Mentors Matter: A Conversation with Drift's First Gen at Drift Employee Resource Group
Elias Torres: I'm Elias Torres, co-founder and CTO of Drift. You're listening to The American Dream Podcast. On this show, we talk to leaders who have achieved their own version of the American dream. But we also focus on the work that needs to be done to create a more consistent and diverse space of Corporate America. That's why I'm setting aside time to talk to leaders of nonprofit organizations, the people leading the charge to build a brighter future for the next generation. foreign language That means welcome to everyone. I'm excited to welcome some of our own drifters to this week's episode of The American Dream Podcast. John Cole and Ezinne Ogbonna, the members of Drift newest employee resource group called First Gen At Drift. I love this group. This is a community for drifters who identify as first generation Americans, first generation college graduate or first generation professionals to connect and grow professionally and create lasting mentorship bonds. It's important to have a community, to have mentors, to have bonds. Both John and Ezinne are first generation Americans and college students. John's family is originally from South Africa and Ezinne's from Nigeria. They are each going to share a little bit about their backgrounds. We're going to ask them lots of questions and why they've started this ERG. So let's get going. John and Ezinne, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Ezinne Ogbonna: Thank you for having us.
John Cole: Of course. Thank you so much.
Elias Torres: Yeah. So patient, I know it took a few tries. You persevere and here we are like good first generation-
John Cole: Exactly perfection doesn't come in the first try though, right?
Elias Torres: Absolutely. So let's start off, let's hear a little bit about you. Who you are? Where you came from? A little story there, a little history of your family. Ezinne, you want to get us started?
Ezinne Ogbonna: Sure. I'd love to get us started. So being that we're in the first generation theme, so I'm a first generation college graduate, first generation professional. My family came from Nigeria, I want to say in the late 80s. So I'm proudly Nigerian, specifically Igbo. And I was born and raised in Prince George's County, Maryland. So shout out to everyone from the DMV. And I'm so proud to be from there because it's such a multicultural and diverse area, there's a lot of immigrant groups. So I kind of had that background of being around a lot of people, I guess, that were like me in that sense where their parents were from somewhere else. And we were all kind of navigating this new space together. Then I went to University of Virginia. I major in sociology and did a couple things and landed myself here at Drift, which has been exciting so far.
Elias Torres: Okay. So you were born in the US?
Ezinne Ogbonna: Yes. So I was born here. Yep.
Elias Torres: Got it. Got it. John, how about you?
John Cole: So I am a first generation American as well. I was born here in 1997 in Upstate New York. My mother came from South Africa with my six week old, older sister in a shoebox on an airplane in 1995. And then she moved to Ithaca, New York and lived in a basement where my father who had a job at the time in Ithaca had told her," It's great. Come to the United States. I've got a awesome place for us to live." And so she moved to this basement with no friends or family in the country, left her family behind. And then I was born there two years later. When I was about two or three, we moved to Elyria Ohio, which is in the Cleveland area. And I was homeschooled growing up until about 12 or 13. And then I attended public school in Oberlin, Ohio, if you've heard of that small college town. crosstalk it's okay, no one does. It's a forgettable part of the country, but shout out Midwest.
Elias Torres: Midwest. You're Midwestern, South African. So must be like triple nice.
John Cole: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, triple nice. I try to lead life with kindness and empathy. I'm also a very naturally I think sensitive person. But I grew up, because I was homeschooled and insulated and my mother actually taught us. She did not have any college education coming to the States. And so there was kind of an agreement between her and my father, where she would stay home and kind of curate a curriculum for us. And so she put her heart and soul into doing that. But it created this very insular household in terms of cultural distinction between what American neighborhood kids were doing. And my parents used that rhetoric very often growing up, this is what Americans do and this is how Americans are and values and perceptions, even how you speak to your parents. Right? Like I'm sure all of the three of us on this phone call right now will say like, you don't speak to your parents in a certain way. And so, it just made me feel like kind of a black sheep as I was the only person in my family who was born here. So that's a little bit about my background, but I don't want to hijack the entire conversation here right off the bat.
Elias Torres: Oh that's a super interesting conversation. All right, there is this stereotype, which I don't know how much of a stereotype it is, but I'm just going to do it. There's this thing called la Chancla. Have you ever heard of la Chancla?
Ezinne Ogbonna: Like the shoe that you-
Elias Torres: Yeah exactly. Yeah inaudible Very good. There's my chancla right there. So there is this YouTube video, people should look them up and it's like, the stereotype is a Latina mother-
Ezinne Ogbonna: Never misses crosstalk
Elias Torres: Boom, flying over this guy. And just like that thing can just find you anywhere, go around doors and hallways and wow smack you right in the middle. And so you do not talk to your parents. Like, no, I agree... it's funny you say that. I was born in Nicaragua, right? So, and I came when I was 17. So I definitely have a lot of the Latino culture from over there. And I still, to this day, refer to people as Americans. Like that's how Americans do things because I'm very different. Like today, I was walking my dog in Suburbia, new England and my dog is extroverted like me. So we both friendly. We want to talk to people. We want to say hi to people and interact with people, but then no one in the neighborhood is like that. A classic New England, there's suburbia woman walking a dog is like, this let's go, let's go. And their dog and them behave the same. And they don't want to talk to people. And my dog is like, inaudible. Like, let's go talk to them and where I'm like," No, she's not friendly. Let's go." So that's-
Ezinne Ogbonna: That reminds me of a story that my mom told me when she first came to the States. How like, exactly, you just kind of walk by people. You don't really talk to them. So I guess someone happened to glance at her and she thought they were telling her to come over and talk to them. So she came over. She was like," What?" Like," What's up?" And the person's like," What?" Like," What's going on?" Because I mean, usually I guess we can all relate, like in other countries, you can socialize a bit more with strangers, people in the neighborhood, it's normal to commune in that way.
Elias Torres: Yeah.
John Cole: My mother has an exact similar story. The first gas station she stopped at in the United States. She asked for coffee and she didn't understand the American accent saying half and half. And half and half is not something that they have in other parts of the world. It actually, in other parts of the world, we have good coffee. And so she just didn't understand what that was. She wasn't used to that, but she like asked the person to repeat themselves three times. And finally it was like, okay, I'll just take whatever that is. Did not like it but, that's her story there. But it speaks to this broader theme that I think the three of us are mentioning where in the United States, it is very, I'm going to use this word again, like culturally insular, people think that everything is here. This is the center of the world. And I think it is not natural for Americans to think globally and think internationally and really want to pay attention to other cultures values or even languages. Like it's pretty crazy how a few Americans actually speak another language. And even the disdain that we have for immigrants who speak another language and English is not their first language. I am lucky enough to have so many privileges that are associated even with my voice and my accent being an American accent. But so many other people, Elias you on the phone, right? Like you must be treated in a certain way because of.... English is not your first language. Americans sometimes see that as something to scorn and oh, I have to pay extra brain power in order to understand something or process. But it's actually this amazing thing, like you speak more than one language. That is an incredible asset. And so that's a theme in the United States. And I think it's one of the necessities for a group like this is to recognize that, it's actually amazing to be multicultural, to be international. There's so much more, the world is a huge place. And one of the recent episodes that you had with, I think [Ghana's 00:08:55] ventures and the host there, Lolita, she was saying that the Latin American population is twice that of the United States. And so people in the United States won't know that because they wouldn't imagine that there is an important market other... outside of our global north like framework, but there's a whole world out there and it's so important to pay attention to that.
Elias Torres: Yeah. I think I heard a stat that said, I don't know a stat and most stats are wrong, but it said, something like the majority, I don't know, 80% or 89% or something like that, of the people in the United States have never left their hometown. Right. It's some crazy-
Ezinne Ogbonna: Oh wow.
Elias Torres: Crazy number. And then, and the mile radius of what they've ever seen. And some people were making a claim.... I mean America, United States, inaudible America, I keep saying America, America is the country. The United States, the US is a beautiful country, so big, so large, so much nature, so many different places. Right. So, compared to Europe, you go to other countries to visit because it's so small. Here, you can spend your whole life trying to get to know this country. It's fascinating, but why a of people have never left the country, right? It gives you a different perspective. I love that comment about the basement, I think that's another first gen thing. Somebody else would be like," Oh God, your father, what did he do?" It's like, that was a setup, that was a click bait, that was a inaudible and switch. But the reality is for us immigrants, you should see the first apartment that I had in Tampa, Florida with my mother. It was a shoe box. Right. And, it was a shoe box. It was disgusting. It was dirty. It was dark. It was tiny. It was like, it felt like a toy house. Right. It was like... We had like... It's like tiny, tiny, but we had two bedrooms. And we're like, and I was so excited. You know why, because this was us on our own being independent, because it's really hard in our countries. I think in Nicaragua, for example, to buy a home, to be a property owner, if you were not born with that property, it's really difficult to be able to save up. There's no like... It's hard to get a mortgage when I was growing up. It's hard to have... There's no credit cards. There's no... And to save up, you barely make enough to live. You can't save up to make a house payment. So coming to this country that was so exciting that, it became a game like that I could work and I could actually pay for things, even if they were not that great. It was rented, but I could say it was ours because we could afford and pay for it. And, that made me feel so good as our first step when we set foot in this country. So it's not a bad thing. I could, I felt the warm and fuzzies when you said the basement because your father must have been so happy, so glad that he had a place.
John Cole: Yeah. It's very difficult to drop everything and fly to a place where you have no family, no friends, no connections, really. And, that's one of the things that I admire most about my mother in particular and all of our parents and you Elias, right. And you've spoken about how it's something that your children, not that you need them to comprehend because ideally none of us are wanting our children to go through the hard things we went through, but we also want them to have an understanding of their own privilege. So it's just something that I admire because I have studied abroad. I've lived in China for seven months altogether and it's hard to go somewhere else where you don't know anybody, but to pick up and leave and just decide I'm going to start fresh and make my own life that's incredibly difficult.
Elias Torres: That's exactly what I think makes us different as first gen immigrants. Right. That... Overcoming that is like step zero right? Being able to do that opens you up to the world, to the sky is the limit. And, I think that inner hustle is what's very common, I think. And I think Ezinne you have that hustle, right?
Ezinne Ogbonna: Yeah. Yeah. I definitely like want to echo everything you all were saying, because it's really wild. Especially now that I think about it as a young adult and having to figure out everything on my own, it's wild to me that my parents literally said, let's go to a place where we don't know anyone and start a new life. And it's a really great thing that it's worked out. I mean am a freshman, am making money, but yeah in our own way, we also... Like being first generation, we had to do our own hustle. So I know like in high school, because college applications cost a lot of money and just, I think when you get to a certain age of understanding, you don't want to burden your parents financially. So I think I kind of took on this responsibility of like, okay start making your own money so you can buy your own things and not have it be another expense for your parents. So I like randomly, like I was actually running for student government. So people try to persuade voters and I like made brownies to persuade the voters, but then people kept saying how good it was and they were like, you need to sell this. And I was like, oh, like I never thought about that. So literally I would go to school every day in the morning, go to extracurriculars after school, after that I would come home, walk to the grocery store, buy all the ingredients and literally have like a bakery in our tiny kitchen and make a bunch of brownies and cookies and things like that. And then I would sell it the next day at school and I made, I definitely made a lot of money, at least like thousands over my high school career. But it was just nice being able to have that money to apply to college just when it came time for that or pay for field trips or just help out with expenses around the house. I don't know, that experience really helped. Like you said, like kind of teach me that hustle and learn financial literacy as well. Because, I got to make my first bank account because I had all that money. Yeah. So it was just interesting navigating that experience being first gen.
Elias Torres: Yeah. No, that's... I love that. I love how you went from political bribery to-
Ezinne Ogbonna: And I didn't win. I somehow didn't win, but I guess I won in the end.
Elias Torres: inaudible Be like, I don't know what happened-
John Cole: I would rather have thousands in the bank and have applied to a University than, and then be student government president.
Ezinne Ogbonna: Exactly.
Elias Torres: Right. Never too late. You can still be president of multiple things. You can be like inaudible and try to buy Twitter.
John Cole: Yeah, exactly. Well, one thing that I wanted to point out about your story Ezinne is that it's amazing that you taught yourself financial literacy, right? Because I think when we're talking about being first generation, whether it's an immigrant, whether it's the first person in your family to get a certain level of education or the first person in your family to break into a professional field, like the tech world, right. We don't have any of what's called generational capital or cultural capital or social capital. And these words can somewhat be interchanged. But essentially, if you don't have a parent that is used to a certain system or you don't have a parent that has cultural capital within a given society and structure, then you do have to pioneer and well, that's not the best choice of words, but you do have to be that trailblazer in your family. And like teach yourself these very difficult skills. I know so many people who go out of college and they get golden handcuffed or something or they just, they don't know what to do with their paychecks. They also have to support their families. That's a huge burden that a lot of first generation folks feel is, they don't have dependence in terms of, they haven't had children, but they do have to give money to their families. And none of the financial literacy workshops, none of those budgeting, nerd wallet type things, none of them talk about that demographic of people, which is huge in this country. How do you budget given that you want to provide for your parents and siblings, not kids. Because it's, I think like the... Eurocentric white normative narrative is that you're going to graduate college at 21 or 22, and then you're going to have top five to 10 good years of earning money and then you're going to have your kids and maybe your parents will help you with a down payment on your first house. And maybe you get a car from your parents too. And, that's I think slowly changing in our culture, but it is absolutely not true for a lot of people for I would say most people. And so I think the foundation of this group is to start a community within Drift, to recognize and acknowledge drifters that have not had those advantages and opportunities, but also to find solidarity in community and share experiences with one another. I'm 24, I'm at the very start of my career. So are you, Ezinne, I don't have a very solid network of mentors right now and I haven't had too many people to tell me, yo, don't do this, don't do that, or I learned this from this experience. And so I'm really trying to establish because there's a lot of people at Drift such as yourself, at least that are first generation and much older than myself who can be mentors and have a great impact on their coworkers and their colleagues. So that's kind of the goal.
Elias Torres: Oh, that's fantastic. I think that was a great definition and inspiring definition of the ERG, right? Which is an Employee Resource Group as companies grow and you can start creating, and you start looking at the team as a whole and find common interests, right. And common attributes that people as humans we like to identify and I don't think there's absolutely anything wrong with it. Right? It's like we can't all play the... We're all humans and that's it. Right? It's like we want to have things in common with others because that is what drives our conversations, our fellowship, our mentorship and our community. And so they could be many different things. We have several, several, several ERGs at Drift, right? We have Latino, we have women, we have environmental conscious, mental health, disabilities, everything. Right. And so it's exciting as we grow that people are as... Finding that and having sub communities within the Drift community as a whole. I love that of... It's really about, I do not want to use the word normalize as an older person, but I like what you said right, of making people more comfortable right. About, I think it's a lot about education to me. Right. Usually it's education and role models, for example, usually everybody when we're young, I think that regardless of whether you have a family to support you, that has your backing, a family that can give you a car or help you with your down payment, as opposed to my situation where I did not have that. Neither of those things. We're all anxious in one way or another, because we're young and we want to figure out what's next and how we are going to achieve that independent status, that purpose, that moment in our life where we feel like, okay, I have, I don't know, maybe sometimes the picture is a family in a house, right. It's like, maybe that's a common thing, but we have this anxiety of how do we establish ourselves? So I think that's common to everybody and it's good to talk about people and show people that it's possible and it's going to happen. The question is what steps we should take to get there. And what support we need along the way. And that in fact is the definition of this podcast, right. Is the American dream. It's like, I say, everybody should be able to have access to their own version of success in this country through hard work and without discrimination. So I love that. I love that. Tell me more about what are the kinds of things that either of you, both of you, when you're starting your careers, when you're early, what do you think you need help? What do you think it's wrong, or what do you think you're doing well?
Ezinne Ogbonna: So I really like how you mentioned that what's key is education because that kind of brought me back to like high school. And quite literally the only reason I was able to go to college, go to college for free and have the resources I had was because of a program specifically designed for first generation, low income student, high school students to literally from day one in ninth grade to prep them, to get into college. However, I really like, I guess I was so dependent on that program in high school that I didn't realize there's not really something like that for college. And there's definitely not that type of support for post grad and being in the working world. I feel like that would be very helpful. Like I know John mentioned mentorship because now that we're in the early stages of our career exploring, okay, is this what I want to do? Where do I go next? Like he said, what do you do? What don't you do? It would be nice. I don't know, through this ERG, or just even like on a larger scale for a lot of first generation professionals, just to have some network of support of other mentors who are in higher positions who have navigated corporate America and all that entails and can give those resources to guide, I guess us newbies along the way, kind of like I had the program, it was called Upward Bound. I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but that literally from ninth grade like teaches you everything that you need to do and make sure that you take your SAT and that you're in all the right classes. Because a lot of these schools, especially in low income neighborhoods, don't really, at least in my experience, didn't do their due diligence in supporting students. So we had to get outside help. And a lot of times like Drift is a great company, but not every company has resources to really ensure that everyone is succeeding and excelling and getting to where they want to be.
Elias Torres: Yeah. I mean it's... What do you think, John, have you heard of any organizations?
John Cole: So yeah-
Elias Torres: Post college, right. inaudible
John Cole: Post college organizations. I mean, I think there are a lot of... I think there's the society of Hispanic engineers. There's several different organizations that I know my peers were a part of when they were in college that are also professional organizations, but not as many that I think are first generation specific that I've heard of at least on a national scale. I think that as we progress as a society and we kind of normalize diversity and how genuinely multicultural and diverse our society is, we will see groups emerging. We have seen groups emerge like Black at Drift having an ERG like that. Can you imagine 10 years ago, there were no... Very few companies that would have entertained a group like that. And it's amazing that we have that, but I think one of the reasons, again, that I admire you Elias and DC so much is because, we're talking about our struggles in an era of LinkedIn where we can message someone and ask someone," Hey, do you have time for a phone call?" And you guys the scrappiest like, just trying to make it happen over the phone, maybe in in- person meetings or nothing at all and just being scrappy. And so I think that same idea of wanting to make it easier for whoever comes before us, but with an understanding that it is easier, that's a very difficult line to balance. So I want to create mentorship and another thing that you mentioned sometimes on the podcast is this idea of imposter syndrome and how now at your level, like you're a C level executive you've abandoned this imposter syndrome and you will champion like, Hey, here's the Latinx community. Here's how Latinos do business. Here's how we do things. Here's what we want. I'm never going to be shy about saying that. I think young people, especially my generation, Ezinne's generation do have that imposter syndrome, but to do away with that myself, what I've done is actually reach out as a mentor to other people. So as soon as I graduated, even though I was 22, didn't really know what I was doing. I started joining the inaudible collective at my university, which is a one to one mentorship program. And I actually now have three mentees that I have helped find internships and that I work with, have biweekly calls, things like that. And I realize that I do actually have a lot to offer by way of my own experience. And it's something that builds up my own confidence and realize, oh, okay for as much as I feel like a deer in headlights sometime I really do have things to offer others as well, because mentorship is so essential. And, I want to call out a current drifter, who is on the Latin Exit Drift ERG podcast episode of the American dream, Francisco Garcia. And he's awesome. And he said," Our past is the foundation for what we want our future to be. As long as we honor our roots, we can create new opportunities for others. And we should strive every day to help others get where they want to go." Which, I listened to that podcast and I was like, how is that not a sound bite or an inspirational quote somewhere, because I think that also echoes a message of what we're trying to do here at first gen drift is really empower one another and help other people go where they want to go.
Elias Torres: Francisco is amazing. What a human being and why that quote is so powerful. I was going to, I was zeroing on that specific thing as well. I'll tell you my personal experience. Couple of things on the imposter syndrome is that I don't like posers, I had this problem, I had different levels of imposter syndrome where I don't like people that just brag so much about what they have, what they are, they do. It's like, I always felt like uncomfortable. I'll just say it bluntly, a lot of people are like, I want to be on a panel. I want to be speaker, I want to... That's something that attracts people to field status and accomplishment. And then they're like on a panel with 10 people and that panel is 10 and there's only like 10 attendees. And they're like bragging about that. And so I always like, felt like I don't want to brag about stuff because I don't want to get called out. I think culturally in Latin America, if you brag, if you over brag, you get called out. You cannot like... In the United States, you brag about whatever and everybody's like," Oh my God, you're amazing." So I don't know. That's an immigrant thing, which is, I don't think it's good in Latin America if you always get pulled down, but in United States, it always is you get pushed up. And, so I always had this concern, whether I could help or not help people, like I was like, do I have to be at a specific plateau to help? And, I think that was a mistake on my part. So I think you're doing fantastic by realizing as long as you do it with humility, that you can always help somebody else. Right. You know, you can help someone that is in college. You can help someone that is just applying for the first time, because they're looking like you guys are saying for mentorship. Right. And, they might not get access to me necessarily, because I cannot talk to every high school student. But, they can... People that are closer to them and still get great advice. So I think that's a very, very good statement to make, right. That is, don't wait to help someone else. Because we need people to be kind of like what we said originally, as in... Ezinne that we said, we are like... Your mother saw somewhere right. And, she wanted to talk, she was looking for a connection and then people are like, no. That's what everybody's looking for. Somebody just say," Hey, what's up. How can I help you? What do you need?" So I think that's awesome. And from an imposter syndrome, I would say it's like, I wouldn't... I think imposter syndrome is healthy in many ways. I think it's normal. Right? Back to inaudible And, it's... I'm 45, right? And I haven't been... been so fortunate and blessed to have the accomplishments I have had to finally try to shed it in some aspects of me. In others, I'm not. I have terrible English. I'm a bad writer. So there's, it is not like I can shed imposter in every aspect of my life. But I think it was healthy. I think in some ways it drove me and motivated me to do better. To do more. And I don't know if it's something we've got to get rid of it at 20. Right? Or whatever, I don't know. What do you guys think? Should we use it or should we not use it? Should we eradicate imposter syndrome in the world?
Ezinne Ogbonna: I think when it comes to, I guess things like imposter syndrome and like confidence, it's always, I feel a tricky thing for me to talk about maybe because I'm Nigerian and Nigerians are known for being super confident, super successful. I feel like, if anything, maybe I would have the opposite of imposter syndrome where it's just like I know that I can, you're not going to tell me that I can't. I don't know. Yeah. You're just not, I don't really doubt that I can sometimes, but yeah. I think maybe it's interesting that I guess you can see it in a positive light. I think it's really important for everyone to know that they're capable. And just because you can't do one thing doesn't mean that like you can't do anything or just because you fail one time, two times, three times just because you completely inaudible like... Anyone, I think there's this quote that goes like, Anyone who's an expert was terrible the first time they did it. Terrible probably the first 10 times they did it. But the difference is consistency. So I think a lot of times, especially being so young in this age of social media where you literally... LinkedIn and Instagram, you can literally see your peers accomplishments in real time. And you only see when, oh, they got this amazing job. You're not seeing the countless interviews they have to go through and rejections, they have to go through. So I think it's just important for people to, I guess yeah do away with imposter syndrome, but understand that if you want to do something just for the fact that you want to do it, you can, you just have to be consistent and yeah, just literally quite literally like be consistent. That's... But nothing really innately should stop anyone from doing anything that they set their mind to.
Elias Torres: That's an amazing learning. That's good. So there is no imposter syndrome in Nigeria. Good.
Ezinne Ogbonna: Definitely, I know... It's super like, we take like our pride very seriously. Like there's no, not at all.
Elias Torres: That's awesome inaudible about something. We should dig a little bit deeper. I would say imposter syndrome to me was not that... Hold on, you said... What were your key definitions? And sometimes not good to dwell on definitions too much, but it's like, it's not fear of failure or it's not fear that I wasn't going able to do something. I'll give you an example, to me, an example of imposter syndrome is like, I never doubted in my mind at the beginning of Drift, that our goal was to create a multi- billion dollar company. And I did not doubt that I could do it. Meaning from the optimist side of things. I'm not saying that, I always had that thought. It's a rollercoaster mentally, depending on what's happening, how you feel. To me imposter syndrome was a little bit more like, if I saw... It's like when we compare ourselves with others, right. If I saw another company that was, if we were drift was three years and we were three years and another company's three years, and there were like 10 times the revenue, or 10 times the value or something. And then you would be like, well, when I would be comparing myself with peers, what I was like, am I as good as them? Right. They look like they have had better education or more accomplishments or whatever. And so am I imposter because I'm playing in the same game and I don't have the same. That's kind of to me that the, not necessarily afraid of failure, because we are all in the game. Right. It's like along the way. Thoughts?
Ezinne Ogbonna: Yeah. But even, even then I think, because like you said, comparison can be like a terrible thing because that can even, like you said, it can stunt you.
Elias Torres: inaudible I didn't say that was good. I just say that-
Ezinne Ogbonna: Yeah. Yeah. No definitely, definitely. And I think maybe that's why it's important to, is it compete with yourself? Because I feel like I felt similarly because I graduated college what almost two years ago now and right after, even in 2020 people are getting like jobs at these top companies already hitting six figures, getting apartments. And I'm like, I don't want to leave the house because I don't want to get my parents sick. And it can be really easy to just like sit in that and feel like, oh man, what am I doing with my time. We graduate at the same time, they're making more money. But I think it even goes back to what I was saying before. You can't forget like who you are and what your innate value is. Just because you fit. Even if it took me 10 years to land a decent job, like people... I think there's a phrase like, you peaked early or something, not saying people who like got good jobs immediately peaked early, but there's so much opportunity and so much chance for you to grow at any point. You don't know, okay. Maybe you have like, in the first three years it was rocky for Drift, but the next five years can be better than the people that you started out with. So you never know what the future can hold and to just like still be consistent.
Elias Torres: Would you like to be my mentor?
Ezinne Ogbonna: I would love to put it on my resume. Let's do it.
Elias Torres: Just... It's like, no you're amazing. I love that. It's like you remind me of my daughter, but I'm going to have her listen to this. But it's, I asked her the other day because I feel like a lot of people have anxiety like in late twenties. And they're like," oh, where am I in my career?"" Where's my credit" I had... There's this thing, trying to educate people. It's like we... There's these laws in the United States that you cannot invest in startups unless you make specific amount of money or have a specific amount of assets. Right. It's like the minimum. And so there's a lot of debate of whether we should have those barriers to investing in startups. Is it really to protect people from losing money or is it really to shelter, shield them from having access to generational wealth. And, then they're concerned about this stuff. When am I going to get this? Something I never knew. And so they're like this, let's say these people are like 27 to 30. My daughter is 19. She's a freshman in college. And I asked her the other day," How do you feel you're doing, are you anxious?" Are you like," What do you need to be accomplishing? Are you behind? Are you ahead? What do you think?" And she goes," I'm right where I need to be.' She goes," I'm at school and-
Ezinne Ogbonna: She gets it.
Elias Torres: I'm learning how to program." crosstalk" I just started college," she goes,"And I take programming classes and I'm loving it." I was like," Wow, that's amazing."
Ezinne Ogbonna: That's a beautiful perspective to have because I definitely, at 19 years old was not. I was very confused.
Elias Torres: Yeah.
John Cole: I think the difference between imposter syndrome then, and like humility, right? I think imposter syndrome, the way that we're describing it is if other people and by other people, I also mean your own ego, your own shadow on your back. If other people are telling you don't deserve to be in this room, you don't deserve to do this, you're not, you're going to fail. You're not going to measure up, that needs to go imposter syndrome. That needs to go humility and cognition that you need to work really, really hard. And maybe you're not where you need to be, but you will get there and you can get there. I think that is a healthy mindset, right? That is a healthy relationship with oneself. And so the imposter syndrome that comes from external factors, for example, if there's a systemic barrier or everybody else in a room looks completely different from you or has a different background. That is not the same as feeling like, oh, I'm so awesome. And I'm like the best in this room, right? Like that, there are two different distinctions there. And I think, the purpose of a group like this is to collect people so that we are not held back by these external imposter syndrome factors, but rather that we can just critically reflect on our own capacity and hopefully arrive at your daughter's incredible level of self- awareness for her age, which is, I'm right where I need to be. And where I need to be is keep working hard, keep setting goals, medium long term goals. And if I can find a mentor or someone who can advise me and help me realize what those goals are, find some clarity align with what does success mean to me and my family? That's essential. And, I also just wanted to say that, in terms of external factors, Ezinne you mentioned how expensive the college application process was. When I applied for college, my family of four was making$ 18,000 a year. And I actually was not going to apply to college because... Elias and you and DC mentioned in one of the first episodes of this podcast that you both had really turbulent environments in terms of the father figure in your life growing up. And that's something that I echo strongly. I actually had, grew up in a household with a lot of domestic violence. And so growing up at 17, I actually had someone verbally telling me, I'm not going to swear on the podcast, but a lot of really terrible things about myself that made me feel like I wasn't going to be able to go to college. That there's something wrong with me. So I wasn't going to bother applying. And he also said that I wasn't tough enough to join the military because that's the only way someone would pay for it. But I had a wonderful guidance counselor who based on my grades asked me," Why are you not like... Where's your essay?" And I didn't know anything about the process. My mom didn't know what.... Like what's FASFA, FAFSA, how do you say it? What is that?
Ezinne Ogbonna: Yeah.
John Cole: And, it was just a whirlwind. And I was so, so lucky to have had someone there that asked me and stopped me in the hallway that day, Katie Hayes, because had I not had that, I probably would not be where I am today, but also it shaped the entire trajectory of my life. In my last year of school elected to do an additional year of gender studies classes so that I could intern at a domestic violence center in Rochester, New York. And then I went from that job and I started working there during the pandemic in the residential facility, while I looked for tech jobs and to make money for my family, because unfortunately social work and nonprofit was not going to help my mom out. But the point of what I'm saying though, is that these external factors, whether even if it's from your own home or from someone around you, that's telling you, you're not good enough. My hope is that we have communities like first gen at drift, like other ERGs here that can help build people up so that whatever barriers that they've had, which yes create resiliency, are lessons likely. And, that's really important. So again, I just want to shout up my man Francisco for that very amazing quote, because helping others is really at the core. I think you should always be looking ahead and behind you. You're not going to get to age 45 and finally be there. Okay. Now I'm in a position where I'm set to help people. Right. But you know, when you're 22, you're still pretty dumb, but you're not as dumb as you were when you were 21. So maybe you should tell some 21 year olds, maybe don't do this. So, yeah. So I just, again, I just want to thank you inaudible personal connection. You're very inspiring to me, very inspiring.
Elias Torres: You guys are both unbelievable. You have amazing stories, amazing perspective, and you're growing and maturing just fine, and guess what we all have challenges to overcome. And, yet you are in control of your destiny, right? And, and like you said, you might take time, and we worry about our own execution. And I think together and through community, through sharing stories like this podcast, hearing both of your stories is, hopefully this has to be very useful to others as well to listen, so.
Ezinne Ogbonna: Hopefully that's the goal.
Elias Torres: If they pick up the show and they listen to it, please share it. And I think there's just so much wisdom that you guys are bringing to the conversation. Thank you so much for being on this show.
John Cole: Thank you very much.
Ezinne Ogbonna: Thank you.
John Cole: Thank you, Elias for the platform.
Elias Torres: Thanks for listening to the American Dream Podcast. Make sure to hit subscribe. So you never miss when a new episode drops. If you like this episode, please leave a six star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you're interested in learning more about my American dream mission, subscribe to my newsletter, link in the show notes.
"I was so dependent on that program in high school that I didn't realize that there's not really something for that in college, and there's definitely not that type of support for post-grad and being in the working world...It would be nice through this ERG or on a larger scale for first-generation professionals to have some other network of support of other mentors who are in higher positions who have navigated corporate America and all that that entails."
For so many us, we feel supported through high school, have some mentorship through college, and then get to the "real world," where we're left floundering with, at first, no mentors at all.
This statement is felt 10x for first-generation employees, who not only have to navigate corporate America for the first time, but who also have to overcome the feeling of being the other while learning financial literacy.
That's why Drifters John Cole and Ezinne Ogbonna founded the First Gen at Drift employee resource group -- a dedicated space for first-generation Drifters to come together, find mentors, and to learn from each other. In this episode of The American Dream, John and Ezinne tell Elias more about the mission behind the First Gen at Drift ERG, why they think mentors matter, and they share the stories that shaped them into who they are today.
- (1:54) Ezinne’s story
- (2:52) John’s story
- (4:59) The stereotype of the chancla
- (5:55) Americans are very different
- (7:37) The theme of America
- (10:35) The reality of growing up as an immigrant
- (13:00) What makes first-gen immigrants different
- (13:32) How Ezinne found her inner hustle
- (16:05) The need for first-generation Americans to learn financial literacy
- (17:48) The foundation of the First-Gen-at-Drift Employee Resource Group
- (19:59) The importance of education & role models
- (21:45) The support first-generation employees need
- (27:01) Elias’ take on imposter syndrome
- (30:17) Should we cancel imposter syndrome?
- (36:48) The difference between imposter syndrome and humility
Like this episode? Leave a review!