Imagine feeling more connected to yourself, better understanding what motivates you, what makes you tick… even what triggers you. What if there were a way to help us tap into our boundaries, our choices and our emotional intelligence in a way that improves our relationships — especially the relationship with ourselves?

Oh but there is. According to life coach and speaker, Dr. Marilyn Simmons Bowe, people with strong social-emotional skills are better able to cope with everyday challenges and benefit academically, professionally, and socially. In this episode, Dr. Simmons helps us to understand Social Emotional Learning and use it to better our lives — and ourselves.

What is Social Emotional Learning?

Let’s start with the basics and find out what SEL is and when do we start learning it 

Dr. Marilyn: In its simplest form, Social Emotional Learning is how we interact, communicate, and respond to each other. And under that broad umbrella, there are a myriad of descriptions depending on the environment, but in the most simplest form Social Emotional Learning is how we communicate, respond and interact. 

Did we give someone the side-eye? Did we do it intentionally or it just appeared that way? What was someone else perceiving when we didn’t mean for them to perceive it? And then, how do we communicate our true intentions?

Jackie: So, I mean, we see it every day, right? People who are able to communicate more clearly or get their message across, like where in our lifetime were we supposed to learn this Social Emotional Learning?

Dr. Marilyn: Social Emotional Learning initially, is learned at our very first social interaction; the point at which our mom comes to the crib and goes ‘cuckoo, poo-poo’; that’s Social Emotional Learning. When we start going out to playgroups and interacting with other toddlers, that’s Social Emotional Learning, every aspect of our life is Social Emotional Learning. It’s a new buzz term, but it has always been with us. 

In one of my most recent publications, I referred to the fact that my kindergarten teachers, my primary school teachers; way back in the 60s, they used Social Emotional Learning, but there was not a term for it. Case in point: if a young child drops a toy and we want to ensure that the child understands that it’s not the right thing to do, use Social Emotional Learning as an example. 

If we pick up the toy and give it to the baby and go, “Don’t you drop this again, don’t you drop it again”, we have communicated, responded, and interacted in such a way that the baby thinks that it’s a game. So, what is the baby going to do? It’s going to drop that toy again. But if we say in a much more firm voice, “Don’t drop this toy again”, then the baby understands that it’s not something that we should do.

Jackie: Okay. And so what happens when there are babies who drop the toy again, and then they grow up to be grown-ass women who drop the toy again?

Dr. Marilyn: That’s exactly why we have such a cacophony of confusion with all the grown-ass women. 

Jackie: Right? 

Dr. Marilyn: You know, I say to people every single day, if we as grown-ass women would step back, and just say, “Wait, what did I just say without intending to say it?” Or, “What did I just communicate without intending to communicate it?” And then if we don’t self-check that way, if someone else checks us and say, “You know, I didn’t like the way you said this”, or “I didn’t like the way you looked at me”, if we as grown-ass women would just accept enough to hear the other person out. 

But 9 times out of 10, there’s some neck rolling and eye movements; and ‘uh-uh, what are you talking about? I didn’t come at you like that.’ You know, the term that the kids use, ‘coming at me sideways’, or something like that. But that is in a nutshell why we as grown-ass women should take time to use Social Emotional Learning, which is why I specialize in Social Emotional Learning for adults. 

You see the buzz term all over grade school and high school. But no one’s talking about it from the point of view of adults. And we as adults need Social Emotional Learning more than we need anything else, I believe.

Jackie: Right. Absolutely. If you didn’t kind of get these skills as a child, or as a teenager; we can’t go back. We can’t change that, but we can, from this moment on, start to incorporate some of the things that you teach. So, if you could share one thing that a woman could do today to be a better communicator, to be somebody who’s aligned with Social Emotional Learning; what would that be?

Dr. Marilyn: That would be listening. I always tell my clients and people that I speak with that; as adults, we tend to listen to defend rather than listening to understand. I’m a good listener, but if you notice they’re actually finishing our sentences for us; or my culture from The Bahamas, sometimes we just jump right in and talk over each other. 

Now, that has become effective because as a cultural group, we know how to do that. But here in America, a lot of times I have to remember that I’m not speaking to a cultural group of grown-ass women; and I have to back up because they’ll be like, ‘wait, I’m not done.’ And sometimes, they take offense; whereas if I do the same thing in my cultural group, it’s not taken as an offense. 

So, to get back to your question, the best thing that we can do is listen to understand; even if we’ve heard it 100 times before, even if we don’t want to hear it for the first time; even if we know that this person is trying to antagonize us, is trying to get on our last nerve is trying to push a button; we listen. 

Choice Theory

A tool to use when dealing with dumbasses

Dr. Marilyn: I tell my clients while you are listening, try a little bit of what I call ‘choice theory’. So, in your mind, you’re saying, “At this moment, I choose to place myself in a better place while I listen to this dumbass tell me something that I don’t want to hear. 

Jackie: You have to repeat that! Putting yourself in a better place while the dumbass speaks. Like, so you don’t have to correct the dumbass per se? 

Dr. Marilyn: Exactly. Choice theory is about using the power within us to make the best decision for that moment. And in that moment, your best decision is, ‘please, let me put myself in a place where I can listen to all this crap that’s going to get me nowhere; keep a smile on my face, count to 10. And then say something that is going to bring about a positive interaction even if it doesn’t bring about a real solution.’

Jackie: Right. I like that; the idea of creating a positive situation experience, even if there’s not a solution. That’s pretty powerful.

Finding Our Voice

When to use it and when to zip it

Jackie: You know, what I find to be challenging is that there are so many women over 40 who have never had a voice, have never spoken up. Don’t even say what they want for dinner, you know, at a restaurant, nevermind, speak up in their business, speak up in their family. So, you know, there’s this wave and this movement that I absolutely love of us showing up and speaking up. How do we know when to find our voice, to speak up; and when to sit back and listen and understand that there is going to be no solution to this problem? 

Dr. Marilyn: If I am in the grocery store and someone rushes up to me and bumps into me, I have to choose at that moment to let them know that I am there; but in today’s world, the way that I choose that, could be the difference between life and death. In the professional setting, the way that I choose to speak up is also a matter of life and death, but it is not the physical interaction of a shopping cart shoving into me. 

But in my mind, again, going now to something that I call ‘boundary dynamics’, which is another aspect of my Social Emotional Learning training– ‘Boundary dynamics’ is, what boundary am I setting so that I can interact, communicate and respond professionally? Then I tell my professional women, the power women, the women who are struggling, in particular, in a man’s world; they already think that you are a bitch. 

They already think that, ‘you do not belong here’. They already think that you did something untoward to get this position. Therefore, you have to absorb that, process it, put it aside, and then come from the place that; ‘you know you deserve to be here. That you worked hard. That, no, you didn’t know someone. No, you didn’t sleep with someone. No, you did not do anything other than work hard to get there.’ 

Now, we have the other aspect where you have these powerful women out in the workforce. Then they have to go home and be submissive to their significant others. And that is a struggle that then causes an imbalance, such that these women have a hard time knowing when to turn the switch on or off. So, at home, they automatically turn the switch off because they value that environment. And my mantra for my company is ‘control what you value, value what you control’.

They value the work environment, but they’re not going to control it as much because they realize that, “Hey, this is a job. This is what I need to do. I’ve got credentials on the wall. I’m just going to do this thing here. Now I’m going to go home; I’m going to lose all of this power and I have to be submissive.” 

And that causes you to have one disgruntled, crappy, dysfunctional, grown-ass woman; such that if you do bump into her in the grocery store, it’s probably going to be a fight. It’s probably going to get physical. 

Jackie: Well, I mean, you make a great point because we’re under so much pressure in all these different areas that sometimes it seems like, ‘wow, what a crazy reaction in a public space?’ But in actuality, we’ve been keeping our shit together for a long, long time.

Dr. Marilyn: Exactly. That is exactly right. And then when it comes right down to it, we look around and we go, ‘well, what did I do? What’s the problem?’ And, you know, you have the proverbial Karen, or the, ‘I’m not sure what the African American version of that would be; Laquisha, maybe. 

But you have this thing where these people are acting out, and then they’re looking around as if they’re shocked that we are responding to them with shock, ‘but what did I do wrong?’ Because in their mind, in their jobs where they’re powerful, this is how they take control; or in their little social group, this is how they take control. 

Then in their intimate setting or in their relationship, they don’t have that same control. And so they’re looking for every aspect outside of that relationship to control; and there, and again, brings about the dysfunctionality of the grown-ass women that we see out there being dysfunctional.

Jackie: I see videos of some women, and I’m like, ‘whoa, you just lost your mind.’ And then I see other women and I can see the pain like this was the straw; and they just couldn’t keep it in anymore, and they just lost it. And it does make me sad that, you know, we all have our phones and we’re ready to flip it up, as opposed to saying, ‘hold on, let me– Let me help you through this. This is not as serious–’; I feel like we’ve lost empathy. We’ve lost the ability to see when someone is in a moment. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of other women that I’m like, ‘ah, I’m glad that there was video, but because this is clearly not the first time you’ve done this, and put it out there.’ But there are some women of all cultures and skin tones and backgrounds who I just sometimes see; and I just feel terrible for because you know she just was pushed. Do you feel that at all? 

Dr. Marilyn: Absolutely not only do I feel that, but I have experienced that. I’ve experienced it where I’ve risked my life to physically hold a woman and say, “Breathe, calm down.” A woman at one of the places that I worked at in another state when I was a full-time instructional coach just lost it in the classroom and I just had to hold her and say, “Calm down. It’s not going to change because you freaked out. Let’s back up and talk about it.” And I could just feel her collapse. And I’m a little person and she was really big, but I did self-defense training years ago, so that kind of helped. 

Now, like you, I have seen women in person and on video. And then when you get the backstory of it, people are like, ‘well, she’s always been this way.’ And I’m trained to listen for these little developmental things or these little circumstances that keep happening. And I said, “I can see how this happened.” So, I do empathize with them, with these women. And I agree with you. Empathy is a dying art, if not almost extinct. I work now in a Non-traditional school with a small group of students that come to us for behavioral issues, et cetera. 

And of course, I am there on the team. I’m their licensed science teacher, we are also all trained and we focus more on Social Emotional Learning than anything else. And when we talk to these young people about empathy, they look at me like; it’s not something that clicks at all. Even the things that bring them to us don’t necessarily click. And you know, you see it out in society. And like the example I used earlier about the baby and dropping the toy, these children were examples of that. So, you have a parent who is acting out and then the children see that. 

You know, years ago, Richard Pryor did this bit and he told this sad joke about a guy who was in prison for murdering a family. He was doing some prison outreach. And he went to prison. I don’t know if he did or not; this was his bit. And this one prisoner, he said, “Man, what are you in for?” And the guy was like, “Well, I murdered a whole family.” And he was like, “Dude, why’d you do that?” And the guy, with a serious face, was like, “Well, all I did was go to rob the house, and they were home.” And sadly, that’s the world. Back in the 70s, that was a joke. But today, this is the world that we live in. 

And so I’m seeing it more and more; I’ve worked in four states in seven school districts over 26 years. But now in the very lower grades, you’re seeing that children have no empathy. And sadly, these children are being raised by a whole bunch of grown-ass women, mostly dysfunctional. 

Strong enough to be different

Jackie: So how do we– I mean, I assume the first way to really double down on Social Emotional Learning as a grown-ass woman is to want to change. 

Dr. Marilyn: What a lot of your listeners might not know is that as far as human development in the brain goes, after the age of six, we are set in our ways. And the only way that we will change after that is if we choose to change. The problem is that we have pressures from group dynamics; the people that we hang out with, Social Media, just the world around us to have a certain appearance. 

And so why should we change if it’s going to give us less attention? The average person, the average woman is not going to choose a solo existence because they can’t function without the attention. People like myself who are ambiverts; I spend 100% of my time alone unless I am working. And people say, “Well, how do you do that?” I’m a long-distance runner, so I run every morning. 

I read, I watch TV, I write; I’m always entertained. I’m always fulfilled. Matter of fact, if I have to give up any of my free time, I’m like, ‘no, I just want to stay at home’, you know? But the average person is competing for attention. And so instead of learning Social Emotional Learning skills, they’re actually adding to the social decay of society. But because of the lack of empathy, they’re defensive. So, how do they start? It starts with choice. 

How can I choose to be different? Why should I choose to be different? But again, if they look around; and Jane to the right, and Kamishia to the left, and Sally in the middle, and everybody is doing it; they have to choose to be strong enough to be different. And that’s a hard thing to do in today’s society.

Jackie: Yeah. So, they have to want to change and they have to be willing to be different in order to change because you’re right. Like, our sisters, our neighbors, even our long-term best friends aren’t necessarily on board when we are ready to make personal changes. Do you see a lot of that? 

Dr. Marilyn: I see a lot of that. I had a client some years ago from the islands, who was being pressured into getting married. She felt as though, “Hey, I’m 25. I want to just live my life. I want to start this real estate company. I want to do these things. I don’t want to be married”, but in my culture, I was one of the last people to get married; and I got married at 22. And people were like, ‘well, you are an old maid’. 

And so you’re looking around and you’re trying to find that one anchor, that one person within your group dynamics, that’s going to be able say, “Girl, you are a grown-ass woman. Go out there, do your thing, and I’m not going to judge you for it.” But that is a hard thing to come by because the average grown-ass woman says, “Who do you think you are? Why are you acting so differently, girl? That isn’t the way we used to be.” 

Now, people like myself who have always been book nerds, who’ve always been solo, who’ve always been different; but we have come up with the vernacular of just being referred to as a weird person. ‘Well, you know, that’s Marilyn, she’s different. She’s always been that way.’ Like, when I got my PhD, ‘well, you know, you were always a little smart.’ So, nothing that I do gets any kind of accolades, like, ‘hey, yay! Good job’.  But that’s the other experience. How many grown-ass women are strong enough to be like me, to be that woman who says, “I’m going to keep pushing even if I don’t get the accolades and the pat on the back”? Not very many. And so that’s why they’re going to go along with the group dynamics to get that validation, to get that inclusion to feel okay. 

Shaking It Up

Maybe you’ve been a mom or you’ve been working in the office, or doing the same thing for many, many years, but you want to shake it up. What does Dr Marilyn recommend to get everybody on board or learn to not care that everybody’s on board? 

Dr. Marilyn: It starts with self-love and self-acceptance. And the average grown-ass woman listening right now is going to say, “Well, da-da, that’s a cliché”. No, it is not. 

The average 40-something-year-old, who is seeking to change, inevitably, deep down inside; they have always been that person that they want to be, but instead of embracing who and how they were externally, they have been busy being a what. If you speak to the average woman and you say, tell me about yourself. They’re going to tell you a whole bunch of whats. “I’m a doctor. I’m a lawyer. I have a business. I drive a car. I have kids.” 

And so I always ask my clients, but ‘who are you? who are you?’ And the average person cannot tell you who they are because they have suppressed that who in order to satisfy everybody with the whats of the world, because the average person, again, cannot handle who and how you are. “Girl, you’re acting brand-new. What’s your problem?” 

And you can’t find the words to say, “No, I’m not brand-new. This is who and how I’ve always been.” A good example of that would be women in their later years, who’ve been married, had kids, had grandkids; and they come out as homosexual. People are, “Well, where did this come from?” And you say, “Well, it’s always been inside– It’s always been who I am.” I used to get beat up because I wanted to read all the time, because I wanted to be in the library. I’d go anywhere just to read, because I always wanted to escape my surroundings of impoverishment and just go to a different place. And so I was never afraid as a grown-up of almost 60 years of what people would think about me, because I got that validation from within. 

So, you ask the question, how can women do it? First of all, they have to accept who and how they are. Then they have to validate themselves. Once you validate yourself, then whatever people say, won’t matter. 

Now, some women who are listening here say, ‘Girl, I got to pay my bills. I am a grown-ass woman, but I need to hang out with these folks because they do this for me or they do that for me, or I have to stay in this relationship because I need this or I need that.’ Those are tangibles. Even with a tangible situation, you can make choices. 

You can give yourself a timeframe, say, “I’m growing from within. I want to be who and how I am. I want to express this externally. Now, I know that that means I’m probably going to be homeless or without a car.” So, give yourself a timeframe. “I’m going to go back to school. I’m going to get another job. I’m going to slowly work this into my life so that the tangibles can support my intangible self. And so I can work towards becoming complete.” 

Jackie: Okay. So, that’s a great plan because there are many women who would just blow up their lives, right, because we hit that breaking point. And so maybe they walk out, they quit their job, they do whatever. And then they have so much regret because they’re not able to withstand the lifestyle.

And so creating a goal with a timeframe, you can slowly make that shift. I think it’s so important to always have something to look forward to in your life, however big or small, you know, it is. And so I think that that’s really powerful to start taking small steps toward that. 

Dr. Marilyn: Absolutely, Jackie. And we have to be honest with ourselves; ‘we may fall down, we may falter, we may not be successful.’ I’m living proof of that. You know, I wanted to start my business and just let it take care of me. You know, my second life is running. I wanted to make it my first life. I needed to support that habit. 

So I said, “Well, if I work for myself, I don’t have to get up at 4:30 in the morning and go for a run before work. I can run at 10 o’clock” but I didn’t have that support group, never had. On Social MediaI wouldn’t even get a Like, or a Share about something I posted much less a customer. Then I fell on my face. 

I literally, I was down to no money; practically living in my SUV, and going into truck stops and renting those little cubicles and showering; and going to the next little job in this town and that town. And then I had to step back and I had to say, “You know what? You are a licensed professional, go back to work as a teacher; regroup.” 

A part of me was like, “Oh yeah, they’re going to say, ‘Girl, look at you thinking you know this, you know that, you know whatever’.” And if I had listened to the external voices or the potential for external voices, I don’t know where I would be today. So, I had to remember to validate myself to accept my failures, but to stay focused. And I’m still not there yet where I can completely work self-sufficiently. I’m still not there. So, as my son says; I’m bootstrapping. You know, I have a full-time job, but at the same time, I’m getting satisfaction. And I say to myself, “I am in a good place.”  Make a goal, make a plan, stick to it. 

Getting Rid of the Group Mentality

Dr. Marilyn: If we, as grown-ass women, can just give up the fear of being by ourselves. We have this group mentality. You know, Christmas time; we got to get furniture; we got to get bathroom rugs and curtains, because people are going to come by. 

And even if nobody comes by, we put everything on Social Media. We have become so tangibly wrapped up in tangibles that we’ve lost sight of who we are. So, that’s my Number #1 message; be yourself first. 

Jackie: I remember when I was a “mommy blogger” years ago it got to a certain point where I was like, ‘oh, I’m telling other people’s stories. These aren’t for me to tell anymore.’ And so I stopped, and I think Social Media is similar. I realized I was also living for content; ‘Oh, this happened so I could blog about it.’ And it just didn’t feel aligned with who I am anymore. And I think that that’s also happening with people in Social Media. You know, we don’t even look at a sunset anymore, right? We look at a sunset through a camera lens–  

Dr. Marilyn: Exactly, absolutely. And I say to people, grown-ass women in particular, I say to them, if you have this habit of photographing and documenting, continue it. I started photographing and documenting with a 35-millimeter camera, way back before I had kids in the late 70s and the early 90s. I’ve got so many hard copies of pictures and now digital pictures. 

I document every aspect of my life; when I make up a plate of food, I take a picture of it. When I go for a run, I take a picture of the trees; but you wouldn’t see that stuff on Social Media. Now, I was on Social Media for a little bit, and I got off. Then I got back on; I was documenting my way of running because people were like, ‘oh, your running every day motivates us, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.’ 

But then I have those people who I wasn’t trying to reach. And they would have the little comments where they would– You know, they wouldn’t comment or like, but then they would get in your inbox, and ‘well, you know, nobody needs to know that you’re eating this’, or ‘why are you trying to make me feel bad or–’ because we are messy. Grown-ass women are messy. And then I got off of Social Media for a while. So then people are like, oh, they asked my family members; my sisters in particular, “Well, where’s Marilyn? We haven’t seen her. She thinks she got too good for us, whatever, whatever’. 

So, it’s like, you are damned if you do, and you are damned if you don’t; but I still take pictures, I take video. I have so much stuff. Matter of fact, my most recent book is a compilation of pictures that I’ve taken throughout my life for the last 15, 20 years; when I was experiencing the ups, the downs. I was running along the trail and I took a picture. And I remember that day; it was when I realized that my business was not going to take off. I just wanted to go into the bushes, and just lay down and die, and be like, ‘you know, nobody cares’, et cetera. But I had my camera, and I used that moment to look at that trail and say, “Wow! It’s beautiful.” Late spring and the trees were coming in all nice and fluffy. And the trail was pretty. Instantly, I shifted my focus. Whereas the average person; they’re either going to be on Social Media with the mess, or with the sadness, or with something that they’re going to share to the wrong audience. 

Sure, if you are feeling upset, find someone to talk to. Social Media is not it because those people are just there for your entertainment. George Clooney just published a piece, and he said; when he had his motorcycle accident, people were videotaping him there on the ground when his last thought was, this might be his last moment on earth, and they still saw him as entertainment. 

So, I say to grown-ass women, in my best Social Emotional Learning advice, stop making yourself entertainment and looking to people to guide you and advise you, or think that these people care about you because you are just their entertainment. And I chose to stop being people’s entertainment because I realized that while I was sharing posts about my business, nobody was sharing them. No one is liking my page. So as grown-ass women, we need to make two columns; ‘what’s positive from this? What’s not positive from it?’ And then we have to look at these and make a choice. Remember ‘choice theory’; choosing to do things that will change your trajectory for the good.

Jackie: Yes. And you know, I could do an entire episode on why people don’t like or share. I just posted something on Instagram the other day that was like, ‘if you want to support a small business, you don’t have to spend a dime; you know, share their posts. Like it; give them a shout out, a rating, a review. You know, just share it with someone that you love. What is your theory behind, like, why aren’t people engaging with content like that?

Dr. Marilyn: Social Emotional Learning theory. I can pick any number of theoretical pieces; for coming right down to it and looking grown-ass women in the face. The reason they’re not doing it is envy because they see what you can be. And for whatever reason, they don’t want you to be that because they know that deep down inside, they are trapped. They haven’t made the choice to be free. 

You know, a couple of years ago, I was speaking somewhere and afterwards someone came up to me and they were like, ‘oh, you are up there on stage. And you were walking around in those 5-inch heels and talking about all this spirit. And all I can think about is, what if you fell down?’ And I said, “And the reason that you’re standing here now, waiting in line, telling me this is because you cannot find anything positive because you have imprisoned the good inside of you.” “Well, no, no, no. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that you’re up there and just, you know, it could come across like you just think you’re better than other people.” 

And I said to her,  “With all due respect”, and this is the part, remember when I said earlier; you listen, and then in your mind, you’re like, ‘let this grown-ass woman speak’; that’s what I did. And then I said “What you saw was freedom, but because you don’t recognize it, you are giving it a different label.” I said, “All I am is free. And what I give you is freedom. And if you choose freedom everything else falls into place.”

Jackie: That is powerful. So, you choose freedom, you share your gifts, you put yourself out there in the world, and anyone else’s response really is none of your damn business. 

Dr. Marilyn: Exactly. That is exactly right. And if it means that you are going to live off of beans, which I have done; or practically live in your car, which I have done; I still ran through it, sang through it, smiled through it. And yes, there were times when I broke down, I cried and I called my sons and I wanted to have a hissy fit, like, ‘why isn’t someone rescuing me? You’re my boys, and you should rescue me.’ 

And then they got angry and they should, because when I stepped back and refocused and resettled and re-centered myself, I realized; they don’t owe me anything just because they are my children. That’s the way that I raised them. I raised them to be positive, to be focused, to be self-validating, to be self-centered to the point of being as healthy as you can be. 

But then you have grown-ass women who dominate the males in their life, the sons in their life, because a lot of times they can’t dominate the males in their relationships; and these sons grow up to be dysfunctional. How many times have we heard about men who are just brutal and they blame it on their mothers. We just had a sad case in the Metro Atlanta area, Thanksgiving Day, where an 18-year-old kid stabbed his mother to death. 

And while that was such a tragic story, my Social Emotional Learning brain started turning because, how many times have I seen these kids in a public school with the mothers defending their actions? ‘Oh, that’s my boy. You’re not going to talk to him like– You’re not going to take his phone. You’re not going to– You’re not going to–’ And so then we have this duality, where we, as grown-ass women want to be dysfunctional, we’re pouring it into the males that we are raising; in addition, to the women that we are raising, the females that are going to also be grown-ass dysfunctional women. 

I tell people, ‘just go for a walk, put on some music, listen to what’s happening inside.’ People say to me, “Well, you spend so much time alone. I couldn’t be that much alone.” And I say to people, “If you don’t like your own company, why should somebody else like your own company?” I don’t want to be around you if you don’t want to be around you. 

That’s why we have the abuse of drugs, alcohol, sex and everything else, because anything that’s going to take us away from facing who we are. We have to choose; going back to the ‘choice theory’, we have to choose to be more responsible with the roles that we have been given. 

Jackie: So, you mentioned being submissive at home. I don’t think I got that message. So, what does that look like for you?

Dr. Marilyn: When I was married, it was letting my ex-husband take the lead on decisions; what we were going to eat, where we were going to live, what we were going to buy, what kind of car we were going to drive, et cetera, et cetera. I only had one thing that I refused to submit to or against, and that was my education. When I got married I had one “prenuptial” thing. 

I said, “I don’t care how many kids we have; when the last child gets 5, I’m going back to school.” Back then in The Bahamas, we only had a 2-year college. So, I would’ve had to commute between The Bahamas and Florida. That’s how I ended up being divorced because he was “No, you’re not going then. If you go to school, I’ll divorce you. Then if you don’t drop out of school, I’ll divorce you.” 

The weekend of graduation, he was, “You see these papers? I had these divorce papers drawn up in case you step out of line.” And that’s when I completely stopped being submissive, because I said, “Go ahead and file them.” And I left The Bahamas and came back to The US with $500, a new college degree, and two young children. 

The rest is history, all alone, petitioning the immigration. I ended up staying in the same apartment that I had when I was in college because the landlady, thankfully, was a grown-ass woman with the right mentality. She said, “I saw the kind of woman that you were when you were in school. You and your kids can stay here as long as you need to, as I know you’re going to get a job.” 

We were in immigration limbo for years and years, we always had a petition that could keep us legal. That could keep me from having a work permit. I moved around a lot because I had to stay one month ahead of my expiring work permit every year. I didn’t have time to build relationships. I’ve been in this country for 28 years, including the time I spent in school; I couldn’t tell you one best friend that I have; one community that I belong to. 

Thankfully, I always go back to when I was that little girl who would hide away and read and find a way to strengthen myself. And so again, it comes back to that child dropping the toy. And how do we instill in that young individual, the kind of adult they could be, because we don’t know where life’s going to take us. 

Jackie: Yeah. That’s amazing. And what I’m hearing you say is, ‘no matter where you go, no matter what happens to you, if you have you, you are going to be okay.’

Dr. Marilyn: Exactly. And it doesn’t mean that it’ll always be easy. You’ll cry. You’ll feel anger. Like I said, the time that I lost it most was when I realized, in 2016, that I had failed, that after four years of trying and running out of money and texting my sons and saying, “I don’t know what to do. And why aren’t you all here?” And then I had to step back and say, “They don’t owe you anything.” 

Yeah, it was a bitter pill to swallow. It was hard, but I had raised them right, because before I had children, I always asked, I prayed for sons, because I wanted to add good men to this world. And I added good men to this world. 

And then when one of them got married, I was momzilla. And I had to say, “Wait, wait, wait. Step back, step back. Re-center, re-center.” As you said, as long as you have you, yes; but as long as you have the ability to re-center yourself when you get up to being a crazy grown-ass woman, you have to find a way to come back; and it’s not easy. And people are always going to judge you. But then I have to block it out. And because I have a place of peace, not only within me spiritually and virtually, but also physically; I have a place that I can come to. I am alone. I love being alone. 

I love just re-centering myself, preparing myself to go back out into the world because I owe that much to myself. And if I can you give that example to grown-ass women to say, “Hey, get crazy, but always have that place that centers you.” But you can’t do that if you are so external that you are focusing on everybody else except yourself.

Grounding Yourself

Dr Marilyn’s CAMP Achievement, LLC uses an empirical approach, along with her original social emotional learning (SEL) research. She examines SEL in four ways: how we think (Cognitive); how we feel (Affective); what drives us (Motivational) and the physical impact that emotions might have on us (Physiological).

Jackie: I was reading on your website, you have this CAMP Achievement. You talk about centering. You talk about grounding yourself, and coming back to you. But you specifically mentioned that it’s not through meditation; it’s not through some of these things that we’re constantly taught or told how to get grounded. So, how do you get grounded and centered yourself, and how do you teach your students?

Dr. Marilyn: So, I’ll use this example; when a child learns how to walk, that child can then move about, once that child starts to walk, we get different shoes. First, we have the shoes to control the ankles. Then we can do sandals after their feet form properly, et cetera. 

So the meditation, the mindfulness; all that stuff would be like changing our shoes after we have become really good walkers; we are sure about every step that we are taking. And so CAMP Achievement gives us a firm footing. So, I have through trial and error over the years, learned to compartmentalize things that get me to focus and bring me back to my center. And it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen instantly. 

Sometimes I can be off-center for a day or a week or a month, but I’m going to say to myself, “You know, this is not you; get back-centered.” So, what I offer to my clients by way of CAMP Achievement is an assessment that measures 96 emotional dispositions. And so for people who need help being centered; they start with this assessment: quantitative, numerical, factoring algorithm that I’ve developed. 

I just use 32 simple statements. And you just ‘strongly agree 5’, or ‘strongly disagree 1’; and I give the numerical value to each of five negative emotions; anger, anxiety, hopelessness, boredom, and shame: Three positive emotions; joy, hope, pride. Four neurological domains; ‘Are you cognitive: thinking all the time? Affective; always in your feelings: Motivational; just naturally-driven or physical/physiological.’ And then three timeframes; are you ready, and always up for a task? before the event. Or do you need a little boost and ‘come on, you can do this’, during the event; or, ‘oh man, I did my best’, or ‘I could have done better’ after the event? 

So, you’ve got three timeframes for achievement, four neurological domains, and eight achievement emotions. And so, four times three times eight is 96 emotional dispositions. My dominant negative emotion is anxiety. My dominant positive emotion is hope. My dominant timeframe for achievement is before an event; I go in believing that I have it. And my dominant neurological domain is cognitive. So if we know who and how we are; and with the instrument that I’ve developed; that’s a starting point. Then when you get helter-skelter and unfocused and uncentered, you have a point of reference to center you. 

And I do this self-talk. The average person, Jackie, does not do self-talk; they group-talk. They do ‘Social Media talk’. They do memes. They do emojis. And like I said earlier, if you don’t like your own company, why should I like it? And if you can’t talk to yourself, how are you going to talk to me or anybody else? 

Jackie: That’s amazing. So, if someone’s listening right now and thinks you are as brilliant as I believe that you are and they want to work with you, what kind of work are you doing with individuals and couples?

Dr. Marilyn: I’m doing Life Coaching with individuals and couples. I’m doing motivational speaking, group coaching, CEO coaching. I’m doing every aspect of self-rearranging, self-validation. And it all starts with the CAMP Achievement assessment. 

You take the assessment, I calculate your results. Then I contact you, and I say, “Let’s have that first session free of charge.” Once I’ve done the calculations I then write up an analysis. So, someone who’s positive; emotion is joy. That means you need a lot of attention because joy is external. It’s fleeting. It’s not coming from within. So, I put these points in the assessment profile. Then I also recommend a plan of action. And from there, we move forward. Then the next session we start talking about money and about moving forward, because we live in a world of tangibles, no matter how intangible we become. 

And we plan some sessions and we move forward from there. My average amount of sessions that I suggest for my most extreme assessments would be about six; and people want to go beyond six. When the sixth session comes, they go, “No, I need more.” Then I say, “But if you still need more at this point, then what you are doing is what I don’t want you to do, which is you are becoming dependent. And my whole purpose is to get you to be a fulfilled, sustainable, grown-ass person who can function on your own.” So, within my sessions, I listen to what’s happening, and then I always redirect back to that CAMP Assessment. 

Jackie: That sounds phenomenal. I mean, it never even occurred to me. I hear from women all the time who are like, ‘I can’t meditate, I can’t do yoga. I can’t do all of these really like grounding things.’ It sort of blows my mind that they just aren’t ready for that level. That’s the next level, right? They’re still trying to walk, and we’re putting them in Pam’s. 

Dr. Marilyn: Most people don’t want a starting point. A lot of people are looking for a jump-off point. So, I say to people, “If you’re looking for a jump-off point, then jump off with the right parachute, jump off with your assessment numbers. And at least, you’ll know how to steer the wind or where to go, et cetera”.

Using the CAMP Assessment in Schools

Dr. Marilyn: I started my class; every year, I had a week where we did no science. I gave every kid the assessment. I had a class profile. I did individual assessments so when Johnny cusses me out; I’m not going to write Johnny up. Why? I call him aside, “Johnny, come on. You’re cognitive. Yeah, you’re angry, but you have hope. And you’re naturally motivated because you are ready to achieve before the event even starts. So, come on! How are we going to fix this?” “Well, all the other teachers just write me up.” “Yeah, but I’m not all the other teachers. So, how are we going to fix this?” 

So, when I’m doing this with my kids, they’re all, ‘why aren’t they doing this throughout the whole school district?’ Ask me how many school districts I can get to even take a call, but you know what they’re doing? They’re doing exactly what we talked about that the grown-ass people are doing. They’re doing mindfulness and fidget balls and SEO programs where they’re paying people all of this money to give them some worksheets. Why aren’t we doing an SEL assessment to see where the kids are? 

Then we’ll have less write-ups because we’ll know where the kids are. So, when I have a young girl and she’s always looking in the mirror,  I’d be like, “You know, Kanisha, you’re beautiful. I love it. Now, your profile says physical and you did not lie. That tells me that you took that assessment seriously. But baby girl, we’re going to have to put that mirror down because we gotta get some work done.” “But why don’t you just yell at me like the other teachers did? Just send me out.” “Well, for one, I know if I send you out, that’s what you want. And for two, yelling at you is not going to fix it. But above all, we have these SEL numbers.” And so those kids are now out in the world functioning with those SEL numbers. 

Jackie: Wow. That is phenomenal. I think that everyone should know their SEL numbers because what I’m hearing is that the people who take this and the people who work with you, they feel seen and they feel heard and they feel understood.  And when we go back to the whole Karens and I think you said Laquishas of the world, you know, losing their minds; it’s mostly because they don’t feel seen or hurt; or more than anything, understood. 

Dr. Marilyn: Right. And not only that, they don’t have a clear path to self-understanding. They know that these things are happening. I had a gentleman, I worked at a previous school with him and when I wrote up his analysis, he said to me “Sister-girl, let me tell you something. When I read that profile, it was like you were inside of my head.” He was like, “How is it that I just chose 54321, and you can analyze me the way that you did?” I had another young lady at the same school she texted me, “It is as if somebody read my palm, this is insane. This is crazy; what this assessment does.” 

Check out the links below if you want to take the assessment or connect further with Dr. Marilyn.

Until next time, remember you are a grown-ass woman, act accordingly.


Dr. Marilyn Simmons Bowe not only teaches in Atlanta, but also works cross-industry as a coach for Social-Emotional learning and in 2010/2011 developed the Camp Achievement Theory assessment that calculates and quantifies social-emotional problem areas via an assessment and algorithm. Within Dr. Simmons Bowe’s coaching practice she works daily with business groups, educators, students, and even couples on:

  • Boundary Dynamics
  • Choice Theory
  • Achievement Emotions
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Social-Emotional Learning Theory