To tell you about a conversation with Tara-Nicholle Nelson would be to tell you about a body of water that makes all of life possible. Instead, I want to share with you what it is like to have a conversation with Tara. I want to take you to the shore and have you watch the waves crash onto the sand. To have the saltwater spray on your face. Get you to look out past the horizon while the ground rumbles below you as the water washes up your shins, wetting your rolled-up blue jean cuffs, and then goes back out again.
We can’t all be the ocean, but we can all be moved by it if we slow down enough . . . and slow down, I did.
The first words I hear from her as she joins me for our interview are both apologetic and playful at the same time. A mix-up with our scheduling has us starting ten minutes later than planned and yet here—in this moment—it feels as though I’m about to catch up with an old friend, even though I’ve never met Tara before. There’s an undertone of both excitement and strength in her voice, a quality that she has well earned over the years through a combination of tenacity and refinement. Like friends gathering after a summer abroad, there is immediate laughter and an eagerness between us to not miss another minute of our time together. I want details, I want stories, and I want to float among the ocean of mystery that is this powerful woman.
Tara calls herself a longform woman living in a short form world. She is a creator, an uplifter, and a Buddhist-lecturer-lady in Silicon Valley. I already love her, but it feels impossible not to. In between those lines is an invitation; a call from Tara to me and the world around her to come exactly as we are.
It’s a rare thing to be welcomed to a table for the messy masterpiece that you may be. In this day and age, permission to be yourself can feel like an oddly unsettling interruption to our perfectly curated lives—both digital and otherwise.
As I ask her to say more about the concept of permission, a warm smile spreads across her face as though she’s about to reveal one of the universe’s best kept secrets.
“People often suggest that it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, but I believe life is better lived without always trying to optimize getting affection or approval before or after you do something. It’s better to take action without feeling like all of humanity must come to their senses first. We just don’t get anything done when we’re always asking for permission.”
For Tara, permission is the wall we put around our goals and the wind we take out of our sails. It’s what takes creativity out of leadership and spirituality out of business. It’s why industry CEOs call her up just to chat; because they want to know more about what the “black church lady” they just met at a venture capital fund has to say. I can’t say I blame them.
As I listen to her stories, it seems as though she’s lived a hundred lives already. She tells me that she was once a psychology student who became a lawyer, then a real estate agent turned author. At one point, I can hardly tell where one thread of her journey leads off and the next begins, but perhaps life doesn’t happen like that for many of us anyway. In so many words, what I hear from Tara is that she has always been living out her purpose, which is to help bring people back to their highest selves.
When I ask her what that looks like, a passionate burst of energy immediately rises in her that nearly lifts her off her feet. “When people change, they then go out and change many, many more people’s lives. When people remove the chaos from their nervous systems, it systematically removes their internal roadblocks, starting with breaking the trances of unworthiness, scarcity, and fear. It’s from that cleared, open space that we can learn new patterns of being—that is, patterns that allow us to live in freedom, to access our greatest creative power, and to feel fully self-expressed. When you have leaders that are not operating in constant fear and anxiety, everyone in the company gets more access to their highest brain functioning and creativity.”
There is silence between us for a brief moment. I imagine she feels the swirling build of energy arising between us, and senses that I need a moment to absorb these truths. That’s when I realize that she’s not just talking about everyone else—‘out there’; she’s also talking about me. My creativity, my expression, my potential. I become aware that in order to rise, I must first forgive myself for the person I feel I have not yet become.
What I know about forgiveness is that it’s a universal sentiment that brings peace to the wounded and redemption to our failings. It’s also the word that Tara holds gently in the palm of her hand and challenges me to look at from a different angle.
“We all possess a spirit of excellence in this life. A desire to create beautiful and impactful things that work to make people’s lives better. Then there is no need to ask for forgiveness while moving forward in that context—ever.” As the words linger in the air between us, she’s lucky that I haven’t already given her a standing ovation. Because these seas that Tara has sailed have taught her a thing or two about the turning tides. Among the most important of those lessons, she tells me with conviction, is that in life, we either win or we learn; and that regardless of the outcome, neither warrants our apologies. When she says this, my breath catches in my throat as I let myself feel that throughout my body. There is a release of tension in my neck, shoulders, and stomach, and then there is the calming of my soul. These words are a life raft in raging waters. I feel saved from my inner critic, and somehow, I feel set free. To learn, to grow, and to discover the deepest parts of myself . . . and to not apologize for what I might find.
I once heard someone say ‘the rising tide lifts all boats,’ which meant that when we raise one person up, we all rise together. I felt this deeply as I talked with Tara, who has turned out to be one of the wisest women I’ve ever interviewed. Tara is a student of experience and a teacher of life. She is a giver of hope and a speaker of truth. She is the rising tide, taking all of us with her. And on this day, she has taken me. I have risen by her presence, her encouragement, and by her belief that there is truly greatness within me . . . and greatness within every one of us.