How This CEO Went Beyond Her Comfort Zone To Turn Her Dreams Into Reality​

Author and CEO Teneshia Jackson Warner shares simple steps for 'Dreamers.'


Adulting can be frustrating and challenging, and we all know that life gets super-hectic. Before you know it, you're too busy juggling bills, taking care of family obligations, managing everyday responsibilities, and putting out workplace fires to even think about anything close to career dreams. That's something you did as a kid, with nothing but homework, school crushes, and puberty to fret about.

Well, we beg to differ. Taking the time to not only acknowledge your wildest dreams of success, prosperity, and happiness but work toward making those dreams reality is important now more than ever. "I'm a true believer that we are human beings who are meant to grow and expand, evolve and meet new versions of ourselves over and over and over again," says Teneshia Jackson Warner, CEO of EGAMI Group and founder of The Dream Project.

Courtesy of EGAMI Group

Jackson Warner wrote The Big Stretch: 90 Days to Expand Your Dreams, Crush Your Goals, and Create Your Own Success, a book that was sparked by her own story of unapologetically dreaming big and working toward bringing career dreams to life. "I am the definition of a dreamer. I came to New York City with two bags, a Bible, and a big dream, not knowing a soul."

Early in her career, she worked as a project manager at IBM Global Services before moving on to become a general manager at Rush Communications. She then stepped out on faith to launch her own company, offering dynamic marketing strategies for major brands including Hennessy and Procter & Gamble.

"Fast-forward 17 years later: I'm in my own New York office with my own team and partners. That was a dream for me," she adds. "I wanted to be able to share any insights I've learned along the way to equip other dreamers to live the life that they dream about. I had to personally stretch outside of my comfort zone and take a leap of faith and it panned out."

Through The Dream Project, she has curated and interviewed more than 200 business, entertainment, and community leaders, from tycoon Magic Johnson to Rent the Runway founder Jennifer Fleiss. "In interviewing them or having them participate on our panels, I found that there were some universal truths across all of their journeys. My goal was to take some of those universal principles and make them digestible and simple for any dreamer to apply on their journey."

So, what can you actually do to get dreams out of your head and into real life? We know, it's great to be motivated by inspirational quotes or inspired by success stories, but what's the plan, sis? We've got you covered.

Read below to find out more about Jackson Warner's 5 types of "Career Dreamers" and how you can begin to tap into your own journey of advancement:

What are the 'Dreamer' types, and how do we know which one we might be?

Teneshia Jackson Warner: There's the 'Careerpreneur Dreamer' and this is someone who finds it important to align their passion with their day-to-day job. They don't necessarily have the same risk tolerance as an entrepreneurial person who will risk it all in the name of a dream. They are able to thrive in corporate structures or environments where there's an infrastructure and process. The 'Make It Happen Dreamer' thrives in risky environments. These people are visionaries, and they like to work for themselves. They're willing to take the risk that comes with that.

A 'Hobby Dreamer' is a professional or entrepreneur who is working in their business area, and, while they have other passions, they do not want to put the burden on their passions to take care of their families. They want to nurture their passions, but they're not going to make them the main income stream.

The 'Activist Dreamer' is a person who has the ability to see a problem in the world—a community challenge, societal issue, or social injustice—and they are compelled to do something. They will start a nonprofit or movement and dedicate their lives to [addressing] issues that impact our world.

The 'CEO Dreamer' is someone who has worked a significant amount of time in the corporate structure and they've always known that they want to be their own boss. They've made the transition from that corporate environment or that traditional work setting into a more entrepreneurial model, taking what they've learned to thrive in venturing out on their own.

You detail how a 'career stretch' is necessary in order to turn a dream into reality. What does this entail?

The career stretch is the distance between your comfort zone and your dream. Once you begin to stretch, you're expanding outside of that comfort zone. It's the expansion that is necessary for you to meet another version of yourself. I'm a big believer that you must make sure you're constantly evolving in all areas of your career.

What specifically can we do to initiate the 'stretch' and turn career dreams into reality?

My book is broken into phases. For a 'Careerpreneur Dreamer,' for example, we start by focusing on the "Dream" phase where you reflect and do some soul-searching about where you are and what's next. You really challenge yourself to do some thinking. Is the dream really yours or are you living out a dream that has expired but is safe? I encourage you to write it down and make it plain.

Second, give yourself the space to dream again. In that phase, you identify your ideal dream environment and get intentional about immersing yourself in those environments. There are other activities in that phase as well such as detoxing poor habits and taking a look at your 'Family Dreamers Ancestry' to determine what you were taught about dreaming. Were there any areas where you have limiting beliefs that might be holding you back?

Think about the end of 2022 and ask yourself, 'What are some things that I wish to accomplish but then that will move you forward to reach that dream in your career?' The "Design" phase is about taking the big-idea dream and quantifying it in a plan that can be measured. Think about that goal you want to accomplish, and think of things you need to do in the next 90 days.

It could be, 'I'm going to hire a recruiter,' or 'I'm going to commit to sending my resume to a minimum of 10 companies a week.' You map measurable goals over that time period. Be sure your goals are attainable, relevant, time-based, and specific and that the plan is as well.

Then it's the "Dare" phase in which you get comfortable with making daring moves. Let's say you think, 'I don't do well pitching,' or 'I don't do well asking for support.' This is where you have to work on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable in making daring moves in the name of the dream, and you strengthen your boldness with exercises.

The last is the "Do" phase. If you're really serious about making the 'Career Stretch' a lifestyle, you really need to be willing to stick with your dream plan for the long-term—even after the first time you lack funding, hear a no, or face an unexpected blow like the pandemic. You have to have the toughness, tenacity, and mental exercises in order to combat those obstacles when they come.

You're willing to become a 'Dream Warrior' to fight the challenges that stand between you and your dream.

How can young professionals today execute these phases, especially those who have not had the traditional in-person workplace or professional experience due to the pandemic? 

Part of your job as the leader and champion of your career is to be intentional on how you build your network and be resourceful regardless of the times. If you're still in a completely remote environment, invite people to a 10-minute coffee conversation over Zoom. Send them a digital card for Starbucks. Challenge yourself to do those virtual meet-ups. I even take lunch with a person over Zoom. I call them 'Chew and Chats,' and again, lunch is on me. Create those connections, even virtually.

Also, the world is now open again in a hybrid model, and while I do think we will embrace and define new ways of working, human connection and collaboration will always be important. Keeping safety first, of course, I challenge everyone to get back out there. I took six weeks to do what I call a 'purposeful connection tour,' where I intentionally went back to building a human connection with partners, team members, and clients. And before talking business, it was about re-sparking that human connection.

It not only warmed my heart, it warmed theirs. Step away from Zoom. People do business with people, not Zoom boxes. Get outside!

Find out more about Teneshia Jackson Warner on IG @TeneshiaJWarner or via her website.

Featured image courtesy of Egami Group

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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