Reeha Alder - The NABS Podcast
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How to deal with trauma and live your truth – with Reeha Alder

tw: domestic violence

Reeha Alder is the founder of Mighty You, an executive coaching and training consultancy focusing on helping individuals, teams and organisations to create spaces that help them to be their best authentic selves. Reeha takes a holistic approach to creating authentic environments using a combination of breath work, DEI and wellbeing training and skills training for managers and leaders.

As well as being an advocate for authenticity, Reeha is a trauma survivor whose story has helped to inform her approach to her own life and how she helps others. Reeha is a brilliant speaker who shares her truth honestly and openly.

Find Reeha on LinkedIn


Louise Scodie – NABS  00:00 

Welcome to the NABS Podcast. NABS is the support organisation for those working in advertising, marketing and media. I’m your host Louise Scodie. Each week I’ll be chatting with someone from our industry to find out how they support themselves and those around them through challenging times as well as day to day, and it’s all to help you support your own mental wellness. I can’t wait to start chatting. 

Louise Scodie – NABS  00:34 

This week, our guest is Reeha Alder. Reeha is the founder of Mighty You, an executive coaching and training consultancy focusing on helping individuals, teams and organisations to create spaces that help them to be their best authentic selves. Reeha takes a holistic approach to creating authentic environments using a combination of breath work, DEI and wellbeing training and skills training for managers and leaders.  

Reeha’s coaching one to one style also provides a safe space for leaders to unlock their own authentic leadership style, Reeha runs coaching and training programmes for global brands including Aviva and the marketing store. Prior to becoming an accredited coach, Reeha held board level roles within the creative and digital tech sector. Raya also has an absolutely gripping life story that has helped to inform her work and her brave authenticity.  

Welcome Reeha to the NABS podcast, how are you?  

Reeha Alder 

I’m good, what a nice glowing way to start the podcast.  

Louise Scodie 

Well, it’s interesting you use the word glowing because I saw you speak at the Festival of Happiness, which is organised by the Alliance of Independent Agencies and you glowed, and you were telling your life story, which is incredible. And you’ve had so many challenges, but you were just up there, kind of really embodied in yourself. Shiny. I mean, you looked very glamorous. But it wasn’t just an outside appearance thing. You were just so radiating from within like really, really strong in yourself. Can you talk us through some of the really challenging aspects of life that you’ve survived?  


Reeha Alder  02:12 

Thank you very much, Louise, that’s very kind.  


Reeha Alder  02:18 

 I guess one of the defining parts of my life was probably through the strength through childhood. And I think we so often think that our childhood doesn’t necessarily impact who we are. And I guess one of the biggest learnings I’ve definitely had on my journey is your childhood. The imprints you have, from your experiences as a child, are probably one of the most fundamental reasons you are the way you are as an adult. And I definitely spent most of my childhood teenagehood young adulthood wearing so many masks, I didn’t know that myself at all. It was life on autopilot, you know, lots of different masks to try and hide who I really was.  


I only really started to recognise that when all the masks were shattered, which was in my late 20s. And, I mean, that was pretty defining for me, because I could have continued my life in that same way, which was like chronic people pleaser, super high functioning anxiety to the outside world I looked, I guess like that woman you’ve just described, like super calm and radiant, I still looks like that. But I didn’t feel like that I didn’t feel anything like that at all. Because under the surface, I was just paddling for breath every second.  


I guess I was hiding from was having grown up in a household where there was domestic abuse. And I’ve never been able to tell anybody, it was a big secret. There’s a lot of shame and secrecy and guilt. And I was completely desensitised to feeling anything because I just suppressed it all had serious anxiety. And that’s how I lived and I didn’t know any differently. I guess we don’t do it until something major happens. And for me, that major moment was my fiancee, you know, just before planning our wedding, being exposed to this situation, which we thought we’d hidden pretty well, but a situation happened where he was exposed to it all. And I guess that was a turning point for my life where I couldn’t actually hide it anymore.  


And so, through that experience, I learned so much about myself. I had to expose all elements of myself, I had to relearn a lot of things because actually the way I was behaving as a manager, as a leader, as a human, was all based on trauma response, you know, it was just right. Okay, you have to hide your feelings. You can’t be vulnerable. You have to always look strong. You have to be the kind of leader that is all the leaders you see around you have to assimilate, you can’t be different. And not only did I have sort of the family upbringing, but I also had this brown skin, you know, that was so different to everywhere. Everywhere else I looked from schooling, we were the only brown children in the school to then going to university, starting my career as a graduate of Barclays where it was white men in suits everywhere. And then going into the creative sector, which actually didn’t look very different to the banking sector.  


So you’ve got all these layers that you’re hiding. And all of a sudden, you’re having to start to reveal all of that stuff and realise actually, how much of this is based on trauma base versus is natural and authentic to me. And I’d say that’s probably been the biggest thing that has impacted who I am today is actually getting very comfortable with the uncomfortable of, I have to just accept all elements of myself, I have to show up with true authenticity and vulnerability.  


I mean, that talk that you talked about was the first keynote speech I did, and I was terrified. I. And I think you get to that point where you just you know that all you can do is, be you. That’s it, that’s all you’ve got in life is yourself. And, you know, I stand for authenticity is the absolute, like core of who I am. And that’s what I was, and, and you, you almost can’t worry about what people think you just have to show up as you and no, that’s enough. And that’s I guess, the biggest thread that’s pulled me through today is that true authenticity, 


Louise Scodie – NABS  06:29 

To set some practical understanding around this. Your mum escaped from her first marriage, and she had you with her and you were little is that right?  


Reeha Alder  06:43 

Yeah, she had an arranged marriage on her 18th birthday and had to move from Leicester to India. And because you’ve grown up in the Western world, you know, the UK and Western culture was what she got used to. And then all of a sudden being parachuted to India, where culture was very different, women were not accepted in the way they were in the UK back then. And she had two little girls and having girls was the worst thing she could have done because girls were not seen as a gift in India, at that time, girls were seen as an incredible expense because of the dowry system. So my mum felt like the only option she had if she wanted to give her children a better life was to escape. So yeah, me zipped under her jumper in the middle of the night, she ran away back to the UK. So that’s I mean, that’s how life started, I guess was this fear and knowing that being a girl wasn’t a good thing, that’s that was the beginning of my life. Really. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  07:39 

It strikes me that’s kind of the physical embodiment of fight or flight. And you continue then to have a lot of that throughout your life. You said when your mum was in her second marriage, she remarried, after some time in England, that’s where domestic violence happens. And you were exposed to a lot of that trauma. 


Reeha Alder  07:58 

Yeah, yeah. And I would say that fight or flight has probably been both my superpower and my biggest weapon negatively. For my whole life. I mean, I, I probably only really recognise how bad the fight or flight way of living was in my 30s. But yeah, I mean, I have to check myself every day that am I sitting there with my fists clenched, because it’s the natural reaction now to be in fight or flight, you know, everything the smallest thing, if you grow up with fear, fear stays with you forever.  


So however much work I do to know that I am safe, you know, to turn those limiting beliefs into positive affirmations that actually I’m not unsafe anymore. I’m actually safe and in control. I think it’s just one of those things, like I said that your childhood defines a lot of those behaviours that you have, and you have to do a lot of unlearning. And that was a big unlearning, for me was to not be in fear anymore to know that actually, I am okay, I am safe. But it’s it’s probably one of the deepest threads in me is fear, for sure. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  09:08 

Is there a thread on the flip side of that? Where you have been able to get through all of this? Or was it is it just fight or flight and fear this propelled you through? 


Reeha Alder  09:23 

I think the other side of fear is incredible grit, determination and perseverance. Because I mean, that’s probably how I define a lot of my life. So regardless of fear, regardless of what was happening at home, my whole focus, my whole being was about perfect, being good. Being this good girl, that was the thing that I wanted to be so I didn’t bring any more conflict or problems at home. But that propelled me forward.  


I mean, the reason I, you know, I, I was the first person to go to university in my family, and then I managed to get a PhD, and that was just through absolute, sheer determination and grit, you know, so the fear propelled me forward. It got me a graduate job in the city got me great roles in the creative sector got me onto board level roles.  


But I guess the other side of that, I mean, so that was great, because it’s always been that sort of that fighter in me, I guess, has always pushed me forward and allow me to do amazing things. But the downside, I guess, has been the impact it has on the body, and on my mental and emotional health. And that’s the bit over the last decade, that has been my priority.  


So I’d say, since COVID, really, what hadn’t realised was how much the body keeps the score and but as long as you hide behind fear, or trauma, and little pockets of inflammation are basically created all over the body. And at some point, through a big life event, they can be activated into a chronic condition. I mean, there’s a lot of research that shows that if you’ve grown up in trauma, or you’ve suppressed emotion, that can often be the cause of things like cancers and chronic conditions. And for me, that lineage was really clear.  


At the start of COVID, I was the chief people officer of a big digital FTSE250 agency, and I was looking after, you know, a couple of hundred staff, plus homeschooling to very little children at home as a co parent. And the condition just activated. So I was diagnosed with a chronic condition called rheumatoid arthritis where essentially, your white blood cells are attacking your nervous system, they’re attacking the joints in the body, and creating inflammation. And overnight, within a few weeks of COVID, I couldn’t move my fingers on my toes. So literally not been able to get out of bed to comb my daughter’s hair to get them to school, all those things.  


And that’s when I realised, actually, this is a chronic lifelong condition that’s going to be with me forever. And actually fear living in fear catches up on you, eventually, you have to change the track, you have to change the story, you have to believe truly that you aren’t in spaces of danger, and you are safe, because otherwise eventually the body catches up. And that’s, I think, been the biggest learning from that. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  12:27 

Before we go on to how authenticity helps you at work. I just want to go back to you mentioned about when your something happened. And then your fiance realised that you had had all of this trauma in your background that you’d been hiding. Did you still go on to get married? 


Reeha Alder  12:54 

Yeah. So three months before my wedding day, I was getting married up north. And so he’d come to visit me. And, you know, an innocent evening of wedding venues and whatever just just turned, turned ugly very quickly, and ended up involving the police. And so my husband, my fiancee at the time was exposed to everything, we still had 12 weeks to the wedding day. And that wasn’t shifting.  


And I guess that is part of the masks, isn’t it as part of that old school resilience of okay, this huge thing has happened where you’ve experienced a really ugly truth about my family that I would have much rather kept hidden. We’d been together for seven years at this point, we were living together, you know, we’re about to get married, so should have really known everything. But in reality, he probably only knew a very, very small part of me, because this was a massive part of my life. And old school resilience, you know, I think I was still in that space. So even though the masks were shattered, and he had seen all of this stuff, it was still that grit and determination that we talked about earlier, which isn’t healthy, which was we’ve got a wedding day, we need to get there I need to somehow be okay for my dad to walk me down the aisle.  


You know, it was just trauma response. And really interestingly, and I can see it so clearly now, within two months of getting married, I’d managed to get myself a job, the furthest away that I could in Australia, and we were off and that was it. And there wasn’t really an explanation of why I needed to do that and why it was important after just getting married after just getting a home together. That’s what we did. And it was absolute escapism. But it was the only way I knew how to cope in that moment was just to run and be as far away as possible in order to start releasing, I guess some of that fear and trauma that had had followed me for so long. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  14:47 

But I guess you have to find what helps you process and manage and cope and go on to the next stage and you’ve managed to do that brilliantly. And you came back from Australia to help other people Which is amazing. Not that you weren’t helping people in Australia. But now we can benefit. And you’ll be giving an NABS Talk on authenticity. Next month, we will put the details of that in the chat. During that talk, we’ll go into a bit more detail about Reeha’s life story as well as giving loads of really practical advice on authenticity in the workplace.  


Topline to give us a taster, how can really learning about and embracing our authenticity, help us in our careers, and you’re coming from the standpoint of someone who’s been through all of this stuff I spent years covering, and then was brave enough to reveal what you’ve been through, and who you really were, culturally, professionally, lifewise. 


Reeha Alder  15:48 

Yeah, I mean, I’m, I am obsessed with authenticity, I’m not gonna lie. And I think it’s just because I feel like I’m on the other side now. And I can be myself and having seen all of the benefits, not only in the way that I work, and the way that I support people, but also just holistically the way I feel. And the way my body is, you know, I’m pretty much in remission now. Because I’m actually being myself, which is huge for a life condition.  


But I mean, even if you look at it from a research perspective, you know, there’s been research that’s done, which has shown that if you can be truly authentically yourself in the workplace, you’re 140% more likely to be engaged. And 50% more likely to feel a sense of belonging. And, you know, with my background of being chief people officer, they were the most important metrics we had really, it was engagement and sense of belonging, and that’s the quickest way you can get there, in the creative sector, in any agency in any organisation is to allow people to show up truly as themselves, you know, wearing the masks, which so many people do at work is, is an energy drainer, you’re having to consume minimal energy that we have every day on just trying to hide certain aspects of you. So you can’t be yourself, you can’t be your best if you’re using time and energy on trying to mask. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  17:11 

You know, at NABS, we’ve always been really keen on what we’ve called bringing your whole self to work, which is a phrase quite a lot of people use as well. And I think that’s in the same ballpark, isn’t it, the knowing that you can just go to work and be comfortable, and discuss your life and what matters to you, and then not have to worry and add stress to your day. 


Reeha Alder  17:35 

Yeah. And I’ve coached people in the creative sector where they say, you know, as a Black man, I listened to a certain type of playlist as I’m walking to the agency, and the minute I get in the agency, I switch it, switch it off, I turn my blackness off, as I walk into the agency, I don’t talk about my kids, I don’t talk about my wife, I don’t talk about culturally what I’m doing in the weekend, you know, this is normal.  


This is how many people show up the minute they walk into an agency, they switch, they roll switch, they assimilate, they become what they think other people want them to be, and that is exhausting. Because you’re essentially, being a totally different person. And that requires effort and energy, and you therefore can’t be your best. So I’m totally all for bringing your whole self to work.  


And I guess in the Talk, what I try to do is not only share my experience of what happens when you aren’t yourself, and what happens when you can be yourself. But then what are the tools that help people figure that out themselves? Because it doesn’t have to be a long therapeutic journey to get there.  


You know, it can be as simple as understanding what are your values, you know, some of these things are foundational and core to you. And by living those values, it can really change the way you show up. So you know, simple things like that we talk about ikigi, which is one of my favourite tools to help you discover your purpose. We talk about strengths because I’m a strengths coach, like if you understand what your strengths are the things that energise you, and you spend more time doing that than your drainers naturally by focusing on your strengths, you’re going to be performing at your best.  


So little tools like that, that just helped you to start to practically work out well. What does authenticity look like for me, because also many people think they are authentic, until they actually look at it a bit more deeply, like I did and realise, oh, my goodness, I was so far from authenticity for so many years. So this, I guess, storytelling, which the industry is amazing. And so telling those stories, internally, as people understand, actually, those different lived experiences, but then providing some of the tools to help people work out how they go on their own journey that doesn’t need to be long and deep and, you know, pull out all these things from childhood that maybe they don’t want to explore. There’s different levels of it that you can do to get to that bringing your whole self to work. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  19:53 

You know, there’s an interesting aspect of this we explored in our recent research report, All Ears, produced at the end of 2023. Again, we will link to that in the show notes. And one of our key findings is not so much a generation gap, but a lived experience gap, where people are making assumptions about each other. And it strikes me that we need to embrace authenticity a bit more, so that people can open up and actually really share who they are. And then we will eradicate that gap and all of the difficulties that that gap causes in the workplace. What do you think? 


Reeha Alder  20:31 

Yeah, totally. I mean, and that’s really the work I do, to help organisations understand well, how do you create environments that enable people to show up as themselves to share their stories to share their own lived experience? Because for as long as you’re leaving it at the door, you’re not getting what the agencies need, which is diversity of thinking and creativity thrives on that. So yeah, I mean, I think what’s important is to, in order for us to be able to feel comfortable to share our stories, is, we first need to make sure that actually, we’re in environments that don’t just talk about things like psychological safety, but it’s inherent in how we show up in the organisation, you know, really, truly allowing spaces where people can say things and not be reprimanded where people can speak openly, those kinds of things are what creates psychological safety where you can disagree, and it’s okay. And it’s healthy, and it’s encouraged.  


But also, I think there’s this other layer that we have to we can’t ignore, I guess, when we talk about this is that for as long as we have minoritised communities in the workplace, it is going to be that much harder for those communities to bring their whole selves to work. Because they are in environments where people don’t look like them. People don’t speak like them, people don’t sound like them. And so they are adding extra layers on top to be able to show up as themselves. And so we do have to think about that we have to think about, you know, if you put yourself in their shoes, and you’re asking them to be more themselves, how much extra do they have to? Do they have to tolerate to be able to feel comfortable to do that? Is is is a much bigger task? 


Louise Scodie – NABS  22:13 

Yeah, and again, that’s something that we go into in All Ears, we found that people from under and underrepresented groups, they find it harder to discuss their mental wellness, they find it harder to bring their whole selves to work. And I’m curious that as an Asian woman who’s worked in creative and tech, is there an example of when you’ve had to cover or code switch and how that’s made you feel versus when you started to feel brave enough to be your authentic self? Is there an example you can give us of something that happened at work where you were yourself? And what difference that made to you? 


Reeha Alder  22:50 

Yeah, I mean, code switching, and just, you know, having to revert to natural styles in agencies is something you think you have to do all the time when you’re a minority in the industry. I mean, I remember when I first joined the Board at an agency, and listening to the conversations, I just couldn’t, I didn’t understand them like that it wasn’t language that I had grown up in to understand. So lots of conversations about private schooling, how, you know, I remember someone talking about how she could afford the school fees, we had to continue with the work we were doing so that everybody could afford the school fees. You know, that’s, that’s not how I’ve grown up or understood the world. So there just is different language before every single board meeting, you know,  it’s excluding conversations. So even the simplest things like language that is used or conversation starters, can for some people feel very excluding and not allow you to feel like you deserve to be there or that you understand, like, how to hold space in conversations that you just aren’t part of. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  23:57 

So in that situation, do you try and join in? Are you just kind of nodding along, hoping that you fit in? 


Reeha Alder  24:02 

Yeah, you just nod along and hope that you’ll fit in. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  24:06 

And then what’s an experience that you’d say was the diametric opposite of that where you’re like, Okay, I’m gonna be real. This is me, this is who I am. I’m bringing it to the table. 


Reeha Alder  24:15 

I remember working on the board of AnalogFolk. And one of the things that I really wanted to do was show storytelling at its best, because that’s what agencies are so good at. But storytelling of staff of different members of staff have different stories that shine a different light, basically, on lived experience.  


So I got five different women from the organisation of all different levels. I wanted to be women speaking just because of the lack of representation of women in leadership. And we basically just did an event where it was a vulnerability talk where we just shared our stories to anyone that wanted to come from the organisation, all completely different, all different aspects of life that we were bringing to work, how it impacted us. At work, how it impacted us as human beings and how that made us show up.  


And it was a really, really scary thing, because it was a first time we were truly bringing durability to the workplace, as leaders, as managers, as all different levels. And the feedback we got was absolutely phenomenal. I mean, the group that were there listening, just been captivated. And they just, they felt like there was such a closer connection with us as women, as leaders, as individuals than they’ve ever felt before. Because of the I guess the the taking off the masks and of just having human connection, have real conversation. And that I think that was part of that start of the journey for me where I realised actually, you know, just being yourself and just having honest, real conversations is not so scary. Actually, it creates an incredible connection, incredible warmth, and people are on the back of it people really opened up to us because they felt there was a safe space. There’s proper psychological safety for them to do the same. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  26:06 

It’s really interesting, because the you know, I guess the point we want to get to having listened to your negative and your positive experience is where everyone could talk about what’s going on for them in a way that’s true to them and not exclusionary, but that they could still talk about stuff that’s bothering them, even though you’ve got no experience, and that somehow in that conversation, you managed to find some common ground empathy or understanding. 


Reeha Alder  26:34 

Yeah, I think confidence is often the biggest thing, like there’s no reason why when there are conversations that are feel excluding, if I had confidence, it would feel easier to say, I don’t know what you’re talking about, right? Because we’re all they’re all the same level, we should all be able to do that. But I think it often comes down to confidence, because you want to assimilate you want to fit in. So you’re not going to bring those uncertainties, those fears, those I don’t understand this conversation to the table, because you want to fit in. So I think confidence is such a big part of this is when you feel confident enough or safe enough, let’s say you can have a conversation, like I don’t understand what you’re talking about, and know that there’s not going to be reprimand on the back of that, because I’ve had that too, where you’ve questioned something. And the look that you get is, where are you from, then if you don’t understand you’re not from, you’re not from our circle, you know, I’ve heard that as well. So it really takes a lot of confidence to be able to say something and not care about what the response is because you feel grounded enough in who you are, to know that it’s okay to ask a question. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  27:43 

You need to be in a culturally psychologically safe environment in order to do that, though, don’t you? Which is the organisational responsibility. Yeah. It’s a really big task, but it’s one that the industry definitely needs to step up to. How does the advertising and marketing community lift you up? 


Reeha Alder  28:02 

Well, I think the reason I stayed in it for so long, and I now coach in the industry is because of the people. I mean, I honestly think that the people that work in the creative sector, are so super smart, are super curious. And I think they genuinely want to do things differently. I think that is the DNA of people that work in agencies, they’re there because they want to do things differently. They want to have impact.  


I think what we sometimes miss in the creative sector is we do all those things for our clients. I think we sometimes forget that we also need to do that internally with our staff. Because if everybody showed up in a really curious way, if everybody showed up, you know, wanting to do things differently, challenge the processes we have for HR challenge, why there are certain meetings that actually feel a bit archaic are a bit exclusive, exclusive to certain groups, you know, if we did that same curiosity inside, and we shared the stories, the beautiful stories that we tell outward to the industry, if we told them inside, the power it would have I genuinely think the industry could be game changing, because we’ve got all the right ingredients to be game changing. I just think it requires that amazing lens we have outside to come inwards and make a real difference to the people that work there. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  29:23 

Yeah, yeah, I completely agree with that. It’s similar to how you talk to yourself versus how you talk to your friends. Would you talk to your friends in the way that you sometimes talk to yourself? What’s the best lesson that you’ve learned about how to support yourself?  


Reeha Alder  29:44 

The biggest things we’re up against every day is time. And so we often create very little time for ourselves, whether it’s our mental health or physical health. And I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that making that time is the biggest, bestest, vision you will make because if you don’t, it will creep up on you.  


You know, I spent decades, not putting myself first putting everybody else first and it crept up on me. And eventually it got to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed, you know. And the biggest gift I’ve had in life is my chronic condition, because my chronic condition forces me every day to slow down, like, there are days that it might take me 15 minutes to walk down the stairs. So it’s a physical slowing down of me. And that, that is what I’d say is the is the best gift we can all have is that forcing moment where we have to focus on us first, because, you know, they say you put the oxygen mask on you, you have enough energy to be able to support other people. And it’s so true, but it often takes life moments for people to realise it. And I guess I just, I’d love for that not to be the case that actually, you don’t need a life defining moment. To have to realise that your health is super important. And your emotional well being is critical for you to show up as your best. 


Louise Scodie – NABS  31:04 

Very wise words. So after you listen to this, go and take some time for yourself. And make sure you do that every day. We are I have to say that I am so sorry that you lived through so much trauma, especially at a young age. And it’s just so impressive that you’ve come through everything as you have, and that you’re sharing your story as well. So a massive thank you as well for being so open and so vulnerable and so courageous in sharing your story with us. Now, Reeha, as we mentioned, is going to be giving a NABS talk in March. So if you’re listening to this the 19 March, when that talk takes place will pop the link to register for free. In the show notes if you’re listening to this after that’s taken place, we will have a YouTube recording of the talk for you to enjoy and learn from. So we will post that too.  


Reeha, it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you today and learning about how you can be yourself and embrace yourself and use that to your advantage even when you have been through complete trauma. So you’re an inspiration and I’m really looking forward to hearing more from you next month. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. 


Reeha Alder  32:21 

Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it. 


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