If you have a legal question, Jo-Ná Williams would be a good person to ask about it. An attorney, Williams founded The Artist Empowerment Firm in 2011 to provide artists, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders with the guidance they need to successfully navigate their careers as well as provide assistance with business and intellectual property matters.
Williams is also a certified Reiki master, yoga instructor, and an important voice when it comes to global and personal healing. Read on for her insight into everything from the shifting nature of our world to how she healed from work addiction.
Your deep passion for community building and spiritual leadership globally has always been so inspiring to us. Can you tell us what is inspiring you today and how all of us can step even further into our own powerful leadership to support global healing?
What’s inspiring me today at this point is the way people are showing up for one another and deciding that they no longer want to live in the way they lived previously — in a way that was destroying the planet and each other.
What I’ve seen is a shift in people that I wouldn’t normally expect to be so willing to change and shift. People who are very conservative or have cultural or racial biases and have been living their life in a bit of a fog, I’ve been seeing them change or at least be open to having a bigger conversation, and understanding the difference in the experiences of people who don’t look like them. People are becoming more open to those experiences and doing their best to empathize. It gives me hope.
I’m also inspired by young people and the way they’ve been active and vocal in the change, and the way they’ve been fiercely owning their own identities in whatever form. All of this goes to the spiritual challenge we’ve been having on earth in general, which is being more connected to ourselves and doing our own internal healing.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I also see more willingness for people to do that work, whereas before it was more like, “this doesn’t exist because I’m not experiencing it.”
We have spoken in the past about your journey with work addiction. How did you realize you had an unhealthy attachment to work?
I realized I had an unhealthy attachment to work when I woke up in a panic realizing I wasn’t feeling fulfilled at all. So many people loved and appreciated my work, and yet I had this sense of being completely overworked and exhausted. I was left wondering … what the hell am I doing all this for?
I remember waking up in the middle of the night and feeling like I was in a tornado. Energetically I destroyed my business, and it created a sense of freedom and openness, and I realized I could construct it in a way where my self-care was at the center of it.
I knew I had an addiction because the thought of making changes that would ultimately be for my wellbeing was incredibly scary. My spirit wanted to make those changes, but my ego was in a massive amount of fear that those changes meant death and my ultimate destruction.
I had a moment with a friend who said to me, “You have to act like you’re sick and shut everything down. If you were sick, you would just let everyone know that you had to go away and take care of yourself.” I had no idea what the answer to this stuff was, but I was willing to take the journey to try to figure it out. I got to the breaking point and I just had to make changes.
The other thing I did to heal was go into a 12-step recovery program. Learning I was an addict and was addicted to work helped create the transition and change for me, and helped me realize I wasn’t my work, and that I was so much bigger and greater. None of that is related to your work, but who you are.
What does your relationship with work look like now?
My work now is full of ease, measure, and fun, and I also pay attention to prioritizing my own self-care and mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Those things come first, before work. I was afraid that if I didn’t work all the time, everything would fall apart. And guess what? Everything did fall apart, and I’m still here. Everything got rebuilt on a solid foundation because I am meant to do what I’m doing. Mental health, emotional health, and physical health are at the top of the list, and everything else is underneath that.
I feel a sense of joy and fulfillment in what I do. I only do things in my business that feel good for me and serve the world. I used to do what people wanted from me, now I do what I want to do and what serves my community. I factor myself into my decisions, whereas before I was more of a martyr.
What do you think the drive behind the work addiction really was?
I think it was related to both financial anxiety and pleasing people. I think most entrepreneurs have that fear that they’re going to be a bag lady. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or how successful you are. I’m the only entrepreneur in my family, and statistic-wise, I’m not supposed to make it. That scarcity and survival mindset had me moving all the time.
I also feel like because so many people look up to me, I had to “be” a certain type of way in order to meet an expectation—I had to prove that I knew what I was doing as an expert and a lawyer—and on top of that, just being a Black woman, we’re not supposed to show emotion. We’re not supposed to show anger, fear, frustration, or sadness. We’re supposed to be strong. I took all of that on, and I recognized how people saw me and realized I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to live up to these ideas and perceptions that people had of me.
Once I was honest about how much I was struggling, people thanked me for being transparent about how things were falling apart for me. I got so much love, support and loyalty, and those people are still supporting me today. It was hard, but I’m so grateful I went through it, because otherwise I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.
In your experience and work, what are both small and big actions we can take to better support global union between race, culture and humanity?
I think it’s so important to act at a local level. People think they have to be on this Martin Luther King-like level to actually create any kind of change, but that’s not true. Do your internal work, too. Understand what privileges you have, because we all have them. Understand how systems are structured for your benefit and someone else’s lack of benefit. Understanding those things and then actually looking at them like, OK, what are the actual immediate steps I can take to ratify that? If everybody did that with systems and structures, things would actually change.
A big challenge I see is that there are a lot of people who have a lot of self-hatred. Instead of focusing on how to heal that, they point outside of themselves and start wars, shoot people, and do horrible things. It’s really an internal discord that’s happening. I think if people took the time to look inward, they would cause less damage and harm on this earth.
You need to do what you can in your local community and sphere of influence, and then you can think globally and do bigger things. It starts at the micro and then goes into the macro.
How have you transformed as a woman and spiritual leader through 2020 and all that has come with this cosmically shifting year?
The way that I work hasn’t changed much in terms of the practicality of it. I worked from home and I continue to work from home. I have a lot of trauma and grief that I am doing my best to manage at this time, so I’m being very patient with myself and allowing my body the time and space to move through whatever it needs to move through.
I also think my vision for my life and what I want for the planet has changed. This was a divine storm, and we need to not let this moment pass us by, but instead sink into it. The world, in my opinion, is not all good and bad. There’s a mixture of all of it. We have so many people birthing so many things at this time, and at the same time we have all this grief, trauma and death. We’ve been doing whatever we want and being irresponsible with the way we treat the earth and each other.
What this divine storm has caused is for us to actually stick with that. 2020 vision is what we’re actually working with. It’s something we can’t get away from, and it’s important that we don’t. I want people to do their best to love themselves and each other as much as they can, because we’re being asked to process so much right now. Everything is changing, and there’s nobody I’ve met who hasn’t experienced a bout of anxiety or depression right now. We’re not necessarily equipped to do all that processing every single day. I’m looking for people to do the work, to connect to themselves, connect with each other, stay safe, love themselves and love each other as much as possible and move change in a way that’s beneficial to all of us.
How can we all step up our leadership in business but more important spiritually in these times?
From a business perspective, I do think that businesses need to look at and reconfigure their structures. Most of our businesses are created in some kind of capitalistic structure, which means there are people on the top and the bottom, and — this is a big claim — but a lot of businesses are set up to cause harm.
I think it’s important to look at the structures and system in place and see how they cause harm. I also think all businesses need to have some kind of racial sensitivity training. We shouldn’t just hire people of various genders and races, but make our businesses and structures healthy for people to work in those positions.
A lot of the time people use the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion and throw them around. They want to hire people and put them in these structures, but these structures are harmful! To just throw people of color in these positions won’t lead to real, sustainable, impactful change. We need to look at the way our businesses have caused harm, make systemic and structural changes, and then make sure our businesses aren’t continuing to cause harm.
We can’t wrap up a conversation with you without talking a little legal advice. What are a few legal mistakes families make when estate planning and planning for their children’s estate? Any top tips for keeping a legacy and estate going strong for generations?
Every family should have a trust. I’m not a trust and estates lawyer, I’m a business lawyer. But I worked in the financial industry for a very long time. What I see is challenges to living wills, and trusts can alleviate some of that. Wills get challenged all the time in court, and if you set up a trust it can’t be challenged the same way.
Also, talk to your kids about death and what they would want, if they’re old enough to understand this concept. Having a family conversation about these things and having the children be involved is important. Children need to be empowered in this way.
Unfortunately, money education is not something that’s regularly taught. When I think about what’s happening now, I realize we’re not taught certain life skills at all. There are certain subjects that don’t set us up for real life scenarios. When you’re never taught by your parents, this model continues. You teach what you know. I think that financial and estate empowerment are all things that we should be sitting around the table talking about with our kids.