It's that time again. When we welcome the new year, enthusiastic about setting new goals and developing new habits. The problem is, we don’t always follow through. So to gain perspective, we invited Ahniwake Rose, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, to the VEST Her Podcast, to talk about her approach to goal settings and to keeping herself accountable. We also talk about the barriers affecting women in the workplace today and how she maneuvered some of these same challenges in order to get to where she is today.
Ahniwake Rose is a VEST Founding Member and the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute where she works to advance equitable and fiscally responsible policies in her home state. Prior to this role, Ahniwake served as the Deputy Director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), a national organization serving the broad interests of tribal governments and communities, where she worked with a diverse coalition of civil and human rights organizations to address economic inequality and systemic injustice. Ahniwake is a Rockwood Leadership Institute Fellow and currently she serves on multiple education and youth related boards. Ahniwake is a mother of two daughters, Waleah and Tahna, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and is of Muscogee (Creek) descent.
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It's that time of year when we're all planning, whether it's resolution plans, goals, habits, it's that time of year to do it. And you know, different people have different philosophies, right? I mean, you have Oprah that has like the word of the year and that's what she focuses on. And then you have other people that instead of adding new goals or habits, they deduct things from their life in the future year.
So I'm just curious. What do you do to get your year started?
Ahniwake Rose 00:27
So I've been thinking about this a lot and thinking about it, not just personally, but for my team as well. One, I don't do resolutions. I think. The concept of a resolution automatically starts us off from a deficit perspective, right.
That we're not already our best selves or we're not already accomplishing everything. Right. And so it automatically makes us feel like there's more that we need to be doing. And I think over the last two years, I've learned that I don't want to frame my life in that way. So instead I'm thinking about kind of quarterly grills, half-year goals about happiness fulfillment work-life balance, if there is one, and I know that's kind of a tricky term too, but mostly centered around family and how I can continue to bring joy in my life.
And what does that mean? And look like. So it's. Long three-day weekends with my girls, right. To really make sure that we're a building community. It's making sure that we're taking the time to do the things that we really enjoy and not putting things off. So to not sound too hippy, a little bit of manifestation.
Right. And, and I think a lot about that and not specifically where I'm at in a deficit, but how can I enhance my life focused around joy.
Absolutely. And I think it's a true on like, not focusing so much on the resolution because we all know that 90 plus percent of people drop resolutions by February.
Right, right. Yeah. It's incremental changes is the habits is it's how you choose to live every single day that ultimately gets you to those goals. But has that always been your philosophy?
Ahniwake Rose 02:13
I am very goal oriented and most of what I do. So I've always had probably longer term goals that I have also learned over the past two years.
My need to be more flexible with, right? So what succeeded for me in the past could not succeed now in the way that life is continuing to evolve. I think at such a rapid pace. So I've had to change the way that I approach that. So goal setting has always been very important to me. It's just finding the flexibility in that and being gentle with myself as maybe they don't come out looking exactly the way that I want them to do or they, or I thought that I wanted them to and really recognizing the purpose behind what ends up being fulfilled in my life.
And I love how everything that you're focusing on. It's not necessarily about. You know, achieving goals, but the person you're becoming as a result of how you're deciding to live every day and kind of like you said, prioritizing time with their girls and building community with them. I love that.
Tell me your rake up of the year. What were your biggest accomplishments this past year?
Ahniwake Rose 03:23
Can I just say surviving, right? It was a difficult year, absolutely on time. So I'm a single mom two girls and a homeschool. One of them doing virtual, actually both doing virtual last year. So we survived us doing that, doing it well.
I was so excited to when my third grader got her math assessment back and she was still scoring right above grade level. And I was like, okay, we won. Right? Like that's, that's our win. So to me, the accomplishment was coming out of a year. That was incredibly challenging, still loving each other, still holding each other tightly.
Mostly. And both physically and mentally and emotionally, and being able to really look at life, as I said before more gently and being more gentle with myself. I'm I am just like, everyone else is my own worst critic. And I'm really harsh on myself when I can't meet the goals that I've set. So learning to be flexible in what that looks like in all aspects of my relationships.
And so when I come out of last year, I hope that I can say that I've become a better mom, a better friend, a better daughter as the T from the time I've been able to spend with them and then really reflect about how I want my relationships to look at the end of that. Yeah.
Well, that was actually my next question.
What were the biggest lessons learned? And that's a great one, right? What else, what else? What did you learn big or small?
Ahniwake Rose 04:50
I learned, I love to bake. Oh, really. And then I learned to eat everything that I baked. So like, the COVID-19 for me was, was real. It was like the freshmen 15. So I've learned to do that and, and baking for me is really it's very measured, right?
So it's not a lot, it's not like cooking where you can throw in bits and pieces. You have to measure exactly. Do everything. Right. So that works very well for my I'm very anal, retentive personality that I have. Yeah. So I learned that I learned to color again right with, so my nine-year-old is, well, she's gonna be nine she's super creative.
And she loves arts and crafts. So I just learned to color outside the lines again. Right. And to be comfortable with that and to let go of some of that again, structure, right? Yeah. For me. And you can tell that that was a big lesson for me. It was trying to find the. And all of my solid lines. Yeah.
Really enjoyed it. It was peaceful. I could plug in a podcast. I could listen to the best podcast rate while I was baking in it. It's just it's it was my little escape, but I also read a lot. I love to read. So I read a lot over Over the last year. And I'm trying to keep that as a habit.
Do you read, or do you listen to audio books?
Ahniwake Rose 06:04
I like to read and I don't even want to read them on a, on a tablet. I want to hold the book. Right. And I want to flip the pages.
I do both. I do the audio books just because it's easy and I'm always moving. So it's nice to, I can actually finish a book that way, but I also, like, if I really liked the book, then I order the hard cover because then I like to highlight.
And then, you know, what do you want to take out and, and key takeaways, especially for best. Okay. Well, I know you're not into goal setting or that's not that you're not, but not the focus as you move forward, but what are you setting out to accomplish? Whether we call them goals or focused or whatever in the new year?
Ahniwake Rose 06:42
That's a great question. So I'm trying really hard to diversify my, my work goals from my personal goals and. In years past, I might not have done that. Right. And if we had had this conversation, maybe three, five years ago, all of my goals would have been work oriented goals, right. Professional development, oriented goals.
I still love that. Right. I mean, that's still very much what I want to do, but when I think about personal goals, now I want to learn how to play the guitar. Yeah. Lake that's I've purchased one and it's sitting there and I need to just do the lessons. Right. So that's it for me, like what were the things that were on my bucket list that I can start actively thinking about?
I can't wait to travel again. You know, I really want to do that. So my goals are, how do I create? And I, God, this is such an overused term. I just read an article about like things that we shouldn't say anymore. A new normal is one of them. How do I create an environment in which we can. Start loving and living again.
And I'll give you a really good example. My daughter's eighth birthday last year, we were supposed to go to Disney world or universal studios actually is what she decided. And we had to cancel it and we had to reschedule it twice because of the pandemic. But we're going in two weeks to Florida and I'm getting lots of pushback from some of my family and friends about really, you know, it's not very safe.
What my response is, is now my nine-year-old is going to be growing up in this world. We're never not going to have some type of universal right. Worldwide, hopefully not pandemic bright, but something that we're dealing with. I can either help her learn to live with that healthy, you know, which means vaccinations and boosters and masks and social distancing, or I can teach her to learn, to live being afraid, right.
And we're not going to do that. So I think that's one of my biggest goals is how can I help to live again and step back into the world in a way that's meaningful for all of us and not just hibernating in our home offices and doing things virtually,
you know, something that you said, I think really resonates with a lot of us women.
And we can talk about this later on in the podcast, but I think that women are, I think not just women. Everyone. Maybe one of the good things that happened during this pandemic was that we actually started looking at mental health and a little bit different differently. We also started looking at time a little bit differently and how we spend our time.
And I used to be the same way I used to be so driven that, you know, what's next for goals. What's next for what we want to achieve with the company revenues. All of that. And now it's like, you know, I still have growth goals. Like how do I, my two core values are growth and contribution. And so I always have to feel like I'm constantly growing, but I don't have to grow in the same areas all the time.
There's. Plenty of areas I need to grow on and, and just focusing and given me permission to do that right. To not just be all about revenue, all about coming. I mean, when you're an entrepreneur is like even more emphasized.
Ahniwake Rose 09:52
I'm a nonprofit. Yes. I'm always fundraising.
But anyway, I love that you say that because I think that we, as women need to think a little bit more about growth in different ways. It's not always tied to, even though vest is about putting women in more positions of power and influence power doesn't necessarily mean a title. That's a position.
You know, it could be just the power of making decisions for yourself without listening to other people's expectations of what success looks like.
And you know, we have a lot to learn from the generation that's coming up too about this, right. I was. For me, success was the title. It was the office with the door and the desk and the, you know, all of those things for the generation that's coming up, they find success and fulfilling their personal mission in whatever that looks like.
And if they don't find fulfillment at work through that, they're doing it in their personal lives or they're changing their employment, right. To make sure that they are aligned. And it's, you know, as I figured out and, and have worked with my team to help, how do we. Assist our younger staff and finding and making sure that we're living our vision and mission statement every day, internally and externally at the office, it's had me really reflect on my life too.
And I can say a hundred percent, I would not be doing the work that I do if I didn't deeply believe in the mission of vision, because I just, I spend way too much time doing it. Right. If I can't say at the end of the day these 15 hours I've spent have really made a difference for my children or my children's children or my children's children's children that I'm doing the wrong work.
But it's given me this pause right. To turn around and really reflect on living my personal vision.
Yeah, for sure. So, well for, I'm just going to add something because sometimes I do need validation, even though I say I don't, but you know, when we started vest we got a lot of questions as to.
You know, are you helping women in the C-suite or are you helping women in the VP get to the C-suite and or are you helping emerging leaders? Why all mixed together, maybe you should do tracks where the C-suites get different content and, you know, but I find so much value and the cross-learning because you're absolutely right.
I'm learning so much, you know, like this digital nomads and the future of work and how, you know, new generations are thinking about what they want to do and they're unapologetic about it. And they're looking for ways to do it. I mean, I get excited about that and then we learn how to operate and how to serve, you know, and also like that's a new customer segments that we need to be tapping and how do you do it?
And anyway, so. Thank you for giving me that validation. Yeah. Okay. So, so you're going to learn how to play the guitar.
Hold me accountable. I will, I've got to find someone that's actually give me lessons.
Well, that's actually my next question. What, how do you build the processes or
accountability measures to keep yourself okay.
Ahniwake Rose 12:57
I'm a huge calendar person, right? So I'm somebody that will, and my 16 year old can attest to this. Cause she's so angry at me signing a contract for a tutor. Right. So she's got tutor sessions for, you know, 12, 12 weeks out. And mom, I don't need this. And I'm like, well, but you do right. So I will find somebody and I will schedule it.
And you know, it's just like going to the gym. I won't go to the gym unless I have a trainer. And that trainer is on the calendar that I've already paid for. Right. That's that holds me accountable. Cause I don't want my money to go to waste. And that you're right. I mean, you find the tools that work for you and for me, it's.
If it's on my calendar, if I'm setting time aside for it, if I'm making a deliberate attempt to do that, then that holds me and I'm going to see it right. It's going to pop up. And, and I do that, not just for my personal goals away, but I, I, I do that for work as well. It gets important for me to set a time side, just to do strategic planning work, right.
Or just to do visioning work. If you do. Set that time specifically and purposely aside then it's so easy to let it roll and, and to not let it happen. So, yeah, I mean, I've got my next year essentially planned out for when I want to go travel and when I'm going to take my vacations and, and blocking that time out and holding that time as sacred, and I would not have done that, you know, five years ago, I would have been fearful that something would come up.
That's more important. Yeah. And I have learned now that nothing's more important, right? The work is always sadly the work is always going to be there. And me taking a one week vacation to go hang out, you know, in, at universal studios and ride Hoggard rides is not going to make any lick of difference honestly about whether I can take that vacation or not.
Right. Yeah. So yeah, no, I love it. I mean, you know, what did they say to create habits? You have to be. Obvious easy. Yes. And then hold yourself accountable. So scheduling, I think it's definitely a hack for accountability. And yeah, so we'll, we'll be talking about that in our best, next best session for sure.
Okay. What about, what about, you know, okay, so we started the year, everybody's excited, new goals, whatever. And then, you know, February hits, March hits. How do you recharge batteries, especially for women now? Right. I mean, we're dealing with the pandemic is not more, it's not over. And like you just said earlier, new things are going to be thrown at us.
The work force is changing the the, how we work, how we interact with each other it's changing. So and, and with that comes new challenges, especially if it's hard for you to adapt sometimes did that change. So I'm just curious to know how. How do you manage burnouts? And how do you recharge batteries so that you can go back to your goals and then again, keep yourself accountable.
I don't know how much it would self-disclosed but I, I will, I, I scheduled myself mental health days. Right. Probably every quarter, if not more frequently, if I feel like I need one I will schedule myself a mental health day. And whether that means I go sit at the park and read a book, or maybe I indulge and go get a massage.
Right. But it's days that I really am. It's just for me just to think, and frankly, if I need to cry, right. And just sit and say, okay, it's been too much. But I am one to say, okay, I've cried now, stand up and move forward. And I know that's not easy for everyone to do at the office. We're thinking a lot about how do we celebrate our wins more deliberately.
So we're trying to build in, and I just heard from my team very clearly that we need to spend more time doing that. So every quarter we're just going to spend some time reflecting on all the wins that we've had small and usually small, right. But major wins that we've been able to document, but.
That's a great question. And I, I wish I had a I think thoughtful, responsive answer, but it's just, I literally just try to create space for myself to be,
and, and thank you for, you mentioned, you know, you don't know how much you want to disclose, but I think we need to talk more about it. You know, mental health is not, I mean, first of all, we all cry.
I mean, I get in the fetal position a lot. Sometimes I get frustrated. I I start the year again, I'll, you know, although maybe 20, 22, hasn't been that enthusiastically in terms of setting goals, but, you know, we do all of that. And then, and, and I say, I'm going to eliminate these things and I'm going to, you know, only focus on this and then month two, I'm back to.
Bad habits if you know, doing my to-do list and prioritizing the wrong things. So we do need to talk about mental health. We do net because I think if we take away the stigma and then if we know that other people, everybody goes through the same thing, that maybe we are a little bit more patient and empathetic to one another, and then we figure out how to do life together.
Ahniwake Rose 17:44
You know, I'm going to be honest. You're another one, right? I mean, vest has provided me a huge amount of Personal fulfillment. And just knowing, you know, sir, I don't know if its working non-profit I don't know if it's the field that I've been, but I've always been around strong women in leadership. And so when I came to Oklahoma and you having this, it was such a natural fit for me to step into this space and being around women and celebrating that work, uplifts me a great deal.
So I I've told you this before, but you know, officially thank you for that because you helped me find my women right when I came here. So that's, you can't discount who is going to be your network and your support network, and whether that happens, you know, virtually or you know, through an app sometimes is enough, right.
To just connect with people that are like-minded. Yeah. So, but w w I quickly want to go back to the goal setting. Cause I think one thing that, that we Maybe didn't talk about a little bit. Is that right now in this era, in this environment, goal-setting. Really challenging. Anyways, we don't even, it's hard to say, like, I want my goal to be this because I frankly don't know what's going to happen.
We've got midterm elections coming up. We've got an, a whole, lots, and lots can change that we don't have direct control over maybe in a way that we used to, whether it be, you know, childcare or frankly employment or industry. Right. So it's goal setting can be scary when you're in flux and we have as a society and as women really been in flux for a very, very long time.
So just finding time to be grounded and maybe stop and be mindful of the space that we're in, I think is, is really important. And that would be a great, you know, kind of. For ourselves just to try and like, reevaluate, what does this mean at this moment?
So, and how do we manage uncertainty as opposed to like always trying to look for the next thing?
Yeah. I love that. Well you talked about something that was also in my list to talk about, which was your move from DC to to back to Oklahoma. Tell us a little bit about that. What influenced that decision and how has the transition been to you and to your girls?
Ahniwake Rose 19:55
So again, I'll do some, some self-disclosure.
So I was in DC for almost 15 years and I loved it for folks that have not lived there. It's it's DC is on my top. Yeah. It's not Chicago, right? It's not New York. There's, you know, an in every corner of a neighborhood, there's a park. It's really family oriented. It's super community oriented.
You're walking everywhere, you know, your neighbors there's markets outside. So we had a really deep, strong community there that was built and was created by us. Right. It was all based on friends and people that we worked with. But my youngest daughter's father passed away and shortly after my father passed away and all of that I really was in desperate need of a family.
And I needed that type of support system and structure. So that was, that was one reason why I was looking to come home. But professionally and the work that I do and policy work there is a lot that's happening in this space. It's we call it the devolution of power, right. Which is a movement from federal government's role to state government's role.
And, you know, like I said earlier, if I can't say that the work that I'm doing is making a difference for what, in, in Indian country, we call seven generations. Then I need to be re reflecting on that work. And as I looked at the policy I've been doing, there's so much of it that is interpreted by states in a way that maybe we didn't intend right.
When it was passed. And so I felt like it was time for me to kind of put my money where my mouth. Yeah. And, and come and think about what does it mean to, to truly work at a state? So both of those factors led me back home and it, I, it was just serendipitous that I found a position where I'm at, because it's just it aligned so clearly with what I was hoping to do.
And, you know I think your listeners probably know, but you know, I'm a citizen of Cherokee nation. I'm also of Muskogee Creek descent and living in DC for a long time, kept me away from culturally who I am and my girls needed to be more grounded in that space. And that can't ha well, you can try as much as possible, right.
For that to happen away from your homelands, but ceremonies things are conducted here. So that also brought us back home. So there was a number of reasons and it all just sort of the confluence of it at one time. You know, if you don't know, I live by purpose a lot. Yeah. And it was just really meaningful for me to come here and frankly, you know, three months in.
Mm. And I had to be really honest. I would much rather have been here with my mom and my brother and family then in DC while that was happening. So I'm incredibly happy that we were able to spend that time here.
Absolutely. And I'm glad that you came back here. We're going to put this on your bio and in the notes for the episode, but do you mind telling us what you were doing in DC and what you're doing now that you're you're in Oklahoma?
Ahniwake Rose 22:39
Sure. So at the time when I left, I was the interim executive director for the national Congress of American Indians. I had been doing that for about a year previous. I was the deputy director there. And previous to that, I worked as the executive director for the national Indian education association.
For folks that don't know in AI is for a better term. It's like the UN of tribes. They have an embassy of tribal nations and they represent all 567 federally recognized tribes at the Capitol they're consensus based organizations. So I did. It in, in running that organization, it was also the legislative director there for a while too.
So really thought about all policies that impacted native people. I'm currently the executive director for the Oklahoma policy Institute and we are a non-partisan think tank. Although we, we add the tagline think and do tank because it's not just, it's, it's looking at the data and providing some deep insight into the policy work that's taking place.
But it's also thinking about what matters most to our communities and how can we impact that and, and put it into action in a way that's livable and works best for the people that we're we're advocating for.
For sure. Unawake. Your job is to inform people on equitable policies, right. And to get them to care.
But I feel like and correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like with so much cynicism and apathy for politics and politicians how do you get people to care about the actual policy and not get so caught up in the politics of it? Right. Because I feel like our biggest challenge right now is the apathy for the systems,
Ahniwake Rose 24:23
if I had the golden answer to that, everybody would be doing it right.
I th I think we do our best and, and how we think about it and how I think about it oftentimes is, is storytelling Getting in front of decision makers, getting the right people in front of decision makers who have lived experience to help them get behind, you know, get away from maybe just the numbers, right.
Or the rhetoric to truly talk about the impact of what that policy means for folks. And you know, I pick on my mom a lot when I think about this, because. My mother has evolved in the way that she thinks about a number of issues. She would have been as straight line party voter on a number of things as she has seen her daughter struggle, as she has seen her granddaughters struggle, as we have thought about sexuality and gender in different ways or women in the workplace or whatever that be, she has really evolved in her thinking, right?
So she's had a personal touch, she's been voting differently and she's been thinking about things differently and she's been researching things on our own. So it's providing people an opportunity to hear another story. Not from somebody and we'll pick on California cause we're in Oklahoma, right? Not somebody from California, but their neighbor.
How do we get that neighbor story out in front of them so that we can build relationship? And get past the rhetoric. And that sounds sometimes much, much easier than it. It is because we have unfortunately become so divided on so many issues. And you know, for me, childcare is one of those things, right?
It's, it's, that's something that should not be a partisan issue. We know how deeply important it is. Mental health should not be a partisan issue. We know how deeply important it is. So the more we can do, as you said, right. To highlight. And one of our past chairs, Don Milikin, we, you know, his, he always told me our job was to shine a bright light and all of those dark, hidden spaces.
And so as we do that and create normalcy to talk about issues that maybe most people haven't been addressing and trying to get people to vote on the issue. It's it's longterm. It's not a short-term fix, it's a long-term fix
Yeah. I love the storytelling part because I think you're absolutely right.
And I, you know, As much. And I'm one of those guilty of fallen into cynicism when it comes to just looking at politics, politicians, or systems that have prohibited a lot of people from even participating. But at the same time, I keep reminding myself, but policy is what shapes a lot of our communities.
Like if we're not taking care of that crucial component, it affects so many things that affects healthcare. It affects access to resources, access to housing. I mean, it just affects everything.
Ahniwake Rose 27:09
So I look at how much things have changed just since I decided to step into this work. Right. And a lot of that is, you know, access to information.
But my view when I was terrified, when I first went to DC, right, because of the power brokering that went on there, I had never been to DC. I had absolutely no idea how to do that work. I didn't even know how to go about finding bill information. Right. I had never looked up anything like that. I just dove sort of head first, the younger generations, they don't have that problem.
Right. They can talk about issues with such fluency, such depth of knowledge. That continues to give me hope, right? There's no more being able to pass a bill without these young people understanding what it means, knowing how it's going to impact their communities, knowing how the dollars are supposed to be spent, holding folks accountable.
They know how to do it. They're organizing themselves on various social media platforms, right. They're getting out there and they're sharing information that didn't used to happen in, in the way that it's happening now. And so that continues to give me hope. We're not going to be able to Hopefully for much longer, see things passed right within introduced and passed within a week.
There's the communities. I think our state is going to really step up and say, Nope. And that's going to take younger, younger folks. I think that are deeply, deeply passionate about making their community better and making it a place where they want to stay and thrive. Absolutely.
As a little girl, did you ever think you would be doing what you're currently doing?
Ahniwake Rose 28:46
No, because I didn't know it was a job. Right. And, and so my parents, we were the wealthiest poor people wait that we knew my parents worked really, really hard. My mom's sometimes two jobs blue collar work. And we were always really isn't Oklahoma. It was all in Oklahoma. Yeah. We had a home in Owasso.
My dad worked for Southwest and you know, we, we wanted for an, a. But I didn't know what kind of work there was. Right. Because when you're surrounded with limited options and everybody really doing manual type of labor, like that's what I understood. And I knew some of my friends had parents that like went to an office, but I, to me, an office was what my mom kind of did, which was photocopying right around paralegal work.
And they didn't understand what that was. One of my favorite conversations with my mom was when I was in ninth grade, I wanted to take a typing class and she wouldn't let me, because the only people that typed or secretaries and she didn't want me to do that. And she was afraid that if I knew how that I wouldn't push myself to do something more, as a result, she ended up typing a lot of my papers all the way through college, because I didn't know how to type.
So I ended up. Stumbling and fumbling right into the jobs that I had. My dad really thought once I graduated through college, that was it. Like I w I was gonna make it, you have a degree. First-generation my uncle graduated college, but I was the first in my dad's family. And no one had any idea to help me navigate that system.
Right. As, as most first gens, there was student loans, what, you know, financial aid, what, like, it was just, I'm going to claim independence so I can fill out these forms. Like no one knew I did it all myself, and it was a hot mess. Like it was truly a hot mess. So I ended up with my first job and had no real idea how I got there in the first place.
But going to DC, absolutely not. I was somebody I know called somebody that I know, right. That ended up saying, Hey, would you be interested in doing this? And I took a shot at. Loved it. What I take from that though is what I've passed to my daughters. And I put them in every summer program. They can find every class that they want to take and try to let them know that whatever you can envision is what you can create a career from.