When you look in the mirror, who do you see?
Do you see an amazing woman who’s accomplished so many things?
Or do you see the tiredness and strain in your eyes from trying to keep it all together?
There’s a disconnect between the way we feel on the inside and the way we look on the outside.
No matter how much we do, no matter how hard we work, it’s hard to believe we deserve to wear a crown.
This week’s guest Cosette “Coco” Leary worked hard to believe in herself.
She taught herself to know her own worth even when the world around her didn’t recognize it.
She overcame a childhood of poverty and abuse, raised four children through hard work and painful decisions, and went from surviving off from welfare benefits to earning a university degree with honors in public administration, all while serving on Capitol Hill in both a senatorial and congressional office.
Her story will touch you, move you, and remind you that you are so much more than your doubts and fears.
You are bold. You are strong. You have a voice.
The world needs that message that only you can share.
What You’ll Learn
When the world tells you one thing, it’s hard to believe you’re more than what they say.
The world told Coco that she was a teen mom from the ghetto. It told her she’d never break free from poverty. It told her to get used to being on welfare, because there was no way out.
But then a chance comment over pizza changed her whole outlook on who she was, what she could do, and what she could bring to society.
Coco was reading aloud from her journal to her housing and self-sufficiency worker, a professional woman with an education, a good salary, medical benefits, a car… everything Coco didn’t have.
When she finished the last page, the woman said, “You just read me.”
“What?” Coco replied.
“Everything you just read in those couple of pages… that’s me.”
Coco was astounded. What she wrote in her journal was incredibly personal. How could it be that this woman—a woman she greatly admired—felt the same way on the inside as she did?
“That is when the light bulb went off, and I realized that there was more to me than where I was standing in my own shoes at the time,” Coco says.
“I began to look for opportunities, avenues, insights, ideas, and ways that I could take what I felt on the inside and help other women living on the outside in my world.”
Knowing Your Worth (When the World Doesn’t)
Coco dealt with poverty and abuse from a young age.
She ended up as a ward of the court in orphanages, group homes, and foster homes, doing her best to fit in and adapt to other people’s expectations of her.
When she became a teen mom at the age of 14, she knew things had to change. She had to teach her child to know her own worth and identity, even while she didn’t know those things for herself.
She’d watch soccer moms in their vans and yearn for that middle class life.
Could she get there? She didn’t know. She’d have to figure out for herself.
And she did.
She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in public administration. She became an alumna of one of the nation’s highest think tanks. She served in a senatorial and congressional office, focusing on low-income affairs.
Today she is a motivational speaker, a bestselling author, and a professional coach who helps other women connect with their truest selves.
“It has been a heck of a journey,” she admits.
But there’s one thing she knows to be true:
It’s not that she was poor and unimportant back then, and now she has a life of influence that matters.
That worth was always there…. always. I’m the same person that I’ve always been. The difference is, I know it now.”
Even though most of us haven’t gone through challenges like Coco, we still struggle to feel the conviction of our self-worth.
The world around us conspires to make us feel small. It tells us that the way we are is wrong, defective, not good enough.
No matter how hard we try to be the “right” kind of person, we end up feeling like we’re faking it.
Would it surprise you to know that even powerful women feel this way?
When Coco was working on Capitol Hill in D.C., her eyes were opened to the prevalence of imposter syndrome in the halls of power.
“Some of the most powerful women in our nation began to talk to me about how they felt about themselves,” she explains.
“And a lot of the things they were saying about how they felt about themselves was the same way I felt about being impoverished.”
So she looked up the word poverty in the dictionary.
“The definition was so simple,” she says. “It said simply, ‘Having a lack of.’
“It didn’t say, ‘Having a lack of money.’
“It didn’t say, ‘Having a lack of self-worth.’
“It didn’t say, ‘Having a lack of resources.’
“It’s just simply, ‘Having a lack of.’
“In other words, a lack of anything…
“That let me know, right then and there, that we were more similar than different, no matter what.”
It doesn’t matter who you are, you can experience imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is “finding your identity through other people’s opinion of you.”
Fears race through your head like…
Am I good enough? Was my delivery good enough? Did they like what I said? Do they appreciate what I do? Am I as good as I hope to be, or am I failing, sinking in quicksand?
And who in the heck am I, anyway? Am I just my game face? Am I my stage presence? Do I even know how to really deliver what I’m talking about? Do I even believe what I’m saying?”
It’s “when we don’t believe in who we are showing up as in our lives at home, in our public lives, in our business lives,” Coco explains.
So how do you beat imposter syndrome?
How do you believe in who you are and what you have to say?
“You have to hear your heart,” Coco says.
“When we live full out, we are living our life in our skin,” she explains, “and that’s when our awareness can really be tapped in for us to celebrate our messages and who we are delivering them for.”
That’s not always easy.
For Coco, the question for a long time was not whether she felt she had the right to be heard. “The real question was, ‘Did I feel I was worth saying it in the first place?'”
She explains, “I was always looking for someone to co-sign the idea that what I said was valuable, to co-sign the idea that how I gave a message was good… I had more focus on those people’s take on it than on the reality of why it mattered to me in the first place.”
She came to understand that it was her life experience that gave value to what she had to say, not other people’s opinions.
She has a saying she loves with the words BE BOLD repeated over and over again. At the bottom it says,
You have the right to own your boldness. Your life experience has already paid the check.”
If you ever question whether the world needs your message, consider this:
“There’s somebody on this planet that needs to hear it, because they are questioning themselves the same way we are. If we don’t give the message, then we won’t reach the people that [it’s] our divine purpose on this planet to reach.”
From Welfare to the White House
Today, Coco helps professional women deal with imposter syndrome through her coaching practice.
She also spreads the message of inspiration and hope through her speaking and writing career.
Her first book From Welfare to the White House is “the story of what it was like for me being an impoverished woman with big dreams in these United States, and how I had to really take ownership of my life.
“I had to, because society already was telling me I was poor, that I was undereducated, that I came from a caste system, that chances are I’m not going to make it and my kids are going to repeat generational poverty….
“From Welfare to the White House is the story of being impoverished with a dream and finding a way to go and build that dream.”
She hopes that her book will end up in social services offices across the country as inspiration for those who need to hear it.
Would you like to learn more about Coco’s story?
Right now, she’s offering the digital edition of her book for free on her website.
She leaves us with one last message:
Believe in yourself, no matter what. If there are days you don’t feel you are hitting the mark … understand your journey is a part of all of that. Be gentle with yourself enough to remember all the steps you took to get to where you are right now. Understand that those steps speak and echo the greatness of your passion, your purpose, and the fact that you are worth every moment of living your dreams. Don’t ever forget it. Don’t ever forget it. Don’t ever forget it, ever.”
Cosette “CoCo” Leary
Coco is a motivational speaker, coach, and Amazon bestselling author who has overcome a childhood of poverty and abuse, raised four children through hard work and painful decisions, and has gone from surviving off of welfare benefits to earning a university degree with honors in public administration, all while serving as a staff member in both a senatorial and congressional office. She pulled herself out of poverty in order to show others how to do the same. She exists in order to breathe life back into impoverished communities, rekindle relationships across economic class lines, and empower women. Find out how you can work with Coco.