This week’s guest, Mandana Dayani, is an ex lawyer turned talent agent turned activist, as well as a mother of two, wife and now host of a brand new podcast with Debra Messing called The Dissenters. Mandana straddles the line of being dutiful and doing the right thing, but yet staying curious and pursuing the unknown. She shares the compelling story of her parents moving to this country from Iran with absolutely nothing and where they have all ended up today. She is also the creator of I am a Voter, a non-partisan organization that reminds people that their voice matters and encourages them to get out there and vote. Enjoy!
Listen to the episode here:
- A Good Family [00:15:08]
- What Do People Do? [00:17:37]
- Two Kinds of Fear [00:23:27]
- Meeting Debra [00:27:25]
- I Am A Voter [00:28:17]
- The Dissenters: A Backstory [00:31:17]
- Positive Disruptors [00:38:05]
- The Balance Between Passion and Family [00:41:44]
- Support for Life’s Balance [00:47:07]
- RBG: The Inspiration for The Dissenters [00:49:40]
- The Podcast [00:50:30]
- What’s Next? [00:52:09]
Mandana Dayani – Attorney Turned Activist, The Dissenters Podcast with Debra Messing
In this episode, I have a very special guest, Mandana Dayani. She is 1/2 of an incredible team with a new podcast called The Dissenters. They’re going to do twenty shows. These are highly in-depth shows, well investigated, and researched. Her partner is Debra Messing from Will & Grace. These are two women who are interested in not only making a difference in their worlds but telling the stories of people who are going against the status quo.
To be honest, their show is fascinating but Mandana’s own journey is compelling. Her parents were from Iran and they came to the US to give their children a better life. They started in New York and then ended up in Los Angeles. Both she and her brother were educated here, he became a surgeon and Mandana went to USC law school. When you come from a good family, you want to do the right things, and both of them did.
What’s interesting is Mandana, who was being very dutiful, ended up at a big law firm and realized, “I don’t want to be a lawyer.” The other interesting part of this is that journey but then the ability to say, “The people around me who loved me that I respect and admire so much will have to trust me. There’s something else out there in my life.”
The other thing that I love is how she goes about pursuing new things. Calling somebody, taking people to coffee, asking questions, being willing to work, and throwing yourself into things to find out you know how to do it. It’s not being afraid to say, “I don’t know if I’m going to be successful or not because I don’t know how to do that.” Looking at something and going, “That feels good to me and I want to learn about that,” and having the confidence to do that. Make sure you check out The Dissenters and please enjoy the show with Mandana.
In a way, especially based on the things I’ve seen on you and the podcast that you and Debra are doing, The Dissenters, I get the impression that you’re a do-person. It’s like, “That doesn’t seem right and fair so I’m going to get in there. What can we do?” If you’re having a good day or something good happens, simultaneously, this other experience is happening. How was that for you?
Long backstory. My family and I were immigrants. We came to this country when I was almost 6 years old.
You come from Iran, right?
Yes. We came as religious refugees. We’re Jewish. When the regime changed, there were all these struggles and we couldn’t leave. My mom kept petitioning to try to get us to leave Iran and come here. By that point, many people had left. My dad was injured. He had a retinal detachment. We didn’t know what was wrong with him. We thought he went blind. There was a bombing right where he was and we couldn’t get the medical attention that he needed.
My mom kept trying to get us to leave and go to France, Italy, or one of the places we used to spend a lot of time in. They were like, “You can leave but you have to leave your kids here or he can go by himself.” She wasn’t going to do that. She eventually petitioned to get us to leave and sign our home and everything we own as collateral in our bank accounts that we would come back. We never went back.
We stayed on one of our neighbours’ couches in Italy. My dad went to France to have surgery and then came back. They seized all of our assets. I have one older brother. We had nothing. At that point, it was trying to figure out what was next. My mom, through this incredible Jewish organization called The Highest that helps refugees resettle, got us asylum to come to America. They met us in New York, helped us off an airplane, and help us find an apartment.
You’re starting over. None of us spoke English. We didn’t know what we were doing. An experience like that is so formative, especially when it’s early. First, it made us so close. I was always aware that America saved my life. Much of this was a circumstance of luck. It’s not like I deserved to come to America. My life could have been just as bad as all the other people that didn’t get to leave.
There’s always been this profound sense of indebtedness. You have to level this equally. You have to help the other people that don’t get the help that I got. That has been such a driving force. In situations like this where you see how lucky you are to be healthy and to be able to stay home and to have the choices that we got to take every day, you’re mindful of the people that don’t have that as well. That’s where the guilt comes from.
Are your parents on the East Coast? You went to USC.
We all moved here. This is a traditional culture, the community I come from. We lived in New York for about three years and then someone called my dad and said, “Beverly Hills has the best public schools. You have to come here.” We scrambled enough money from all of our cousins to get on an airplane and come to LA. My dad came a couple of weeks before us.
At the time, there was no internet. My dad was walking around with an envelope of cash up and down the streets in the furthest perimeter of Beverly Hills so that we could still be in the district and afford an apartment. He convinced some guide to give him an apartment even though he had no credit, credit cards, or anything. We all moved to LA when I was around 8 years old. My parents live a block and a half away from me.
I see people that lived in New York City when I was a teenager. I would sometimes get in a taxi and it would hit me in about four seconds that the driver of the taxi was more educated in every way than I would ever be in my life and that they chose, for whatever circumstances or needed to, to leave. I’m always fascinated by people who can say, “I’m going to abandon a full identity.”
I would imagine the fact that your parents emphasized education, there was probably an identity that was established by your dad. This is probably true for some of the people that you talk to on your show with Debra. Sometimes you’re in those situations and you’re like, “I have to do the right and best for my family.” Was he able to create the next chapters and the next stories?
Eventually, he figured out a way to establish a business, support our family, and learn English. It instilled a real scrappiness in all of us, like, “Figure your crap out because no one else is.” That has been a competitive edge for me in my profession and, academically, my whole life. For my parents, it was about the family.
[bctt tweet=”Your purpose points you directly to your people.”]
They never lived for themselves. It was never about what car they drove, where they lived, or how cool they were in society. It was how good of a car I had and how good my school was. All of the pride that they had was for us in our achievements. My brother became a surgeon. I went to law school and practiced law for a while. To them, that is the American dream. That was why they came here. To them, the fact that they were able to figure that out was worth every sacrifice that they made.
As I’ve become more active in social justice, two of my close friends started this organization with one of their sisters called This Is About Humanity. They take these buses and we go down to Mexico and you see the families and the migrants that are trying to cross the border. You have a chance to speak to them, hear their stories, bear witness to their experience, and bring them food or whatever it is they need.
Every time I see them, it’s the same story. None of it is political. They want their families to be safe. That was what my family cared about. Obviously, there’s an economic opportunity but that’s all tied to safety and stability. There is no sacrifice that they wouldn’t make, even their own lives, to give their kids a chance at some level of security and stability that they didn’t have. It’s beautiful. It’s one of those things that frustrated me so much as I continue to see the political divide in our country because this immigration issue was such a false narrative.
I believe that immigrants are some of the most patriotic people in our country because we’re grateful for being here. We love this country. We’re not going to take advantage of it. We grew up with American flags all over my house. We were like, “This is the greatest place in the world.” My parents said that to me every day of my whole life. I could venture to say almost every immigrant family feels that way too. That’s what was always missing for me in the public narrative.
It’s an important thing, what you’re saying. I was watching a stand-up comedian who’s from China. I don’t know if you saw him. I’m going to remember his name. He talked about how the name for the US in Chinese is The Great Country or The High Country. He said the name for the United States is better than it is for China.
He then goes, “You get there and everyone’s like, ‘This sucks. AT&T sucks. This line sucks. That restaurant sucks.’” Talking about the people here. Not only do they have that contrast but they don’t understand the limitations if you’re from a certain place or religion or you have a last name that’s a certain way. They don’t get that. We’re all immigrants. Laugh at that, like, “Go back home.” It’s like, “Should we all go back home to Europe or wherever we came from?”
“I’m sorry. Were you a Native American?”
I have three daughters. There’s a lot of learning that goes on. There are all different types of learning. You had learning having that experience with your parents, trying to develop a career, going to law school, and things like that. There’s new learning that goes on when you have your children. I didn’t have the easiest childhood. My husband and I thought, “It’ll be exciting. We’ll try to make it easier for them.”
It’s different than your situation. We didn’t have expectations put upon us. It was like, “What was your name again? Good luck, sweetie.” I’m exaggerating. There’s freedom in that. It’s harder because you’re navigating. In some ways, whatever you do would be okay. It will be good enough. When people say to me a good family, I think of a family like yours. It’s not, “They went to Harvard.” When I hear the word good family, it means a real family, a connected family, and an intact family. You and your brother are very intelligent people. Is there this extra layer of, “I have to kill it.”
100%. The pressure was unbearable at times.
Tell me about that. Sometimes we see people that do things and we go, “They’re amazing. They’re so bright. They’ve had four careers already.” They don’t understand maybe before all that.
there’s this pressure that you put on yourself, which is like, “My parents give everything up for me to be here. I can’t screw this up.” There’s the other pressure of the expectations that my parents had for both of us. There’s the expectation for success and what that means. There’s the pressure of, “There’s no one to catch me if I fall.” We had no financial safety net. No one’s paying for my school. There’s like, “You got to figure this out. You’re on your own, financially, forever. PS. You may need to take care of us.”
We were raised in these villages. Even though we’re here, we take care of each other no matter what. We all cook for each other. Someone has a baby. We’re all nannies. We all financially support each other. It’s like, “You made a ton of money, give me half of it.” It’s beautiful. Also, it’s a lot to take in. There was never a conversation about, “What made you happy?” No one cared.
No one ever asked you, “What are you naturally good at? Do you like art?” Zero conversations ever existed in my entire life where somebody was like, “Are you interested in an instrument?” It was like, “Stay on course. Stay tracked. Don’t mess up. The idea of trying to figure out who I was, what made me different, and what made me happy didn’t happen till much later in my life.
I remember I was a lawyer and I worked at a huge firm. I was there for two years and I’m like, “I don’t want to do this. I’ve been fighting my whole life to get to this place and now I’m here and this sucks. This is not what I want to do. This is not who I am. This is not what I’m inherently good at or what I was put in this earth to do.” That crisis of trying to figure out who you are and what makes you happy so late in your life is hard.
Sometimes we look at certain people and we go, “That seems easier.” That’s what I wanted to ask you because there are a lot of people who go to college and they say, “I should pick a job that sounds like a real job.” “I’m studying business. Perfect.” “I’m in accounting. I’m going to la school.” You go to USC, you graduate, you worked for a few years, and then you became a talent agent.
What happened was I knew I didn’t want to practice law but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I remember sitting in this room looking around at all these partners and everyone is successful. I’m like, “I don’t want to be any of these people. They all looked unhappy.” I love people. I’m such a relationship person. I have so many opinions. I’m so passionate. You’re so removed from clients in a big firm environment. You’re such a small part of such a big puzzle.
It was so hard for me. I’m competitive. There’s no real sense of meritocracy in a big law firm. It’s like, “You’re the best first-year associate, great. You’re a second-year associate.” I’m like, “I can’t win this? I can’t be a tenth-year associate in two years? This is not fun for me.” You realize this is not conducive to your personality. I had this whole crisis of, “I don’t know what I want to do.” I don’t know what anyone does.
It’s weird because when you grow up in these traditional families, everyone in your family is a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, or works in real estate. You realize that there are all these other jobs. What does a marketing person do? What does an architect do? When you’re an editor, do you edit things all day? What do you do? You watch them on TV but I don’t know what these jobs are. I don’t know that I would want to do them. I have a law degree. I’ve been practicing. I don’t know what an editor does. That was a weird realization.
My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, was like, “You need to figure this out. You need to ask people. Everyone’s happy to talk about themselves. You’re not asking anyone for a job. Research.” I love research because I’m a nerd. I started looking up all these people that I thought had cool careers and jobs. I found someone that knew them or I knew them. I was like, “Can I take you to coffee? For 30 minutes, I’m going to ask you 100 questions. I’m not asking you for any favors.” Most of them said yes, which I was surprised by. I then started this exploration of, “What do people do?”
It requires a certain level of self-awareness but I would sit in those meetings and be like, “That is not for me,” or, “That is for me.” I sat down with this guy who is a successful commercial talent agent. He was turning people into brands. I had done a lot of licensing deals as a lawyer. I was the most fashion-obsessed, crazy person you’ve ever met in your life. He was talking about how he signed a bunch of fashion clients. He was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with them.” I was like, “Can I come work for you on Monday and see what you do? Honestly, you don’t have to pay me. I want to come. I want to see what this interaction looks like.”
Do you pull the cord on your real job? What’s that conversation? Do you tell your parents? Do you pull the cord and that’s your secret for a minute?
My parents fully flipped out when I told them I don’t want to practice law. It took a minute to explain, “I promise you, there’s something bigger. I need you to trust me.” They were not open to it but it happened regardless.
Whose harder, your mom or your dad?
My mom probably. I showed up at his office and started helping. I know me. Put me in any situation, I’ll add a lot of value. I know what I’m good at and I know what I’m not good at. One of his clients ended up being Rachel Zoe, who is a big fashion stylist. At the time, she had just about been on the show on Bravo and was growing. We started working on the licensing deal to launch our collection. I did that for about seven months to work on that and get that deal together.
We became close to the process. I did everything I could to be as useful to her as possible. One day, she looked at me and was like, “Are you going to come and launch this thing for me?” I was like, “Of course. I know everything about fashion.” I knew nothing. We jumped in. I was on the plane two weeks later flying to New York. We were hiring designers and production teams and putting together brand books. I remember googling how to do these things and figuring it out.
I was reading something and this goes back to knowing oneself though. You said that if you have the inclination, you can figure it out.
If you have common sense and if you’re self-aware and passionate, you can figure anything out. A lot of times, when I hire people, and I’ve done a lot of hiring in my career pivots, I don’t hire for the person that came from the best company or had the specific title. I’m sitting in that room and I’m like, “Are you gonna figure this out?”
The scrappier people, the people who are well researched who come in, who know everything about me and know everything about the company and are pitching me how hard they want to be there, I’m like, “You should be here.” The people that come in and don’t know how to pronounce the company’s name and are not sure what we do, I’m like, “You don’t want to be here that badly.” It’s very clear the hustle that people put into things. To me, the hustler is the winner, always.
You don’t have this. A lot of times, people are so afraid to fail. Nevermind pivot from one real thing that’s considered stable or real to something new that they maybe would be more passionate about but even to go for it. You talk to a lot of people and you talk to people that go against the status quo. I want to get into your show in a minute. What do you think would separate one person who said, “Screw it. I don’t know the way but this doesn’t feel good or right to me. I’m going on this new way,” versus someone who’s like, “I’m going to sit tight and hold on for this ride.”
There are two kinds of fear. The internal fear of my own ability to deliver, I have zero. I know no one is going to be more passionate about this and put in as much work. I outworked everybody my whole life and that was what my dad taught me. He was like, “You need to get there before everyone. You need to stay after everyone. You work harder than everyone. That’s how you earn your place in this world.”
In every career or every job I’ve ever had, I outworked everybody. My work ethic is great. To me, I believe in it. When I met Rachel, I believed in her. I loved her more than anybody in the world. I was never going to let anyone hurt her or screw her. I was so passionate about it. I know that I’m scrappy. I was like, “If there’s anyone that is going to protect her, deliver, and make this as good as she deserves it to be, it’s going to be me.” That drove everything else I did.
I’ve never been afraid of my ability to figure something out. My fear has always been external. Because I’m such a people pleaser, it was like, “Everyone else is going to think I failed,” or, “We’re launching this campaign and no one’s going to show up.” Every day, I’m like, “No one’s going to listen to our podcast.” It’s always my external judgment of me. I’m working on this a lot. My whole life, it was always like, “What’s my family going to think? They’re going to think I’m crazy. They’re going to think I’m weird.” It’s this version of I never thought anyone was going to come to my birthday party so I never had a birthday party is what happened to everything else in my life.
It was almost easier for me to have these careers where I worked behind the scenes because it wasn’t about me. It’s about Rachel. It’s about this company. It’s about a tech company. It’s about voting. It’s not about me. I don’t expect anyone to show up for me. The pivot to this podcast where we still don’t think it’s about me but at least my picture is there, I’m like, “Maybe I do have an expectation that people are going to show up for me and that’s terrifying.”
People who wouldn’t verbalize that, they’re not being honest. Most of us feel that way, except Jay Z or David Letterman. Who knows?
[bctt tweet=”That crisis of trying to figure out who you are and what makes you happy so late in your life is hard.”]
All my fears always were wrapped up in the perception of me, whatever that means.
Because you come from a tight-knit family and community, the community gets to weigh in. They did pick you up at school and did cover some gaps. You also had to answer to the community tone. Also, asking your mother, “What is she doing? She was a lawyer and now she’s working in fashion. What does this mean?”
It’s an interesting thing to see someone who comes from that and then who still can push out nicely, politely against those walls. Usually, we either fall into one or the other. We’re free-floating and we make our own way or you follow the rules a little more because you came from a good group, a good family.
I’ve always had this weird internal drive. Since I was a kid, I remember being like, “I feel different.” I feel like I’m supposed to do something amazing. I feel like I’m going to explode. I’m passionate. My whole life, I either assumed everyone felt that way or it is what it is and I need to keep focus and move on. At some point, I realized that is special and I need to lean into it and I need to own it and that’s how I am. That took forever in my whole life to feel. I was so worried about how my family was going to respond to something like that. They were like, “What are you doing? You’re a lawyer. Go to work.”
It’s very grown up. How do you and Debra Messing meet? Both of you are conscious of social justice. I don’t know if your paths crossed that way. You’ve created The Dissenters. I would love for you to tell me how you guys arrived.
Debra and I met many years ago socially and never saw each other again. We have a mutual best friend named Ashley who lives in New York. She lives in New York with Ashley. I live in LA. We had not seen each other. Ashley is a godmother to our kids. We go to her house every summer in Nantucket. One year, she’s like, “Debra is coming.” I was like, “Great.” Debra came and we spent ten days in this house together and we became so close. That was when I was starting to build I Am A Voter. It wasn’t even I Am A Voter yet. It was 100 other things that year before.
Share a little bit about how you got on to I Am A Voter.
After Rachel, I went to go work at a tech company and worked there for about two years. I learned so much, it’s insane. I had my second daughter after that two years. The three months that I was forced to pause and reflect on my life and be still with a child were also when all of the craziness around the world was happening and this political divide.
As someone who is patriotic and loves our country so much and seeing what was happening, I’m like, “This is not America. We are so much more united than what is being portrayed on the news. This is not who we are. This is such a weird, pigeon-holed perspective on us.” I was like, “I’m going to figure this out. I need to give back. I sit on all these boards for tech companies. I’m going to help senators with their campaigns.” I don’t know what I thought I was going to do.
I started taking meetings. Every time I pivoted my career, I did the exact same thing before I went from Rachel to tech. We took meetings with a bunch of different senators and congressmen and ask them a lot about what they were doing, where they felt like the gaps were, what the opportunity was, and why this was the way that it was.
Everything became clear that the clearest systematic change we could experience was voting. If people could participate and show up for their country, those voices would be louder, whatever the voices were, particularly among the Millennial generation, which is massive. Gen Z and the Millennials are going to be bigger than the Boomers and they’re not participating in the numbers they should be. I was like, “What do you mean? We watch American Idol and we vote.” It was so hard for my brain to grasp it.
They don’t participate. It seems like theater to them.
The rhetoric is hard. They don’t know that they’re going to make a difference. The rhetoric is too negative, it’s too polarized, and they don’t see change. When 90% of our country wants background changes and we see what happens every single day in America, we can’t pass background checks. Why would they have faith in the system?
I took that to heart. I’m a nerd so I started diving into the data and looking at where the opportunities are. Like I do with everything that I need to do, I’m like, “Understand the problem. I feel like I understand what the solution could be. Who are the smartest people in the world I know who can figure that out?”
The most critical step I took was that first email I sent to 25 women I’ve worked with who are the smartest women in the world that could move mountains. I was like, “Can we all get together on a Sunday? I feel like I understand a focus. Can we figure this out?” They said yes, which I was shocked by. That was the beginning of us working through building this campaign that we all wanted from the beginning to be nonpartisan, nonpolarizing, positive, and empowering. It’s trying to show the power of your vote and your voice and what an important part of your identity that is, which is why we called it I Am A Voter. Honestly, it was the most rewarding and amazing experience in my life.
I remember that summer when I met Debra, I was pitching her and everyone that was on vacation because I’m a crazy person and I never stop. I was pitching everyone all these things and these ideas and paths that we could take. Debra, who had been working as a social justice advocate for decades at this point, had so much to say and so much feedback. I was like, “I need your help.”
She asked, “How do you build a boots-on-the-ground method of voting? Who would you want to ask?” I’m like, “Shannon Watts. She created Moms Demand Action. She knows more about how to mobilize than anyone in America.” She’s like, “Let’s get Shannon Watts on the phone.” I was like, “Okay.” True Debra form, she DMed her. Five days later, Shannon Watts called me and was my mentor through all of this, which was a game changer.
Cut to the next summer, we made huge progress, and Debra and I are together again. That year was so formative for me because I saw the power of women coming together and how much change we could create. I’ve gone into it not cynical but I used to be down, like, “Why don’t people care? Why aren’t people doing more?” The minute I did more myself, I realized that everyone does care and people do want to do more. Sometimes they don’t know what to do. No one asks them.
When we sent our first email to everyone, it was like, “We need your help.” 700 people were like, “I’m in. What do I do? Tell me. I’m so happy you asked. I’ve been waiting to figure out how I can give back.” You realize the power of community and how incredible women are getting things done. Also, it’s this idea to reach out and involve people. Also, sometimes show them that they can make a difference and give them the tools to make a difference.
I looked at Debra and I was like, “I want to dispel this theory that activism is something that other people do or that you need a degree in it or that you need a history in it or you need a million followers or a ton of money.” It’s not. All these people we’ve met through this journey are people that did something amazing. They woke up one day and were like, “I’m going to stand up to this. I’m not going to take this anymore.” For me, it was sending that email to 25 women. That email changed my life. She was like, “Yes, let’s do it.”
We are such nerds, both of us. Even before that conversation, we were always sending each other articles and photos of people that inspired us. I was like, “Have you seen this woman in Nigeria?” At this point, we had backlogged 100 of these articles and photos and things. I was like, “Deb, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could use this podcast as an excuse to meet these people? I don’t even care if the podcast airs.” To us, these are our biggest celebrities.
We were like, “How amazing would this be if we could meet these people?” We then started thinking about it. We thought about how important it would be to tell these stories and introduce people to these heroes. Our second episode is about this woman. Her story is amazing. She calls herself the Civil Rights Astronaut. She had an experience while she was in college of sexual assault and was like, “There’s no law to give me the rights that I deserve right now so I’m going to write them.” I was like, “You’re in college. Who thinks like that?”
She went and found a professor and put together a team and decided she was going to write these laws. She’s passed 30 laws to protect sexual assault survivors. She’s incredible. All of her philosophy is informed by the time that she spent as an intern at NASA and they’re like, “What?” The way she talks about it is something that everyone could do. You don’t know what those steps are.
For us, it was spending the time to research all of these incredible stories and being able to show diversity. We have an athlete, someone who works in fashion, someone in women’s rights, and all of these things. It’s being able to show from little steps to big steps how everyone can make a difference. There’s one guy who didn’t build an organization. He just walked out of his house one day and was like, “I’m going to start cutting people’s hair who are homeless. I’m a hairstylist.”
I love him.
Mark. Not only is he amazing but it’s this idea that you don’t need an organization, you don’t need a 501(c)(3), and you don’t need to do a foundation. Take a pair of scissors and walk out your door and show empathy and compassion to another human being. Those compounds change forever. You change that person’s life in that interaction. All the people around who saw it are different.
It’s a diverse group of people who have done incredible things. Our tagline is, “There are heroes everywhere. Discover them. Become one.” We believe that’s ultimately what it is. If you hear the stories and you understand that, as corny as it sounds, you’re like these people and you can do it too, maybe we would see more of that engagement.
When we see stories like that, they do impact us in a very profound way versus when we are sold all of the negative stories. I do believe we are more connected and on the same page than what the media would love for us to believe. I go to the market and I interact with human beings and I feel a kinship 99.9% of the time. Usually the other small time, you realize someone’s having a rough go. They’re in that place. It’s interesting how they sell us all the separation but yet when we experience these stories, it does touch us and resonate.
To your point, I do feel that people go, “What can I do?” I don’t think it’s just not, “What can I do?” It’s a little bit about the way you’ve done it or the way Mark cuts hair. He’s an instrument and he’s still being an organic extension of who he is. Part of that is, and I’m sure you guys get this over and over on your show, it isn’t about not being yourself and doing it. Tie into this thing inside you that’s calling you and doing it that way. Maybe you could share some of the things that you see in common with all of these disruptors. Sometimes they’re not concerned about what the results are going to be.
I can’t name one of them that started because they had a vision of a massive organization at the end. No one has this crazy end goal. That’s why they’re driven by fears, “What if I don’t create an organization?” That’s not where these things start. Why I brought up that email anecdote is it always starts with the first step. You know there’s something that bothers you. You know there’s something that you think about.
One of the things that I hear more often than not from people is, “I don’t have any social media followers.” I’m like, “That is not relevant.” Also, everyone doesn’t need to be the founder of a movement. One of the things Shannon Watts is amazing at is this idea of organizing. You don’t always have to be the leader. You can also give back.
You can join a local chapter and donate two hours a week. Not only does that two hours a week make you feel different and make you feel like you’ve taken one step closer to dealing with this thing that you’ve been avoiding for so long but you realize that, regardless of what you say, everyone’s looking for their purpose and everyone’s looking for their people.
Glennon Doyle talks about this in our first episode. When you engage in these things, you figure out your purpose. The purpose points you directly to your people. Those 25 women that I sent those emails to are my sisters. We are bound together forever. The once a week when we sit at the DBA offices, eating cheese boards, and having our weekly meeting that is probably the most impactful two hours of my week. That is what changes you and makes you feel like you have a purpose and you belong somewhere. You’re around the people that share your interests and you’re motivated.
I’ve learned so much from these women. It’s crazy. We all help each other. One of us has a kid and we’re all there. One of us is launching a new business. All of us chip in and help each other. That happens. Not all of us are founders. We are in this movement. When you think about organizations like Moms Demand Action, which has hundreds of thousands of women across America donating their time, they’re all this beautiful community of warriors that work together. They make crazy, impactful change that saves lives every single day.
It’s letting go of this idea that you have to create some massive thing and leaning into whatever it is that keeps you up at night or that thing that you’ve been avoiding or the thing that you’re constantly thinking about. It’s taking that one step whether it’s emailing someone on LinkedIn who you think is doing something cool, DMing them, or knowing someone who works somewhere and asking if you can join a meeting or anything. There are so many ways.
That first step is terrifying, I get it, but you just have to do it and then you’re doing it. I remember my husband said that to me when I was trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. He was like, “Send the first email. Right now, you’re thinking about doing something.” The minute you send that first email, you’re doing it. That shift is so critical. That stayed with me through this too.
We’re always so result-oriented and that gets in the way of so much. We are taught, “What’s that going to mean in the long run?” To your point, taking that first step. How are you doing with balancing all that energy, passion, and intensity as an individual person and being a mom and a wife to somebody?
[bctt tweet=”That first step is terrifying but you just have to do it and then you’re doing it.”]
I have two daughters. My husband is amazing, he’s my biggest cheerleader in the world. He thinks everything I’m doing is awesome and he’s so in it.
Is he of similar culture or background?
Not at all.
Did you go rogue?
I totally went rogue. He’s Jewish but he’s American. He didn’t grow up in a family similar to mine at all. He is so supportive of everything, even when I was like, “I’m quitting my job.” Miller, the younger one, is just running around. Anderson is so engaged. What’s fascinating is you think about activism, social justice, engagement, or whatever you want to call the term, it’s all rooted in empathy and compassion, which are fundamentally rooted in kindness.
The thing that I try to teach my daughter above anything is kindness. That will grow and manifest itself in a million other ways. It’s thinking about other people’s feelings. We talk about an act of kindness and she’ll say, “I made my bed.” I’m like, “You did that for yourself. What did you do for someone else?” You start training them to think about other people’s feelings, what other people need, and what you can do to help other people.
She’s so now aware of her surroundings and being compassionate, which to me is important in giving her role models. I have no idea why but she’s obsessed with Kamala Harris. I don’t know when in my journey she met her and Andy was like, “I’m going to be President. I’m going to be like Kamala Harris.” Andy is obsessed with her. By the way, you couldn’t have a better role model. I’m like, “Godspeed. Go. This is great.”
I’ve tried hard to present her with role models and to talk to her about what I’m doing. She loves voting. She has an I’m A Future Voter shirt that she wears all the time and her pin and she talks about it. We talk about voting all the time because I try to explain to her how your voice determines your life and your outcomes. It’s like, “We’re going to have ice cream. Who’s going to vote for vanilla versus chocolate? If you don’t vote, Daddy and I are going to choose chocolate and you’re not going to get your vanilla.” She’s like, “What?” It’s weird but I try to think about how to keep her engaged in these conversations so she understands but she loves it.
Even mentioning that I could throw you into a situation, you’ll be like, “I’ll navigate it.” You said something about common sense. We joke about common sense. It’s like, “Common sense is really not common.” Is there anything that you have discovered about yourself in motherhood or in your own family living that threw you for a little bit of like, “I’m so surprised.”
Before Andy was born, my oldest one, I had this profound sense of self-importance that I didn’t know I possessed. I felt like if I didn’t work hard or harder than everyone and worked twenty hours a day, nothing was going to get done and everything was going to fall apart. The weight of the world was on my shoulders. I don’t know why I taught myself that but that was such a big part of who I was.
When I had my daughter, I stopped and I took time to be with her and I was like, “Everything is fine. Everyone’s still breathing and eating. The world moved on and the companies are all fine.” You get so engulfed by your ambition and your career and you think that everything you’re doing is so important. For me, the fashion show that we were producing was so important, “FedEx isn’t near. What are we going to do? The whole world is going to fall apart.”
When you have a child, you realize that there are so many things that are so much more important. Also, you do need other people. I could never survive without my amazing nanny, my family, my husband, the women at work, and the men at work who carried so much of the weight. It’s a team sport. As corny as that sounds, it is. It allowed me to have the balance that I needed to survive and be a good mom to my daughters.
That sounds crazy but it was enlightening for me to experience. That has changed how I function because I’m much more focused on the work that I do. I don’t waste time doing a lot of things I don’t need to do. I also know that if I don’t do it and I ask someone else to do it, they’re probably going to do it better than me so it’s all good.
I get asked a lot about balance. All people are balancing quite a lot of things. I always found it fascinating that no one ever asked men about having it all if you will. Somehow, we have this notion of having it all. Is there anything that you think is some of your secret sauce as to why you’re able to manage and keep all of these plates spinning, whether it be at marriage, being a mom, taking on new businesses, new ventures, and new causes? I know you’re a hard-working person who can solve things or figure out things. Do you think there’s something that you do that support you in that juggle?
When I look at my schedule or my life, I have these anchor moments. I know I’m going to have breakfast with my kids. I know I need to put them down. I know that I want to do this with my husband on Thursday nights because that’s our show. I know the things that are non-negotiable. I know it’s my friends’ launch and I’m going to be there and I don’t care.
I build my life around the moments that are really important to me. If I have to work an extra three hours at night, I will to make up for that time. The balance for me is not missing the things that I can’t miss that are important to me as a human being but also forgiving myself when I do and not being so hard on myself. Balance is fluid. Some weeks you suck as a mom and some weeks you don’t suck as a mom. It’s being okay failing and not failing.
I don’t mean this to sound negative but I always was speaking on these panels about working moms. I’m like, “This is not a new phenomenon.” Women have been working and having children for thousands of years. I don’t know why we’re babying each other. Women are fierce and bad and can do a million things. We don’t need these kid gloves around us. All these women dancing around having nannies, I’m like, “It’s fine to have a nanny. It’s all good. We all do it.” Let’s own up to our crap so we can be there for each other and be honest about things that are hard and how we get through them and advice.
This persona that people create where you’re so present, you cook dinner, and you wrap your fork and knife in the twine with rosemary, we eat on paper plates half the week. There’s food all over the ground. It’s fine. The kids are happy. Look at my kids, they’re super happy. That is my barometer of success with my kids. This Instagram photo mom shaming thing is honestly crazy to me.
Do you get moments for a self-care practice in there? Do you get time to take care of your body in some way?
Yeah, when I can.
Do you get it in?
Yeah. We all do our best. It’s not putting the expectation that if I don’t, I suck. The hardest thing I learned was being nicer to myself and not being so hard on myself and accepting that there are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. As long as I feel I have integrity and I can go to bed with the person that I am, I’m okay with it.
Can you share how RBG influenced you guys?
She’s RBG. As a lawyer, as two crazy neurotic Jewi ladies, she’s the coolest woman in the world. This I Dissent slogan was important because it’s this idea of saying, “No, this isn’t okay. There’s a better way.” What we wanted to do was honor the people that did that. That saw something that was wrong or something that could be better or someone that needed to be stood up for and created the space for it or forge the path for it or advocated for it. For us, it all started with her anyways, our personal journeys. I couldn’t imagine having her not involved somehow.
You guys are doing twenty shows a season. Is this right?
Yeah. The idea is we spend about a year researching all these people and we narrow it down to the twenty people that blew us away and that represented a pretty diverse narrative and wanted to tell their stories and what they learned. They try to share with people that there’s no path to this. There are a million different paths and you have to figure yours out. You just try. It’s this idea that anything is better than nothing.
I wish there was a way to simultaneously do shows on them, podcasts, and a visual show. You’re already doing so much work and weeding it out. Debra is a storyteller and you’ve put things together. You’re drilling down and saying, “We want to tell their story.”
That would be amazing.
It would be.
Thank you again, by the way, for doing this. I’m grateful. I am such a fan of yours.
I have a different delivery system as far as like, “I want to tell good stories.” The more examples of people who are willing to say, “I’m going to do what feels good and right for me,” that is out there and inspire people. It goes back to if it’s one person who cuts hair. One person, are we changing the whole world? No. Maybe we can help one person. One last question. When you’re looking at the landscape because I know you are, what do you think is next? You go, “I’ve got some other ways I want to express myself.”
I know that I’ve always wanted to run for office. That’s my one life goal bucket list. I imagine when my kids are older, I can leave them and live in DC if I ever got elected. I know that sounds weird. For the first time in my life, I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t care but I’m not freaked out by it. My whole life has been this series of planning, hierarchy, climbing ladders, and whatever.
I’m super proud of what I’m doing and what I’m building and the stories I’m telling. The people that I have forced to be my friends are like, “I can’t even handle it.” I’m happy. I like I’m going to jinx it when I say that but I’m happy with the person that I am. I’m happy with the people that I love. I’m proud of the stories that we’re telling. Whatever happen is going to happen.
Your brother must be pissed. He must be like, “How did she finagle that?” Interviewing 75 patients every week, he must be like, “How does she finagle that?”
He’s so smart. It’s obnoxious.
It’s going to be every week, Thursday, for twenty weeks. You guys are going to hit it hard and then see what happens.
You’ll meet our twenty heroes. We‘re excited. They’re amazing. Thursday’s episode is Glennon Doyle, who’s our favorite person ever. It’s a fun story.
I’m not going to wish you good luck. I’m going to say congratulations.
Thank you. I’ll take the luck though. Thank you. We need it.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
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About Mandana Dayani
Mandana Dayani is the Creator and Co-founder of I am a voter., a nonpartisan movement that aims to create a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement. Its mission is to inspire and excite this generation by making voter identity mainstream, aspirational, inclusive, and an integral component of personal identity. Mandana began her career as a corporate attorney at top international law firm, Paul Hastings. She then worked as a talent agent where she developed licensing and endorsement opportunities for the world’s most esteemed celebrities. before going in-house to work with stylist and entrepreneur, Rachel Zoe, to launch the Rachel Zoe Collection and the company’s initiatives in business development, digital media, strategic investments, licensing, publishing, endorsements, and television production. After 6 years, Mandana joined EBTH as Chief Brand Officer where she served as part of the leadership team which raised $84.5 million in venture capital, built its strategy and teams across all its consumer-facing functions, and sold and produced its eponymous TV show to HGTV. She is also the founder of The Learning Series, an event series for women leaders.