Some conversations are so easy, energised and flowing. It’s one of the greatest joys of podcasting for me. meeting someone who becomes like your soul mate for 30 or 40 minutes of your life. That’s what happens when people share their experiences, and what they learned from it, how it changed them, and how they contribute.

I absolutely loved this conversation with Olivia Grant-Cream – my last interview on Do What Matters for 2022. Thank you Archita Fritz for the introduction!

Olivia has served as a HR leader for Stryker since June 2012 and during this time she has successfully supported several large sales organisations, facilitated cross functional synergies, implemented DE&I strategies, developed onboarding programs, facilitated integrations and assisted with the development of many commercial leaders. 

Before joining Stryker Olivia retired from the US Coast Guard in 2012. Most notably in 2009 Olivia made Coast Guard history as she became one of two first African American Engineer officers to serve on a “major” cutter.

Olivia is also the co-host of the Embracing Only podcast and is working on a book titled Only; a corporate survival guide. 

Show Notes

Katherine Ann Byam 0:01
How important is it to have a purpose in your view and a shared purpose at that?

Olivia Grant Cream 0:06
It’s the most important thing for me, if you have no purpose, you will get sucked into any and everything, right? You end up just kind of wandering through this life, helping other people build their dreams and align to their purposes, without ever really carving out a space for yourself, if that makes sense. And so I think, you know, most people that I coach or that I mentor come to me, and they’re looking to find their purpose. And when you’re wandering around without a purpose, the number of mistakes, the number of delays the number of, I mean, just weird places that you find yourself into, because other people are pushing and pulling you into their spaces. And you end up being very, very lost and confused, and that causes all sorts of chaos in your life.

Katherine Ann Byam 1:03
My name is Katherine Ann Byam, and I’m your host. What’s your purpose? And how does it integrate with sustaining life itself? For some of us this question is a deep ache that we spend a lifetime trying to find, perhaps shifting direction as we learn and grow from one path to another. For many of us our children give us a clear definition, providing for them becomes our reason for being. For others, it’s about enjoying the present moment; ever so fleeting, and ever so beautiful. For still others it can be financial, status, contribution or impact. In this podcast, my guest and I will share with you tips, ideas and methods on how to build a career that integrates with who you are and the life you want to lead. We will explore the social foundation on which to build your transition and an ecological ceiling, above which we need not climb, so that we live not just for ourselves, but for our collective ability to thrive. Welcome to The Purpose Driven career podcast: Do What Matters. Olivia Cream has served as an HR leader for Stryker since June 2012. And during this time, she has successfully supported several large sales organisations, facilitated cross functional synergies, and implemented dei strategies as well as developing onboarding programmes, integrations and assisting with the development of many commercial leaders. Before joining Stryker, Olivia retired from the US Coast Guard in 2012. Most notably, in 2009, Olivia made Coast Guard history as she became one of the two first African American engineer officers to serve on a major cutter. Olivia is also the co-host of the embracing only podcast, and is working on a book titled – Only – A Corporate Survival Guide. I love this, I’m really excited to have you on the show. Olivia, welcome to Do What Matters.

Olivia Grant Cream 2:53
Thank you so much, Katherine. It’s an honour to be here.

Katherine Ann Byam 2:55
Really an honour to have you. So you are a veteran? It sounds so strange to say that, looking at you, what is it like to serve in your country’s Coast Guard? And what made you choose this path?

Olivia Grant Cream 3:05
Yeah, that’s such a great question. And I really feel like it’s a privilege to serve. So you know, the Coast Guard for me was really a tool to leave this world in a little bit better place, then I found it. And, you know, when I was thinking about what I would do for college, what drew me to the Coast Guard was the mission first and foremost, right? So we, we preserve life in the Coast Guard. And so when you think about all the maritime activities that we do, chasing drug runners and migrants and preserving our fishing, you know, our natural habitats by regulating fishing, and even if you are looking for some action, the Coast Guard has been a part of every major conflict that we have, so you have that opportunity to do that as well. So, for me, I think joining the Coast Guard just one gave me an opportunity to be an engineer, which I knew I always wanted to do. And it gave me real life practical engineering experience, not just the theory. And it gave me a little adventure and it helped me save some lives in the process, which is such rewarding work. I could never replace that experience.

Katherine Ann Byam 4:20
Oh my god, you know I’m gonna have to ask this. But did you catch any drug runners? Like tell us about this?

Olivia Grant Cream 4:26
Yes, we did catch drug runners and you know, it’s so, it’s so interesting, because I think when people think oh my god, you guys are chasing drug runners. people immediately think, you know, you’re, we’re chasing the cartels or we’re chasing you know, some kingpins, and it turns out, that’s not actually who we’re chasing. So the drug runners are quite sneaky. And what will happen is, you know, whether the cartels are operating out of Haiti, or they’re operating out of Cuba, or you know, somewhere in South America, what they typically do is they go down to the fishing ports and they tell, you know, one of the captains down there; we have your family, and you’re going to run this drugs for us. And if you don’t, we’re going to wipe out everyone in your family. So who we end up catching, are these poor people that have gotten caught up in this web, you know, and they, hopefully will lead us to some bigger fish. But most of the time, those were the folks unfortunately, that we ended up picking up.

Katherine Ann Byam 5:27
Yeah, that’s, that’s the tragedy of a lot of this right. But it’s part of the story and the journey. That tell us a bit about your backstory. What’s, what’s your story? What’s your American dream story?

Olivia Grant Cream 5:38
My American Dream story? I mean, that’s, that’s such an interesting question. Let me see, what can I tell you, so I was born in Jamaica, I was the only girl, I have three brothers. Growing up in, in my family. And I think when we migrated from Jamaica to America, it was truly, because my father was looking to build a life for his family and saw that America can provide him with the opportunity to do so, more so than than Jamaica. And so when we migrated, you know, my father’s focus really was, how does he ensure that his family has all the tools that we need to be successful in this life. And so they worked multiple jobs, you know, it’s the typical immigrant story to give us the best of everything that they could provide, and to set us up for extreme success. So, you know, I, I frequently think back on my humble beginnings, and that’s what gives me the drive, but also keeps me grounded these days, to continue to do more, the work is just never done. And so my, my American Dream is really to lift others, the way that I’ve been lifted on my path here. So I genuinely, Katherine, want to see people achieve their dreams, whatever that may be. I genuinely want people to be clear on their dreams and to achieve them at all costs. Because it’s, it’s possible, you just have to believe.

Katherine Ann Byam 7:22
Yeah, I love this. So let’s dig into why you pivoted to HR. So your background is in engineering, right? Yes. And in a way, I see that as a plus, but maybe traditional HR people don’t. But tell me about that.

Olivia Grant Cream 7:35
Yes, I, you know, traditional folks in HR probably find me to be some kind of squatter in this function here, because I don’t have any of the traditional trainings. But I, I think, and this could be a personal bias. But I think that, you know, coming from the engineering space, what engineering does for you, is it teaches you how to think, right? So it teaches you to problem solve, is really all engineers are just problem solvers. And our creations come out of a need to solve a problem, right? I believe HR similarly is, you know, engineering is the science of machinery, or equipment or things of that sort. HR is just the science of people. Right? And so as when you think about and you look at human behaviour, a lot of people think, oh, everybody’s very special and very unique. And we all operate in these industries. That’s not true. There’s patterns to behaviour. There’s predictive models, you know, depending on what course of action you’re taking, that will tell you, you know, more than likely, this is the outcome that you’re you’re going to get so the shift into HR, I have to admit, wasn’t one that happened willingly. So I left the Coast Guard, right, married my husband, he was still active duty Coast Guard. And so we were forced to relocate. And I could not do you know, my project management semi engineering job from a remote location. So I needed something new. And when, you know, I went to HR and said, hey, like, here’s my personal situation, what can you guys do for me? And they said, Well, we have this opportunity in HR supporting sales. What do you think? And Katherine if I’m honest, I was like, what the heck does HR do anyways? Like plan parties? I have no idea. No idea. Yeah. But, you know, part of the reason why I love my company so much is they see talent, and they’re like, we can teach you the nuts and bolts right? As long as you’re talented, we can teach you the nuts and bolts, and that’s how I kind of fell into it. And I have to tell you, I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey in HR because it helps me to accomplish my mission similarly to the Coast Guard in helping people achieve their dreams. It’s the best position to be in if that’s what you’re looking to do.

Katherine Ann Byam 10:01
Now, I really like this because the truth is I’ve worked with Stryker this year, a couple of times, and I’ve really seen what an inclusive company it is, and how, and how inspiring it is. And the products or the things that you do, are really dedicated to helping people. So it’s kind of easy to almost apply yourself, especially if you’re purpose driven, to really getting into this kind of problem, so I guess, I guess I’m gonna ask you a question, probably not in the in the sequence that I intended to. But how important is it to have a purpose in your view and a shared purpose at that?

Olivia Grant Cream 10:36
it’s the most important thing for me, Katherine, if you have no purpose, you will get sucked into any and everything, right, you end up just kind of wandering through this life, helping other people build their dreams and aligned to their purposes, without ever really carving out a space for yourself, if that makes sense. And so I think, you know, most people that I coach, or that I mentor, come to me, and they’re looking to find their purpose. And when you’re wandering around without a purpose, the number of mistakes, the number of delays, the number of, I mean, just weird places that you find yourself into, because other people are pushing and pulling you into their spaces. And you end up being very, very lost and confused. And that causes all sorts of chaos in your life. Right? So I think purpose is probably the most important thing for me. And then you can fill in all the other blanks once you kind of figure out what, what makes your heart sing.

Katherine Ann Byam 11:46
I love that answer. I want to pivot now to Embracing Only and, and we’ll come to your book. But let’s talk about Embracing Only for a moment, because I was introduced to this podcast by a friend. And I remember thinking, wow, that’s an incredible name. Like, that’s something I feel every day of my life. But I’d never actually called it out that it’s feeling like an only you know, and it’s not something that you’re necessarily encouraged to talk about. And this is also a difference, I would say, between general Europe and the US, but specifically UK and the US in terms of how we talk about things like race and things like difference. In the UK, my experiences in the corporate space have always been that we don’t see difference, which people don’t actually realise that how important and how diminishing that kind of statement or sentiment actually is. And, you know, this understanding or feeling that, you know, whatever they’re doing is inclusive, because they’re including everyone not recognising that just by the language that they use, or the things or the systems and the processes and the mindsets that are applied to whatever it is, automatically exclude someone. So it’s, it’s such a powerful phrase and call out, I guess I would say. So tell me about that journey with the podcast and why you think it’s had this mass appeal?

Olivia Grant Cream 13:07
Well, I think, I think you hit the nail on the head already. It’s had this mass appeal, because people are feeling this onlyness, this lack of belonging, and they can’t find language for it. Right? So there’s a good population of us. And it could be I mean, let me, let me back up for a second for our listeners here – an only, is an only person of a particular set of characteristics in a certain environment. So it could be a male in a female dominated profession, it could be a female in a male dominated space, it could be a person of colour in a white majority space, or vice versa. So there are all sorts of situations that can create these feelings of only. McKenzie did a women in the workplace study in 2018, that started to take us on this journey. And I think it’s important to highlight the study because they just did a follow up one here in 2022. And I think this is really where the word only started to take shape. It came from the study. And what McKenzie found through data, they put data to our feelings. And what came out of it is we realise that people that are onlys faced micro aggressions in their spaces twice, sometimes three times as much as the majority in that space. Like I mean, think about that for a second. So all of us that are feeling strange in these environments where we’re an only it’s a real thing, and now we have data to quantify those feelings so that we can have actual conversations about it, because it’s very difficult to help someone that’s in the majority understand what you are feeling as an only because they’re not feeling the same things. So I think the podcast is really had some success because it’s allowed us to combine feelings and data and then help people figure out, okay, now we know this is real, how do you overcome it and succeed in spite of your onlyness instead of falling victim to kind of the woe is me mentality, I’m an only I’m never going to recover from this. No, no, acknowledge that you’re an only, understand that you’re not crazy. And then let’s figure out how to move through it to whatever goal you’re asking.

Katherine Ann Byam 15:38
Yeah, this is super important. I think also, this gets tied in with this feeling of being gaslit at times, if you call out this onlyness, people sometimes can make you feel like, hey, you know, you’re just using this as a, as a card. This isn’t the reality here. Why are you being so ridiculous. And that feeling of being gaslit all the time tends to come up, it tends to frustrate you. and it tends to drive you to go absolutely crazy. Saying this from from real personal experience, right. So I think it’s so important to understand that you’re not alone in being alone. So and this is where this community that you’re building, and this movement that you’re building with this podcast is so important, right? So I want to pivot a little bit to potentially your three best interviews, episodes that you’d recommend people listen to, and why, if some of them come to mind for you.

Olivia Grant Cream 16:32
Oh, my gosh, yes. So the first one, I think it was my very first interview with Jeanine Menze. She was the Coast Guard’s first black female aviator, like the first in history, if you can believe that. And it was not that long ago, I can’t remember the exact date when she, she got her wings. But it wasn’t that long ago. And she gave a powerful story of being aligned with your purpose. And in spite of whatever is happening in your external environment being so hyper focused on your purpose, that you’re not distracted. And basically, that you can accomplish anything if you’re hyper focused on your purpose, and you kind of cancel the noise. And that one was, was extremely powerful. I think the second one is one that Archita and I did together around killing the fear, Katherine, fear is the root of all evil. I’m convinced of it. The more I have these conversations, the more I dig into the data, the more I dig into the psychology of fear. Fear keeps us captive, it keeps us trapped. It keeps us small, it keeps us discombobulated. I mean, fear does so much harm to us. And if only we recognise the fear for what it is, we can start to move past it. So I think the episode on fear is definitely one to listen to. And I mean, the third one, those are my top two. The third one is a little bit off topic. But I think I enjoyed it the most because of the intense emotions that were attached to it. So Joyal, well, she was fighting for, so when, when someone dies, right, any assistance that you get in that grieving and death process, and how there’s really a lack of resources, for folks that are dealing with someone who has passed and how you have to advocate for yourself through that process, and how you take care of yourself mentally and physically, was something I had never given a thought to. Because at this point in my life, I haven’t had anyone super close to me die, yet, so that episode was really so enlightened being and it was so powerful to see her really embrace her purpose, this purpose that came out of a pretty dark event, that she turned into power, and is now helping so many other people that have had to deal with death and the bereavement process. It was just incredibly inspiring to hear about the work that she’s doing.

Katherine Ann Byam 19:30
I love this, I really recommend listening to Embracing Only. I’m also a guest on the podcast. So I’m celebrating and sharing the love here because I really think that what we’re doing in invoking the sense of purpose and the sense of control over your own destiny is so important for you my listeners. So I want to ask you another question around the challenges in sort of developing and scaling a movement such as the one that you and Archita are building.

Olivia Grant Cream 19:56
The challenges are never ending, Katherine, let me just say that The Challenge initially was really, we had all these thoughts. Oh my gosh, our brainstorming sessions were novels long on how we were going to take all these ideas and put them into, into practice. And, you know, much like you we’re perfectionists, right? Yeah, I’m trying to, I like to say I’m a recovering perfectionist because we know, perfectionism is not great. But we wanted things to be so perfect, because we were so passionate about this work, that sometimes we got into a place of analysis paralysis, right? We’re like, does this really fit, does this topic really align with where we want to go to? Is this person does this guest align? Are we saying the right things? Are we offending people? Are we not offending people enough? You know, are we not saying enough to, to really bring in the folks in this community that feel this way? So, you know, my advice for anyone out there that’s starting a journey is to just start, just start, you’re gonna make mistakes, you know, you’re you’re gonna overthink things. But you’ll learn in the process. And until you take those first couple steps, and then another little step after that, and another little step after that, you kind of get stuck. So we went through the stuck phase, we still go in and out of the stuck phase as we think about what we’re doing on subsequent seasons. But I think just aligning our thoughts in a cohesive way is probably the biggest challenge.

Katherine Ann Byam 21:32
Yeah, I know, I know exactly what you mean. And, you know, you talked about this bit about, am I not offending people enough. And I want to get into that a little bit. There’s this word, I heard it twice last week, and I decided that I want to use this word in my all my interviews coming forward. And the word is to agitate, and where are you agitating, right and about choosing your places of agitation? In the best way? I don’t know if you want to talk about that. Because this is definitely something onlys have to do. But there’s a sense of self preservation and boundary setting and all of this work that has to come with agitation. So I don’t if you want to give some light on that, from your perspective.

Olivia Grant Cream 22:15
In order to change anything you have to add. Right? Change in and of itself is an agitation. Right? So as we’re seeking to lift as we’re seeking to change the world around us for the better, you’re going to have to pick a good fight, you’re going you’re have, you have to pick the good ones, right? And so the challenge is, how do you fight? Are you fighting ugly? Are you fighting fair? Right? And so when I, when I make the comments, am I not offending people enough? I think sometimes onlys, depending on the severity of your experience as an only sometimes you want to drop grenades on people, right? You’re like, oh, I’m hurt, you’re gonna hurt too, you’re gonna, I’m gonna help you feel my pain. And I tend to be like, there, there is a time and place for rolling a grenade into a room. Right. But I really think that in order to change things, you have to invite people to the table, and have very transparent, very direct conversations about what is real to you. And the truth is, our real as onlys, is not the same real as people in the majority. So we’re coming from two different planets, like it really is that far apart, it feels like we’re living in different worlds. And it is very hard, especially if you come out swinging right out the gates, right? You roll the grenade in the room first, and then try to have a conversation, it’s going to be so hard for you to really listen with an intention to understand and then move through it. So yes, you have to agitate, you have to agitate, otherwise, you get the status quo. But I think there is probably some art and science in the way you agitate, so that you can accomplish your mission and the end. The mission isn’t the discussion. The discussion is a means to an end. The end is to make this world more inclusive for all of us and for us to work in tandem to accomplish our goal and make this world a better place. So if you agitate so much that you isolate, you’re never going to accomplish your mission. So it’s a very fine walk that you have to walk in order to achieve that mission.

Katherine Ann Byam 24:47
Let’s talk about the importance of boundaries when you’re agitating. Tell us a little bit about your perspectives on that.

Olivia Grant Cream 24:53
Boundaries for who? You the agitator or the recipients of the agitating?

Katherine Ann Byam 24:58
You the agitator!

Olivia Grant Cream 25:00
I mean I, um, I stop short in. Okay, so in terms of boundaries, when I am, when I know I’m going to agitate, right, and I go into lots of situations knowing, yep, this is, this is going to be a spicy conversation, I’m totally fine with it, I hope the other person is fine with it too. I stop short of personally attacking someone. Okay. The, again, the reality is we live on two different planets, sometimes. And our, our mission is to find common ground. So from a boundary perspective, if, if you’re personally attacking me, I’m done. Right. So that’s number one. No personal attacks like this has to be open air honest conversation. I think boundary number two is someone that is not willing to be self reflective, but I won’t waste my time. I’m just not going to have a conversation with you, I’m moving on. There’s other people to, to work with. And I believe my job is to share a perspective, and the other person’s job is also to share perspective. And both of us have to be willing to receive the other person’s perspective as their truth and try to find a way through it. If that is not mutual between the two parties, I disengage I’m ou,t like there’s no point in furthering this conversation with you. So those are kind of my hard boundaries. Because I’m not here to change anybody’s heart and mind, you have to decide that you want to change your heart and mind for yourself. I’m just here to provide perspective. So if I see that the perspective isn’t working, okay, great. I’ve moved on.

Katherine Ann Byam 26:50
Yeah, I like this. Because I also think that when we’re going into any sort of situation like this, you, you highlighted it very clearly there. There are two people in this situation, there are two people in this conversation in this party. And those two people need room to breathe. And both need to give and to take. And without that, that exchange of energies, it’s just draining, right. And it’s just a it’s just an open door for you to walk through because there’s nothing left. So I love that, thank you so much for for sharing that. Can you give some tips and guidance for onlys in navigating the workplace and how they should set up for success?

Olivia Grant Cream 27:32
oh, this is a loaded topic. I know I need to be quick. So let me see if I can summarise what, what I would say. One, be super clear on what it is you want. And that is the hardest. I know I’m saying that is the first thing. But that is the hardest thing for people to do. When you’ve been shrinking yourself for so long, it tends to be very difficult to clearly articulate what it is that you want. And sometimes I see folks know what they want, but they don’t want to say it out loud. And I’m still, still trying to uncover the root cause of that, like if you know what you want. Why are you not sharing what it is that you want, so other people can come help you, right? So one, know what you want. Two tell everybody that will listen, what it is that you want. Because when we share our dreams, and we share our visions, that’s when we’re inviting in the universe and all its resources, to help us align to get what it is that we want. You can’t accomplish anything in this life by yourself. So you’re going to have to make allies, you’re going to need mentors and coaches and a village to help you on your journey. So don’t shrink yourself and don’t hide yourself. Let people know what it is that you want. And thirdly, I would say don’t compromise. This one is, is hard to understand when we’re just talking high level. But when you compromise you veer off your path, right. And I think you can be agreeable without compromising what it is that you want. But when you compromise, you confuse the people that are trying to help you get to where you want to go. So there has to be some rigidity in terms of where you want to be and being hyper focused on that goal in order to, in order to achieve it. So those are my top three and then there are others you know, find, find your heck yes tribe, find a good mentor, connect with HR, go make friends with people that are in positions to help you to get to where you need to be. All those things I think are kind of supplementary advice. But those first three are absolutely critical.

Katherine Ann Byam 30:04
Yeah, it’s super important, I think what you, what you mentioned about not compromising and really needs to be understood as well in terms of, you can compromise the method, the route, the path, but not the end goal, not the destination not where you’re heading. And you need to know where your compromise has limits, around your value systems and around the what’s most fundamental in terms of the brand that you’re creating for yourself, and that internal drive that you have. So I love this, I love that you, you shared this in this way. And finally, why not share with everyone about your book?

Olivia Grant Cream 30:41
Yes. So, you know, I hesitate to share because I’m not done. I’m in the process of writing it. And this, this book is a labour of love, Katherine, and it’s taking me so long. Because I think as I learn more, I go back and I, and I edit, right? Like, I want it to be all encompassing, I really want it to be a survival guide. And what I’ve noticed for a lot of onlys is that we don’t have people in our lives, most of us, some of us might, but most of us do not have, you know, your, your parents weren’t CEOs, or you don’t have anyone that was a CFO in a company that’s guiding you like, okay, do this and do that and take this job and negotiate your salary this way? And, oh, don’t do that. Why are you doing that? We don’t have that at our dinner tables, right. And so my vision for this book, is really to be that voice at the dinner table for onlys that are early in their career, or late in their career that still haven’t accomplished what they want to accomplish, to help them understand how to navigate the corporate space. You know, circling back to what I said in the beginning, human behaviour has patterns. And there are repeatable patterns for success specifically in the corporate space that you can apply repeatedly to get to where you want, right with small tweaks, depending on on your level, whether you’re entry, mid level, or kind of later in your career. So this book, I want it to be a practical guide of things that you will face, how to work around it. There are exercises in it to help you overcome some self limiting beliefs like impostor syndrome, oh my gosh, if I hear that phrase, one more time, I might like fall out of my chair and die. It is like, let’s just stop it. Okay, if you’re at the table, you should be at the tables. But let’s just stop, go imposter syndrome. But it’s, again, it’s it’s my life’s passion to bottle all of these learnings that I’ve had over time and share it with anyone who needs a little bit of guidance in hopes of lifting us all.

Katherine Ann Byam 33:03
I’ve loved this interview. Olivia, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your insights and your goals. We cannot wait to hear about the release of your book, be sure to let us know so that we can share it with our listeners. And thank you very much for joining me.

Olivia Grant Cream 33:16
Thank you so much Katherine for having me on. This was a pleasure.

Katherine Ann Byam 33:22
This episode was brought to you today by the Courageous Career Club. Have you picked up your own copy of; Do What Matters: The Purpose Driven Career Transition Guidebook. To find out how you can get your copy, as well as resources that go alongside it, visit my website, www Katherine Ann or engage with me on the socials. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.