Ready to Rise with Jo Saxton by Rhoda Hardie

Jo Saxton is an internationally renowned author and speaker, who brings a multicultural perspective to her leadership training for women. She was born in London, and now lives in the States. Jo’s new book, ‘Ready to Rise’, was published this spring.

Jo, the subtitle of your new book is ‘Own Your Voice, Gather Your Community, Step Into Your Influence’. Could you tell us a little bit about each of those phrases, and why they are important?

‘Own Your Voice’ means to acknowledge and embrace the way God has made you, and the call and purpose He has placed on your life in each season.

‘Gather Your Community’ – we don’t do life alone; there are people who support us, invest in us (and vice versa), who play a key role in the life God has called us to. Purpose/calling isn’t only about what we do; it’s also found in the relationships we have. 

‘Step Into Your Influence’ – it takes courage, but ultimately this is not just about talking about what we are called to and recognising that we have influence, but taking concrete steps in response to what God has given us to do.

As a woman born in London to Nigerian parents and now living in the United States, where would you say your roots are? Has that changed over the years?

Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in quite a few places, I’ve learned to find ways to feel at home anywhere. So the US is my home and I’m called here. But maybe it’s because I’ve lived in quite a few places that I’m fully aware of the things that don’t ever change: I’m Nigerian (Yoruba); I’m a Londoner; I’m an immigrant. That’s me. My people are my roots. And ultimately, my citizenship is heaven.

In your book, you write, ‘Now is the time to rise’. Seeing the #BlackLivesMatter campaign gain momentum over the last few months, do these words seem more relevant now than ever? 

I think these words are AS relevant as ever, not more relevant, because the inequities that ignited the #BlackLivesMatter movement have been happening in the US and also the UK for a very long time. Racial inequity and injustice have been the lived experience of our communities, our congregation members, our families, our own bodies. We all have stories we could tell. So it’s good and significant that #BLM is receiving attention and focus.

You talk in your book about the importance of having relationships that give you wings, and relationships that give you roots. Could you tell us more about this and why it is so crucial?

The relationships that give us roots keep us grounded, healthy and whole. They are your friends, your family, your church community – maybe a person you talk to about the brokenness in your life. It’s a lie that a leader doesn’t need these. Leaders are human beings too.

The relationships that give us wings are the people who help us fly, to soar into God’s purposes for our lives – a mentor, a sponsor, maybe our team or professional networks.

God designed each of us for community. It isn’t good for us to be isolated; we thrive and fulfil our potential in the context of healthy relationships. Chronic loneliness is an effective tool that the enemy uses to undermine people, particularly leaders. 

Your idea of the ‘Great Woman Theory’ is one with which I am sure many of us can identify – the expectation to do it all and be it all. What advice would you give to people who may be struggling with this pressure?

We have to break up with the lie that our worth is tied up in our performance in every part of our lives. It’s exhausting us.

I knew, growing up back in the day, that to be taken seriously as a Black Nigerian woman in certain spaces, being good was not enough. You get tired of people thinking you are less capable and competent because you are ‘just a woman’, Black or African. So I worked harder to be at least twice as good, in order to be seen as just about equal. It might get you the job, but it certainly got me burnt out!

I am probably still a bit of an overachiever at times – old habits die hard. But I know who I am now. I am made in God’s image. I am a child of God. I don’t have to prove my worth. If my Blackness, my womanhood, or anything else means you reject me, it is what it is. I will not burn myself out trying to get approval to sit at your table. 

Ready to Rise by Jo Saxton is available now in paperback.

Rhoda Hardie 

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