In episode 147, Erik and Kerel talk with Mary Myers, Author of African Born: An American Story. Mary was born in Ethiopia and had multiple scholarship opportunities that brought her to the United States right after high school graduation. With no connections, no family or friends, and no roadmap, she sought out the freedom that she once craved back home. She eventually went on to work for Amazon, Dow, and Bank Of America, just to name a few. While facing multiple hardships, Mary decided to take a break from work and found herself writing. This writing turned into her first book, half memoir, half self-help, African Born: An American Story which is filled with real life stories and poetry.
Mary shares her experience as a young girl in Ethiopia who was about to go onto study Civil Engineering, but found a way out through a scholarship and a little fish in a big pond in the United States. She shares how she wanted so badly to create her own path, experience freedom, and be more available to the opportunities that she was seeking. Mary has advice for those who want to write a book, what she goes over in her book, and what made her write it in the first place.
“If you can effectively tell your story, and understand how the skill you're building and the background you have fits into what this company is trying to solve, I think that would make you a really good candidate.”
I want to welcome all of our listeners to another episode of Minority Report Podcast with Erik and Kerel. Each episode, we talk with leaders in business, tech, and media. And today joining us is Mary Myers, who's an author, speaker and co-founder. Let's jump in and get to know Mary Myers. How are you? Welcome!
Mary Myers 00:26
I am doing well. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Absolutely, absolutely. Can't wait to jump into a number of things with you. And I want to ask you about African Born and American Story and ask you about a bunch of stuff. But first, for our listeners that may not know you, can you tell us a little bit about Mary? Mary, where were you born and raised? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Mary Myers 00:49
Yeah, absolutely. So you kind of mentioned it - African born. So I was born and raised in Ethiopia, which I'm sure most people know, but it is East Africa. And in high school, we had a speaker come and tell us about this potential of going to the U.S. So, you know, the idea was, you have to take a few tests, you have to be competitive, and hopefully a school or some schools give you scholarships so you can be in the U.S. and study. So I think at that point I was like 16 or 17, but I remember thinking, this is my ticket out. Like, this is how I'm going to leave Ethiopia and make my own path. So thankfully that worked out and that I had enough schools accept me and I had the opportunity to get the scholarships to be able to come to the U.S. But, what I didn't have was basically the roadmap once I got here. So I didn't have the right connections, or friends or family, the safety net and the things that you need once you go to a new place. I also didn't have the examples. Since I was a first generation college student, I didn't have anyone else who had done college before me to tell me "Do this, stick to this routine or don't do this." I basically had to figure that out. So, the last 13 years in the U.S. have basically been trying to build all of that. So, build the education, build the career, and the family and friend network to kind of sustain me and build my own life here. And in September, I'll actually be going back to my birth country for the first time after, yeah, after 13 years of being here.
Amazing. I want to ask you about that a little bit later. I can see the smile on your face. And I'm sure you're excited after all that time. But I want to speak about another kind of excitement that you mentioned early on, because being 16 or 17, I'm trying to put myself in your place. You hear about an exciting opportunity, I sense a bit of adventure inside of you to say, "You know what, that's my path forward." Where does that come from, Mary? Like, how did you learn that? Or is that something you've always had? Tell us a little bit about that.
Mary Myers 03:08
Adventure? (laughs) I wish I said that I was always an adventurous person. I don't think I grew up in a system that encouraged adventure for women in general. So if anything, I was in a very structured environment. But what I will say is I've always had this desire to look for freedom, like I always wanted freedom. So I grew up in a very difficult household in some ways, so I know part of the drive was trying to escape that. And then the other senses, if I had stayed in Ethiopia, there is a very clear path to what I was supposed to study and become. Which, I shouldn't complain, I still get educated, I still get to go to school, but I didn't have a choice in the pieces. I just did whatever the tests dictated that I do. So I liked the idea of, I'll make my own.
There you talk about kind of similarities and differences between cultures that you learned. I think a little bit of what you were just sort of talking about, maybe that path if you had stayed there would be different, right, than the path that you created here. Can you explain to our listeners, what that path may look like for a young woman in Ethiopia versus here?
Mary Myers 04:26
Yeah. I will start by saying that I would still have been one of the luckier ones, even in the path back home. So back home, what was supposed to happen is there's this national exam that you take in 12th grade. If you do well enough in that exam then you get to pick what you want to study, but most likely be assigned in engineering or doctor programs because that is the demand of the country. So my path and partially because of my test scores and the preference that I kind of was put into was to study Civil Engineering. So it's not that bad, especially because I went to a good school that helped me do well in the exams. I consistently had a good education. From most of the country, that's not the case. There is a limit in terms of placements for the universities, then there's a challenge of once you do go into whatever institution, the ability to find a job, a job that pays you well enough to get out of the house, all of that structure just does not exist. So, here on the flip side, as I'm saying it, I hear a lot of some similarities that can still happen, but there were some things that you could do to put yourself in positions where if opportunity came that you can make something of yourself. So I studied math as an undergrad, and kind of by design, if you do STEM, you have the opportunity to get a job, right? Like, most people who have STEM degree with some efforts, you'd likely land a job. Then whatever skill you want to develop, if you have access to that information of that skill, then you can basically build yourself up. So I think in that sense, there was a bit of difference there.
Mary, tell us about African Born and American Story.
Mary Myers 06:20
Sure, yeah. So, that is the book I recently published. I wasn't an author. Now I'm an author. I was gonna say, I'm not an author, but...
You certainly are an author.
Mary Myers 06:31
Now I'm an author. (laughs) Yeah. So that book was a result of leveraging some of my passion, which I absolutely love writing, but I was in the business world. And even though I was writing business writing, like Amazon writing, I wasn't doing creative writing or reflective writing, which this book is half memoir, and half self-help. Which makes sense because that's basically what I read all the time, it's either memoir or self-help, so it does make sense that the book I write is a combination of both. And it has kind of sprinkles of poetry and letters. So, I wrote it because while I was working at Amazon, and that last year, I was going through a divorce, my home country, Ethiopia, was going through a civil war, and I felt like, I just, I can't do this and my job. I just, it was too much. So I took a step back from work. And I found myself just writing, that was what I was doing all the time. So I was like, okay, let's see if we can make this thing into a goal. And then it became, maybe I'll write a book. And then I went around and told people that I'm writing a book, and then that basically committed me to getting the book out. But essentially, it's my story and some of the lessons I have learned through my time here. Some of the success, some of the failure and advice for other young black women who, and men, anyone who can relate, to kind of use that as an inspiration for their own journey.
One area of the book, I think you talk about, and one of the things that people will discover is how to live bolder in their life, right? Like, what does that mean, break that down for us?
Mary Myers 08:17
Yeah, I think we have a lot of expectations that are wired in us, especially if you're a performing person, there are a lot of societal expectations to become something. And while it's good, and it's driving force, it's also good to kind of take a step back and think, "Okay, but who am I? What is the thing that gives me happiness?" Because the kind of contribution you make from that space is not only authentic and can grow, you also have the ability to sustain that type of work for the long term. So I think boldness is always asking and wondering, like, "Is this what I want? Or is this what the society wants me to do? Is this who I am? Or is it what the system is making you to be?" and continuously kind of challenging yourself to be more and more of your true self.
Awesome. Do you think you'll write more books in the future?
Mary Myers 09:19
I think so. I have a couple more in the works right now.
Ah, well then the answer is yes. (laughs)
Mary Myers 09:25
(laughs) Yeah, yeah.
Sounds like it. So, Mary, tell us about when you're here, how do you end up starting your career path? You didn't have kind of that roadmap, and you didn't have sort of a peer network or a lot of family here. How did you get started down your career path? Take us through that.
Mary Myers 09:47
Yeah, absolutely. I'm always mindful to say half of it is hard work, but the other half is luck. So, in my case, I found my first job through this nonprofit that I had been volunteering at. So, I was helping them file taxes during their tax season, it was a financial education nonprofit. And then they liked me enough and they figured, you know, she studied math, she can probably solve problems. And they took me on to first train me, and then have me be one of the financial educators. So what I learned there is A) you need to network all the time, especially in the industry that you're interested in, or what you think you want to learn. Giving yourself the time to get to know people, ask questions, and learn is a good way to even open more doors for yourself. The second is developing the right skills for the job market. So, that first job worked out because of networking and the volunteering. But then later, I think about how did I get my job at Bank of America? Or how did I get my job at Dow or Amazon? And in all those cases, it was because I had either developed a specific skill that the company is looking for, and then found a way to essentially tailor my story and tell my story so the dots connect in how I can be part of that company to help deliver value. So I'd say network, be strategic about your job search in terms of understanding what you're looking for in the multiple steps it might take to get to that thing, and then develop the right skill sets because those are always changing.
That's great, you know, not having all of those things, as we mentioned before, sort of the connections and all those things starting off here, what do you often find yourself passing on to others? You know, as you talk about career strategy, and you talk about leadership, or DEI in tech, what do you find yourself sort of passing on to others that you work with, if you will?
Mary Myers 12:03
So, it kind of goes back to what I was saying, I would say the first thing is, know your story. So if you can effectively tell your story, and understand how the skill you're building and the background you have fits into what this company is trying to solve, I think that would make you a really good candidate. The other is be flexible about what you want to get out of the situation. So, one of the common things that happens in corporate America, and especially in the tech world is people with very different background, will get into the company because they want to do Job A, but Job A is just so far out of reach from where they are. So, they have to start from Job B or C or D and just get their leg in and develop the right skills or contacts to basically navigate to that ideal thing. So being strategic and flexible around how you get there is also very helpful.
Mary, this big trip back home after all these years, what are two or three things you think that you're going to do as soon as you get back there? Like what's on your agenda for coming back? And what will you do?
Mary Myers 13:21
Yeah, so, going back to Ethiopia, things that I'm really excited about - I haven't seen my high school friends in a long time. They have become parents and homeowners and married or divorced, you know. So it would be really nice to catch up. Another piece is, I want to understand a little bit about the business environment, specifically when it comes to technology. I think there's a lot of progress that needs to be made, even from like an infrastructure standpoint. Like, we don't always have internet, we don't always even have electricity. So I really want to understand how much is lagging, because one of my hopes in life is to try to build opportunity for people to learn from where they are. So, I had to come all the way here to learn and kind of go through some good but not some not-so-good experiences. So it would be nice to be able to help provide more access to education. So I'll be investing a bit more time understanding the current structure there. And then yeah, I mean, outside of that, it's just, I feel like I'm going to be like a tourist, just seeing all the different developments and how the country kind of morphed over the last decade.
Awesome, awesome. Mary, where do you draw inspiration from?
Mary Myers 14:43
Yeah, I draw a lot of inspiration from day to day conversations and I think people are very resilient. And nowadays just surviving life day to day is very difficult. So when I hear about people's struggles and how they go overcame it and it makes me realize that things can always be worse, things can always be better, but it's good to be grateful for what you have and try to make it into something good. As I've said, I read. I read a lot of memoirs, similar idea, but more famous people they are, I guess. So, between the two.
Gotcha. If there's anyone out there that's listening that is thinking about writing their own book, what advice would you give to that individual knowing that you recently went through that experience yourself?
Mary Myers 15:34
So, not a very humble pitch, but definitely read my book. Because it sounds like, I've had several people call me and say, "I read your book and now I feel like I can do it." So I think you get to define a little bit of what a book means. So for me, I made sure that it was a short book, because I wanted to finish it and I wanted to get my point across, but I didn't want to ramble on. And then it had poetry, so it wasn't just a regular book. So gives you an idea about how creative you can be. And then the biggest thing is just getting started. So just get started, commit consistent time for it, whether it's 30 minutes or an hour, however you have it and make it into a writing discipline because at one point, you'll realize you have enough content, and you just need to rearrange it to make it into a story that lines up.
Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. Okay. Fun question that I love asking every guest that we have on the podcast is to give us the top three apps that you use on your phone, but you can't name email, calendar or text messaging, because those are just way too boring.
Mary Myers 16:45
Yeah, absolutely. I also get rid of the news apps for the same reason. (laughs) Let's see, so I'd say Spotify, Audible, and Reddit.
Hey, there we go. Alright, well awesome. Well, Mary, you know, a lot of our listeners like to stay in touch and help our listeners also figure out where they can buy your book. What are some ways they can stay in touch with you and how can they buy your book?
Mary Myers 17:17
Absolutely. So they can buy my book on Amazon. It's called African Born an American Story. They can stay in touch with me on LinkedIn. So, it's Mary Myers on LinkedIn.
Excellent. Well, Mary, thanks for joining us and everyone, thanks again for listening to another episode. You can find more episodes where you find all of your audio and video, just search Minority Report Podcast and look for the logo. Thanks again, Mary. Thanks everyone.
Mary Myers 17:46
Alright. Thank you