Ep #13: How to navigate fear as a family with Zenovia Stephens

In this week’s episode of The Discomfort Zone podcast, I talk to Zenovia Stephens, founder of Black Kids Adventures, about strategies for navigating fear as a family.

Zenovia shares how she successfully creates supportive boundaries with her family members to maintain personal space during moments of discomfort.

She also highlights the importance of having conversations with children about facing fears and working through them as a family.

Zenovia addresses misconceptions about adventure sports and encourages you to challenge stereotypes and embrace outdoor adventures.

Anna and Zenovia also discuss the power of saying yes to opportunities that come your way when you’re following your passions.

In this episode you’ll gain insights into:

  • How to talk to kids about fear and moving through fear.
  • Why setting boundaries with family members is important.
  • The power of supportive relationships when following your passions and moving through discomfort.
  • How saying yes can transform your life.
About Zenovia

Zenovia is a dynamic force with a passion for bridging the gap between nature, outdoor adventure and underrepresented communities. A proud double alumna of Alabama A&M University, holding both a B.S. and M.S. in Biology, Zenovia’s journey has taken her from being a Regulatory Affairs Specialist in the Pharmaceutical Industry to her current roles as a freelance writer and content creator.

Not stopping there, she is the driving force behind Black Kids Adventures, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring Black and Brown families to embrace the wonders of nature together. Originally hailing from the vibrant city of Chicago, Zenovia, alongside her adventurous husband and three sons, has called Huntsville, AL home since 2008.

Their love for exploration knows no bounds – from traversing the diverse landscapes of Alabama to infusing creativity into their home adventures. Zenovia is also a co-founder of Black Hikers Week, a social media movement celebrating and advocating for Black hikers. Her impactful presence on platforms like @blackadventurecrew has garnered attention from national media outlets, including Kelly & Ryan, PBS, and WAFF, showcasing her dedication to encouraging black families to embrace the great outdoors.

How to connect with Zenovia:

IG: @blackkidsadventures and @blackadventurecrew

FB: Zenovia Bianca Stephens

Black Kids Adventures

Black Adventure Crew

Anna
My guest today, Zenovia Stevens, is a dynamic force with a passion for bridging the gap between nature, outdoor adventure, and underrepresented communities. A proud double alumna of Alabama A&M University, holding both a BS and MS in biology, Zenovia’s journey has taken her from being a regulatory affairs specialist in the pharmaceutical industry, to her current roles as a freelance writer and content creator. Not stopping there, she is the driving force behind Black Kids Adventures, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring black and brown families to embrace the wonders of nature together. Originally hailing from the vibrant city of Chicago, Zenovia, alongside her adventurous husband and three sons, has called Huntsville, Alabama home since 2008.

Their love for exploration knows no bounds, from traversing the diverse landscapes of Alabama to infusing creativity into their home adventures. Zenovia is also a co-founder of Black Hikers Week, a social media movement celebrating and advocating for black hikers. Her impactful presence on platforms like Black Adventure Crew has garnered attention from national media outlets, including Kelly and Ryan, PBS, and WAFF, showcasing her dedication to encouraging black families to embrace the great outdoors.

Welcome, Zenovia. Thank you so much for being here.

Zenovia Stephens
Thank you for having me, Anna.

Anna
Yeah, I’m excited to talk with you about the discomfort zone. So I typically jump right in and I’m going to… So my first question is, when I say discomfort zone, what comes up for you? What do you think about?

Zenovia Stephens
Um, for me, a lot of my fears come up. Um, particularly one of my biggest is really public speaking. And, um, that’s always been something that has hindered me. So I think about things like having to stand in front of prouts. Um, and also think about some of the things that have kind of risen up in me since becoming a mom, which is, um, a lot of anxiety over random things. And I don’t know if it’s just something about having other people to, you know, take care of and depend on me that it’s caused these different fears to come up. But yeah, it’s just, it’s just a random concoction of things that have come up in me that cause, you know, all kinds of fears and anxiety. So that’s, that’s what comes to mind when I think about discomfort.

Anna
And where do you feel your discomfort zone in your body?

Zenovia Stephens
That’s a really interesting question. As I’m really thinking about that, I feel like it manifests all over for me. Like, I don’t think there’s one particular place, but I feel like it’s just a, I think I feel it all over. I feel tension in my back for sure. And I often have headaches when, you know, I’m feeling a little nervous or anxious. So yeah, but it really kind of manifests all over. And I think it depends on where I am when… that fear or anxiety or discomfort kind of hits me.

Anna
Right. Yeah. And so what’s your strategy when you start feeling the tension in your back or you start feeling maybe a headache coming on? What’s your strategy?

Zenovia Stephens
I don’t know if it’s a strategy so much or if it’s just something that I grew, I grew up doing all the time. So, um, I grew up in a Christian home and I’ve always been taught to, you know, pray through discomfort, pray through fear. So prayer is a really big part of my life. And I go into prayer when, you know, I’m feeling nervous and anxious because I know that those are feelings that are, I know that those are things that I can control. I just have to remind myself that I am in control.

So, you know, I just pray for peace. I try to find like a quiet space if I’m able to, to just kind of tune out everything that’s around me. And if I’m not, like if I’m in a car, for instance, with my family, headed to something that’s bringing me discomfort or anxiety, then I do my best to just kind of ignore everything that’s happening in the car, focus on breathing. I’m maybe just looking outside at the trees that we’re passing by, tuning everything out and trying to find a calm place within so that I can, you know, be calm on the outside.

Anna
Yeah, is that challenging for you to do when your whole family is in the car? And you have, like you said, you have a lot of, you’ve got a lot going on, your family, all of your projects. So, do your kids allow for that space and how do you set a boundary around that space? I guess is my question when it comes to your family.

Zenovia Stephens
Yeah, it is very challenging because there’s always something going on, there’s always something being said, and there’s always someone that, you know, needs you. But it’s really important to me to, um…

I don’t wanna shield my kids of my feelings. It’s not that I’m trying to pretend that I don’t have discomforts or fears or anxiety, but it’s really important to me that they don’t take on my fears, my anxieties and my discomforts. So that whole piece of tuning everyone out, it could look like to them that they’re being ignored in that moment, but it’s something that I have to do so that they don’t take on whatever it is that I’m going through.

And George, my husband, if he’s around, he’s really good about trying to, you know, kind of get, jump into a conversation that they’re having or start a conversation with them so that I can do what I need to do. We don’t even have to talk about it. He knows, and he can feel when I need, you know, that space, even when it’s not physically possible to give me the space, he knows when I need that. And so he was really good about trying to just kind of break up whatever is going on be with the kids so that I can focus on calming myself down, finding that peace and working through whatever is going on.

Anna
I love that. How did you and George come to that or cultivate that in your relationship that he knows when you’re going into your discomfort zone and he knows what to do to step in and support you?

Zenovia Stephens
Um, I’ve wished that I could give you a playbook on how that came about, but honestly, we’ve been together for so long. So a big part of it is just knowing each other. Um, George and I have been married for 15 years and we’ve been dating since I was 18 years old. So we really, we know each other and he knows. He, he knows me sometimes better than I, you know, realize that he knows. I’ll tell him about something that happened in a car, for instance.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
after it happened and he’s like, yeah, I know. That’s why I did X, Y, and Z. So he’s really better about stepping in. I don’t have to ask him. He’s really good about picking up on the signals, picking up on my movements, my words, and knowing that I need that space and just jumping in and doing what he needs to do. There’s really, that’s really it. It’s really just about knowing each other. And I’m really grateful for that because I don’t know how to necessarily verbalize it in the moment.

I kind of shut down because I know that I need to find a place to, you know, come to peace with whatever. So I kind of shut down and he picks all of that up and, you know, jumps right in and takes control and keeps the kids occupied so that I can do what I need to do.

Anna
Go George. That’s really great.

Zenovia Stephens
Yeah

Anna
And it sounds like you’re wanting to be a role model for your kids in the sense of how to be able to calm yourself down, how to handle stressful situations. Do you all have conversations as a family or maybe when you’re out doing uncomfortable things as a family, for instance, challenging yourselves in the wilderness or on the water or just fun adventures, does…

Do conversations as a family about facing fears come up?

Zenovia Stephens
Always. So even going back to me, dealing with some of the anxieties and fears. So in that moment, I’m not able to talk about what’s going on, but once it passes, we always go back to the drawing board and have a conversation with the kids. Like I’ll let them know. So during this drive, for instance, up this mountain, this is what was happening with me. And this is how I felt. This is why your dad did X, Y, and Z.

Anna
Hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
And this is how I worked through that. And then I try to tie it back into something that, you know, may have come up with them to remind them that number one, yes, I’m mommy, you know, yes, I’m an adult, but we go through similar things. Right. So we have a lot more in common than they sometimes realize. So, you know, I want them to know that we face a lot of the same things, even, you know, though I’m an adult, I’m so much older than you. So the advice that I am giving you is advice that I am taking and using as well. So I try to turn it back into something that they can understand by sharing or not sharing, but what is the word that I’m, I was just relating it to something that they may be going through. If we are traveling or hiking or just about to do something that someone is a little fearful about, we discuss it as a family in try to figure out if it’s something that we’re able to work through together, or if it’s something that maybe a few of us are able to, you know, work through together and go on and the rest of us will stand by and watch. So we try to always have those conversations with our kids. We recently went to, um, Arizona in October, and I wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride. And you know, I was like, this is something I’ve always wanted to do. It was like a bucket list item type of thing. But at the same time, I was terrified. I’m like,

I’m going up in a basket with a stranger. Like, you know, yes, they’re, they’re a pilot. They’re licensed to do this, but with a stranger flying in a basket, you know, fueled by this fire. Like this is, this is kind of scary. This is a little terrifying, right? And so then it dawned on me as I was getting ready to book it, that it might be a little fearful for my children too. Sometimes we want to do things and we don’t wreck, we don’t…

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Anna
Yeah.

Zenovia Stephens
We don’t know what all it takes to do that thing. We just, it’s the idea of it that, you know, is exciting. The idea of it makes me wanna do it, right? But what does it really mean? What does it mean to go into a, to fly in a hot air balloon? What does that look like? So, we got to Arizona on a Sunday and the conversation began on Sunday about whether we were going to go up in this hot air balloon as a family.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
We had to talk about things like, you know, this isn’t a situation of like, hey, we’re up 10 feet and I don’t like this, I’m coming right back down. We had to let them know like it doesn’t work like that. So this is what this is going to look like. By Tuesday, half of the family was not going because they, you know, didn’t think they could work through those emotions and those fears. And like, I just, I don’t think I can handle it, kind of a situation.

We continue to talk about it, continue to talk about what seemed fearful and reminded our kids that, you know, well, for me, because George is always cool, calm, and collected, but for me, that, you know, I am nervous about this adventure as well, right? But it’s also something that I really wanna do. And sometimes, you know, things that we wanna do, we have to find a way to work through those emotions because they’ll hold us back.

And if we don’t work through them, we’re gonna miss out on a lot of things. So how can we work through that together? What is it that we’re fearful about? What is it that we think is gonna happen? We watched the videos of what it looks like to go up in the hot air balloon, the whole process so that they can be familiar with what would happen if we chose to do it. And by the end, everybody had agreed to do it. We got up there and everybody… was like, oh, I don’t know, except for me. Everybody was like, I don’t know. I don’t know what I was afraid of. Me on the other hand, you know, I was like, this is great. As long as I don’t look down, I had to just look straight out. It really was great. But more so, more than, you know, just having an incredible experience together, I was really proud that we were able to work through it as a family, work through those fears, work through the anxiety of it, which is…

really difficult with my five year old because I think out of all of the three boys, he has the most and he actually has anxiety. He’s actually been diagnosed with having anxiety. And so it’s really challenging to work through different things with him and get him to understand that he doesn’t have to be fearful of so many different things. So I was super proud that he got up there and he rocked it. He loved it and was looking down and pointing things out. And it was amazing.

Anna
Yeah.

Anna
Amazing. Thanks for sharing that story, Zenovia. That’s super powerful. And I’ve been up in a hot air balloon and definitely for me, I can remember the first time I went up in a hot air balloon, that feeling of lifting off the ground. And you’re like, I am in a basket. Literally, that’s exactly what you said. I am in a basket. You know, and it’s the, and then, you know, and then I settled in and it was super fun, but that is, yes, what an adventure. And

Zenovia Stephens
A basket. Ha ha ha. Yeah, it’s like a basket.

Zenovia Stephens
Yeah.

Anna
I’m sure that your whole family was stoked with that and proud to have worked through that and made a decision together to go for it and support each other. Yeah, really powerful. So it sounds like with what you’re sharing that you are introducing your kids early on strategies one to not.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Anna
not push away the discomfort or the fear, but to embrace it and strategize on how to face it and stay calm and overcome so that you can do amazing things, as you said. In your life, was there a mentor or family member or your family that helped you navigate discomfort zones early on?

Zenovia Stephens
I think everyone has played a part in how I operate, you know, and navigate through fear. From, you know, obviously my husband, my parents, pastors, coaches. I think that at some point or another, I’ve had to have that conversation or I’ve sat in a sermon that really resonated with me that discussed, you know, fear. So I think that it’s been a collective effort. And I’ve taken bits and pieces from all of those different interactions to…use in my life as I work through those things.

Anna
Yeah, that’s, it’s all of the practices. I went through a difficult situation recently and what came to mind for me was kind of resonates with what you’re saying is all of the practices, people, coaches, mentors in my life who have come before and how I have practiced so-called hard moves in easy water in my life throughout my life really helped support me in those moments when I’m feeling uncomfortable or I’m faced with a something that I wasn’t expecting, right? The unexpected. And so what we’ve been talking about so far is, you know, facing fear. And I loved what you, how you talked us through how your family approached the hot air balloon ride is, and you’ve talked about how you center yourself.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Anna
Is there anything different or that you would add when something really unexpected happens or something goes sideways and there you are and you’re going to take the next step?

Zenovia Stephens
Um, honestly, I think it’s the smaller moments that allow you to act naturally when things happen unexpectedly. So it really is like, you have to practice these things. It has to be something that you utilize no matter what is going on. It could be a small fear, a big fear, but those fears that are, I guess, a little bit more controlled, they’re things that you know, like for instance, me talking about public speaking, right?

So I know that this is coming up and I know that, I know the feelings that are going to arise the closer I get to a speaking engagement. So I know that I have to practice these little things to help, you know, get through the moment. It’s the daily practices, I feel, that help you navigate those unexpected things. We had a situation when we were visiting the Buffalo National River where my oldest son, who was an excellent swimmer, went to retrieve a flotation device, not a flotation device, but like a, well, yeah, like a donut, you know, they like float something you float down the river in. He went to retrieve it and he got stuck in like a whirlpool, I guess, in a river. He just, he was just stuck in there. Right. And he’s like trying to get out and I’m standing on the side with my youngest child and I’m, I didn’t really know. So I was like, oh, well, you know, just swim. And he’s like, I’m trying, but.

Anna
Yeah. Yep.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
you know, he’s not coming. So it took some time before I understood that he was actually, he was stuck. And again, so my husband, let me just go back really quickly. He’s walking down the shore with my middle son looking for interesting rocks. And I’m on the side with my, at the time, I think he was three, my youngest son, three or four. I’m on the side with him and my oldest son is stuck. And I’m like, what do I do? I can’t panic because I want him to remain calm. And so inside I am having, you know, a fit. I am terrified. I don’t actually know what to do. I started calling for my husband. He can’t hear me because he’s too far away. I know that I can’t jump into the water because I’ll be stuck too. Plus my younger child would follow me and now we’re all stuck. So there was this canoe.

Anna
Right.

Zenovia Stephens
sitting on the shore. I grabbed the paddle and I’m trying to reach out to get him, but I’m five feet one. And so the further I go out, eventually I’m like, the water is about to go over my head. I can’t reach him. Long story short, someone ended up, someone that was familiar with the river, and I guess they knew about that pocket. They were able, oh no, a girl actually went in to try to help him and she was stuck in there too. Now they weren’t going under, they just couldn’t get out.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Anna
Right. Yep.

Zenovia Stephens
And so I’m just telling him to, I’m like, it’s okay, you’re fine, you’re not drowning. I was like, you are stuck, but you are okay. Your head is above water, just keep floating. This is how I’m talking to my son, because I need him to remain calm, as calm as possible. Someone ended up going in and getting him out and the young girl that tried to go in after my son. And you know, it was, he was distraught, but.

I still maintained my composure once he was out and we talked through how scary that was, but how because we were able to stay calm and not panic and remember that our head is above water, we’re breathing, we can swim, we are okay. We’re going to get you help. You were able to come out and you’re okay. So I was like, I know it was scary and you’re crying, but when you think about that and think about the steps that we took, you understand that we worked through it and you are okay.

Anna
Yeah.

Zenovia Stephens
So it’s those daily practices of finding that calm and really exuding it on the outside so that when you are in an intense situation, you can stay in that place. I don’t know that I’ll always seem to do that. That was the first test, honestly, for me and something that’s just really gone completely wrong for me to exercise that, but it worked. It worked because that situation could have gone, he could have drowned.

Anna
Yeah.

Anna
Mm.

Zenovia Stephens
He could have drowned.

Anna
Yeah.

Yeah, that’s powerful. Thank you for sharing, Zenobia. And I remember when you were in the community paddle sports leader training that I was co-facilitating. I think I remember you telling me this story. And I know that also you’ve learned so much from taking training. I know y’all love to take training and learn more. And so now that you’ve taken the

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Anna
community paddle sports leader, is there anything you would do differently in that situation?

Zenovia Stephens
Actually, since we have taken that, when we go into any water and they’re floating, one thing we do is, and I don’t know if this is the right way or what, but this is something that we feel comfortable doing. We attach our tow ropes to the flotation device, and that way they’re anchored to us, because we’re not in, we’re standing on the side. So we keep them anchored to us now. That way we can…

Anna
Right.

Zenovia Stephens
pull them out if, you know, something like that were to go, were to happen again.

Anna
Yeah, and your tow ropes that you’re talking about are quick release, so you can release them if you need to. I think that’s the key thing as well.

Yeah, so with your tow ropes, because they’re quick release as well, you’re not attached. I think that’s the important part for folks out there who don’t have as much experience in the waters that you never want to tie yourself off or your children off to anything that you cannot release quickly. I think that’s the big takeaway there.

Anna
You can always wear life jackets in the water and float around, which is quite nice. And I think life jackets are awesome personally. So, yeah.

Zenovia Stephens
Yeah.

Zenovia Stephens
They are, and he did actually have one on that day, and whenever we went floating again, but which he likes to fight it because he is a great swimmer, but we have to remind him, this isn’t about your skills. This is about saving your life if we need to. So yes, we do. People absolutely need to utilize life jackets. And that was actually something I was really grateful for at that time because I remember him being subset.

Anna
Right.

Zenovia Stephens
when we were at the Buffalo National River because he didn’t want to wear one. He’s like, I can swim, I do this, I do that. And I was like, I know that, but we don’t know this water and you’re gonna wear this life jacket. And I was just so grateful because had we not, he may have gone under, you know? Who knows? And not a, we don’t do puddle jumpers, which we a long time ago did. We do actual, you know, life jackets, real ones.

Anna
Mmm.

Anna
Right.

Anna
Yes.

Anna
Yeah, that’s great. Thanks for sharing that, Zenovia. I think that’s an important aspect for folks out there who have kids and they’re by the water is, yeah, life jackets. Like you said, your son in that little whirlpool or strong Eddie could definitely have been pulled under had he not had a life jacket on. So yes, thanks for sharing that. Great.

Zenovia Stephens
Absolutely.

Anna
What, so you’ve mentioned several strategies that you use for calming yourself down, facing discomfort, finding your joy, I’ll say, or in the face of discomfort. What advice would you give to our listeners if they’re facing their discomfort or wanting to take on something that scares them, but they really want to do it? Like you mentioned earlier with the hot air ballooning,

You know, it’s something you really wanted to do, but you were nervous, but you really want to do it. So what’s your advice for folks who are feeling that?

Zenovia Stephens
You know, I think it’s really just important to remember that like the things that we feed our brain, that’s those become real. So the thoughts that we tell ourselves, they become real. So when we tell ourselves that, you know, we can’t do that thing, that, or we just constantly tell ourselves, I’m afraid. Even if you’re not, you’re going to become afraid. So, you know, I think the first thing is just trying to have positive thoughts, a positive mindset as we approach.

Anna
Hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
new things, challenging things, remembering that you know, you’re capable. And fear is natural. And I think it’s important to remember it’s healthy to have a certain amount of fear, right? Like I tell my kids, I would wonder if you weren’t a little bit fearful about doing certain things, you know, you should be, I think that you should have a certain amount of fear, but we don’t want fear to take over and keep us stagnant. So trying to find that happy balance. But.

I think positive thoughts and positive thinking and knowing at least one definite strategy that you can utilize to resensor yourself and calm yourself down. I think those are all great jumping off points for working through fear and anxiety and just taking it one day at a time. We’re all a work in progress. I have a lot of different things. Like I mentioned before that when I became a parent, I really did develop a lot of different anxieties. That’s not a joke.

There’s a lot of things that didn’t worry me or scare me before that do now. And I don’t really have an explanation for it except for that I have children, you know, that depend on me. And so somewhere deep down inside, there is something that wants to keep me super safe for my kids. That’s the only thing I can come up with. But with that, it comes, it means that there’s a lot of things that I’m, I feel like I’m not able to do because it’s wanting to hold me back. So.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Anna
Right.

Zenovia Stephens
How do I work through that? Because I wanna be here for them, obviously, but I don’t want to feel like I can’t do things. I don’t wanna be so scared that I can’t do certain things, right? So finding that place of calm, and then also talking through those fears, admitting that they’re there. I talk about minds with people. I have no shame in feeling fearful or feeling anxiety. I will tell a person, like, maybe I’m not able to do this thing right now because this is what I’m dealing with, but.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Anna
Right.

Zenovia Stephens
I am actively working on trying to get over that. So having a plan.

Anna
Mm-hmm. Because one of your companies, organizations, Black Kids Adventure is all about, and Black Adventure Crew, it’s all about inspiring black and brown families to adventure outdoors. So are you having these types of conversations with other parents, with other moms? Are you hearing a similar thing that other similar to you, what are you hearing and what kind of conversations are you having with other black and brown families?

Zenovia Stephens
Sometimes these conversations come up, not often, but I would say like when we do our moms need adventures too, sometimes I hear, I have conversations with people or some of the moms then they’ll say, we’ve been following you off for a while and I really want to bring my kids, but I’m scared because maybe they’re like, they feel like they’re too young or they feel like they don’t have a certain skill set yet. So those are things that may bring them fear in bringing their children to a certain activity. And I’ll just, you know, walk them through our family and our lives. The big thing about Black Kids Adventures, which is organization of Black Adventure Crew, which is my family, is that they mirror each other. And so what that means for us is that we literally take things that we do as a family and then we say, okay, now let’s do this through this organization, right? So the point in the point.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
The reason that we do that is because we are able to offer up advice on how it worked for our family, how we got through this. Caving is one of the big ones that come up that people are like, that looks really awesome, that looks really cool, but I am really scared to, you know, go underground, or I’m really scared to take my children. And I’m like, hey, I get it. Like, I was the same way, but I really wanted to do it. So I was like, you know what, I’m gonna just do it. And…

see what happens, right? And I was like, I actually got down there and I ended up loving it. I didn’t expect that. I thought that I was going to be terrified the whole time and be like, okay, I did it. Never wanna do it again. But I got down there and I really enjoyed it. However, one of my kids doesn’t, and he has very strict limitations on how far he’s willing to go in a cave. That’s his comfort zone, right? And so we don’t force him out of that comfort zone. We talk about it with him, but we don’t force him out of it. So…

Anna
Hehehe

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
I just share our real lived experiences with other families. And that way they can look back and say, well, you know what, if they can do it, so can I. It’s really just a decision. And we’re no different. We don’t have like a special skillset. We don’t know so much more. We’re learning alongside our children very often. And even within the organization, we let people know that we are still learning a lot of different things right here with you and to me that’s what makes it even more comforting is knowing that we’re all in this you know together.

Anna
Yeah, what sparked you and George to start adventuring outside? Like what was the draw for you all?

Zenovia Stephens
Um, it’s always been something that I’ve been interested in since I was a kid. I remember looking at pictures of different places out west as a child and dreaming of, you know, visiting those places. And I’ve just really always loved being outside. Um, I grew up fishing with my stepfather in Chicago, which that wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but we spent a lot of time on Lake Michigan fishing. Um.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
I was the girl that came to college and dreamed about sitting under the tree to study. Like, you know what you saw on TV. Like college was supposed to be me sitting under a tree studying. If you ask George, he’ll be like, he thought I was crazy. Because I was like, why aren’t people sitting outside studying under the trees? I asked that question when I came. I was like, where are the people sitting under the trees studying? I’ve loved picnics. I didn’t because I couldn’t find anybody else to.

Anna
That’s awesome.

Zenovia Stephens
that was doing it, so I was like, okay, I won’t send her to tree. But the point that I’m making is that I’ve always enjoyed being outside, being close to nature, sitting in grass, those things have always been a really big part of my life. George, I mean, he grew up doing sports and things outside, but as far as I guess, the hiking and things that I considered to be a little bit more adventurous, he came on board because it was something that I was super interested in. So, I mean, we’re, you know, we’re a team. And so he embraced those things and he loves them as well. So yeah, it’s just always been a part of me.

Anna
That’s great. And now do you sit under trees and read?

Zenovia Stephens
I try to. Unfortunately, I don’t have any trees like at my actual home. So, and I do most of my reading at home, but occasionally I do ride my bike down to this place called Ditto Landing so that I can sit under a tree and read. And I mean, I’ve done that even before kids. I have pictures of me with my little picnic sitting under the trees reading.

Anna
Right, right.

Anna
Yay.

Anna
You made your dream a reality. I love it. Yes. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about adventure sports and adventuring outside?

Zenovia Stephens
Hands down that it is that it’s only for you know specific people or that it’s not for them. However you want to look at it or however you want to say it I think that is the biggest misconception for sure.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Anna (34:50.29)
Right. So, and just to get even more direct, maybe it’s that it’s for white people and, or any people.

Zenovia Stephens
Sometimes, sometimes, yeah, I mean, a lot of times it’s that it’s for white people or it’s that it’s for a person that looks a certain way, not necessarily like, you know, their skin color, but their body composition. You know, I’ve encountered, since I’ve been in this space of really advocating for, you know, in outdoors that is more reflective of like people of color, I’ve learned that there are so many different

Anna
Right, right.

Right. Yep.

Zenovia Stephens
things that prevent people from trying some of the, you know, things that I consider more adventurous. And it’s not just all tied to race. Like I said, a lot of it is a size. Like, you know, do I look like what people typically think of when they think of a hiker or a paddler? Like, does my body look that way? So, you know, oh, it’s not for me. And none of those things are true. They’re just not true.

Anna
Mm-hmm. Yep.

Anna
Right.

Agreed. And I have that. I mean, you know, I’ve always had a belly, for instance. And when I go on, like I was on a surf trip, a stand-up paddleboard surf trip in Costa Rica at the beginning of this month, and everyone else I feel like is, you know, smaller and toner. And also, actually, in my kayaking career, to be honest, even when I was competing, I always felt like one of the curviest.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Anna
And that can be, and I think we’re socialized in terms of, you know, body image and all that. And yeah, it can feel different. And it can, I would have to watch myself talk around that and feeling uncomfortable about being in a bathing suit or whatever, a sports bra and so that is, I’ve experienced that.

In January, I really tried to just be like, you know what? This is my body. My body is strong. It allows me to do amazing things. I’ve accomplished amazing things with this body. And if people wanna judge it, that’s okay. But you know, I wanna be me and enjoy, you know. And I can do a lot of things. So I think that what you’re speaking to is important, that there is no size that dictates, you know.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
Yeah.

Anna
if you’re an adventurer or not. And on one of the episodes of this podcast, I interview my friend, Jennifer Whitlock, who swam the English Channel. And she talks about she, I think is close to or was at one point 300 pounds and swimming long distance swims. And same thing I find it’s so inspirational. Yeah, she swam the English Channel and she’s done not only that, but several long distance swims. You know, she’s a world class swimmer.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Anna
Does she look like an Olympic swimmer? No, but that doesn’t take anything away from what she’s accomplished or what she can do or what she decides to do.

Zenovia Stephens
That’s amazing. Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
For sure. We have so many things, I think, just, you know, in general to really break down for ourselves and realize that, you know, we’re capable of, I think, a lot more than we give ourselves credit for, and none of it has anything to do with how we look. None of it.

Anna
Right. So good. So powerful.

Okay, do you have any questions for me? Or a question for me?

Zenovia Stephens
I’ve always been really interested and curious to know what led you on this specific journey that you’re on with the mental agility coaching and how has that impacted you personally? Like, how has you coaching other females impacted your personal journey?

Anna (
Yeah, I think I’m on this journey because I have always felt, I have always had self-doubt and what I’ll describe as a lack of confidence. Like in my mind, a lot of negative self-talk or worrying about what other people think or not sure if I can do it. And I have been on a journey myself to develop strategies for mental agility, which I define as moving quickly and easily from a place of feeling disempowered to a place of feeling empowered. So it’s not about having confidence all the time or being fearless all the time. It’s more of when those feelings and that self-taught come up of self-doubt or fear, what am I doing in that moment?

Like you said, like we’ve talked about, you really wanna do something, but you’re nervous and you’re not sure you can do it. What’s gonna help me get in there and do it or take that next step? And then my journey, I would say, started with yoga. I think I discovered a lot in yoga philosophy, not just in the poses, because the poses are just one aspect of yoga philosophy.

And yoga is about freedom through discipline and showing up to your mat and breathing and getting to know yourself and meditation as well. And actually the first meditation group I was ever in was a Catholic meditation group. So there’s a tradition of meditation, not just in the Eastern religions, but also in Western religions. I wouldn’t describe myself as religious, I’m more spiritual. And so,

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Anna
The more I got to know myself and also studying different ways of being and that there’s different, what I view as reality is just my viewpoint, is like my lens and to kind of take off the glasses. And so I love personal and professional development.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Anna
learning about Ayurveda and becoming an Ayurvedic health coach. Ayurveda is the sister science yoga. It’s like a traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, some say have similar roots.

You know what, I’m gonna back up and start that answer over again, Zinovia. Because what’s coming to me…

So what had me start on this journey is a love of nature and connection with nature. Like you, you were saying that you always love to be outside as a kid. I always was drawn to being in nature. I would take long winter walks. I grew up in Canada with my Schnauzer and we’d be out there for hours. I would love to walk around the block at night. And in Canada, it gets dark really early. So, you know, it’s not like I was out there at midnight, but it would, you know, walking around, being with the stars there was something about a connection with nature. I would stand out in my backyard with like bird seed in my hand, waiting for birds to land on me, like that whole thing. And I’ve always felt a deep connection with nature. And so that connection with nature really has challenged me to get, to then go on outdoor adventures and continue. Like what’s important for me,

Zenovia Stephens
I love it.

Anna
in my outdoor adventures is that I am connecting with nature. And I’m also love to challenge myself. I kind of grew up that way. And at the same time, I never was like confident in challenging myself. I was like, oh, should I do this? Can I do this? And so I’ve always been, I’ve been on a lifelong journey to build my own courage and confidence and mental agility. And that is…

And the more I studied yoga and Ayurveda and meditation and then other personal development courses that helped me understand the lens, that my lens is only a lens, it’s not reality. I think that’s so powerful in my life. And I think that it’s important to have an empowering, an empowering view of life because

No one can live my life for me. I’m the only one. I don’t have control over other people or what happens. I only have control over how I respond. And then so coaching other people in this helps to keep me accountable so that I walk my talk because one of my core values is definitely walking my talk. Of course I’m human, so it doesn’t happen all the time.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Anna
And I try and clean that up, but walking my talk is very important. And so if I’m coaching folks, then if I notice that I’m not, you know, I’m giving someone advice and I’m not following it myself, then I challenge myself to follow myself. So that’s, yeah, that’s what I would say. Thank you for that question.

Zenovia Stephens
Mm-hmm.

Zenovia Stephens
Oh, you’re welcome. Yeah. I love that. It’s, it’s actually a lot of it ties into a lot of, um, how I operate just at home with my kids and even how, you know, we operate with the organization, maybe just like not really realizing it. So hearing you say all those things, I’m like, yeah, some of that is exactly why I do X, Y or Z. So I love hearing it.

Anna
Yeah, thanks. And in terms of getting into adventure stuff, for me, I was looking for a summer job, and I was just open to possibility. And I like to tell folks, stay open to possibility because you never know. I took a job as a cook at a whitewater rafting company near my parents’ home as a summer job, never imagining that it would be, essentially paddle sports would be my lifelong career. And-

the cooking job was not glamorous. You know what I mean? It wasn’t like the dream job. So, and it opened, started to open doors and once, and then I started to walk through those doors and ask more questions and so, yeah.

Zenovia Stephens
hahahaha

Zenovia Stephens
That’s the power of saying yes. I think that yeses can lead to so many opportunities. And that’s been something that I have really challenged myself to do more of. And it actually plays into me stepping out of my discomfort or my comfort zone saying yes to more, because it opens up more opportunities. And it just allows for a tremendous amount of personal growth. So love that.

Anna
Yeah, love that. Yeah, that’s awesome. Okay, I have rapid fire questions. Are you ready? Okay, first rapid fire question. What morning ritual sets you up for success?

Zenovia Stephens
Okay, I’m ready.

Zenovia Stephens
prayer, coffee, and silence.

Anna
Nice. Love it. What is your non-negotiable self-care practice?

Zenovia Stephens
massages. Yes.

Anna
Love it. Yes. So good. Okay. What is a favorite motivational book or talk?

Zenovia Stephens
That’s a really good one.

Zenovia Stephens
I don’t know if I have a favorite motivational book or talk. I don’t think I have a favorite. I think that something really interesting that happens for me is when I am in need of being motivated, it really tends to find me. That’s like a truth. It can be a phone call from a friend that they’re talking about something that I really needed to hear to push forward. It can be a message from my mom, like a text message, but when I really need to be motivated, it literally like comes to me. So that’s that.

Anna
Love it. Yeah, great. What do people get wrong about you?

Zenovia Stephens
A lot of people think that I’m mean. They do. And I’m not, I’m just, I’m quiet. I’m not super outgoing. And so I think that translates to mean to people. And it’s not that, it’s just that I really enjoy and I am more comfortable getting to know people in small group settings. So that’s just what it is.

Anna
Right. That’s interesting. Yeah, mean is not something I would, I think when I think Zenovia. Okay. Throughout the course of your life, have you felt like an underdog or the favorite to win?

Zenovia Stephens
Oh, definitely favorite to win.

Anna
Okay, hard moves in easy water or flooding.

Zenovia Stephens
hard moves and easy water.

Anna
One word that describes your comfort zone.

Zenovia Stephens
family.

Anna
Mm. Freedom through discipline or I do what I want.

Zenovia Stephens (48:39.183)
This is supposed to be rapid fire, but I’m sorry. It’s a little bit of both. Okay. Mostly I do what I want. However, with a healthy amount of discipline. I mean, hey, none of us are promised another day. So I’m disciplined. I feel enough, but I like to do what I want to do.

Anna
It’s okay.

Anna
Got it. In one word, what do you hope your legacy will be?

Zenovia Stephens
transformative.

Anna
Mm. Love it. You’re well on your way. Yeah. Is there anything else you want to share with our listeners?

Zenovia Stephens
Thank you.

Zenovia Stephens
Um, I think that that’s, that’s it. Yeah. Like I said, I think, you know, Closing out this discussion on, you know, comfort zones, discomfort zones, just find a foundation and stick with it, stick with it, and I think that it’ll work and help you to work through anxiety, fear, anything that you’re going through. Um, that’s been my testimony so far and it works. So yeah, find a foundation.

Anna
Great.

Where can people find you, Zenovia?

Zenovia Stephens
All kinds of places. Um, you can find me on my family blog, which is at black adventure crew or Facebook black adventure crew. You can find our nonprofit organization on Instagram at black kids adventures. Facebook black kids adventures or black kids adventures.org. You can also find me writing for several local Huntsville entities. If you Google Zenovia in Huntsville, I’m sure something will pop up that I wrote.

Anna
Hehehe

Anna
Great. And I’ll have all that in the show notes as well, so folks can look that up. Zenovia, you have given us so many gems of wisdom. Thank you so much for taking the time today. I really appreciate you. And I can’t wait to get on some white water with you, maybe later this year.

Zenovia Stephens
Yes, thank you. Absolutely, I’m looking forward to it, Anna.