it's part of their healing. So if I'm a part of that and I'm helping them take that first step, that's already, I'm already accomplishing a lot. So, yeah, I would say what keeps me grounded is just focusing back on my purpose, and my essence and why I'm doing what I'm doing, why am I here.

Maribel:

Excellent. Super. Thanks very much Jessa, this has been a very inspirational conversation, I am so glad that you decided to reach out. Thank you.

Helen:

Me too. Thank you so much for speaking to us about this, Jessa. Thank you.

Jessa:

Thank you, thank you all, and it was great to meet you and yeah, we'll be in touch, I'm sure.

Maribel:

Definitely.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.