We had the good fortune of connecting with Elysia Johnson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elysia, how do you think about risk?
When it comes to taking risks, I feel I have a good relationship with that. I am comfortable being uncomfortable in that way. I logically understand that in order to create a life or experience you have never had, you have to do (or be willing to do) things you have never done. In other words, as humans we must take risks and not from a view of ignoring morals and values, but rather pushing ourselves to take bold actions that are in alignment with our goals and with who we are (becoming). As long as I can remember, I have always thrown myself into increasingly uncomfortable and unknown situations to accelerate my growth. This process has been very rewarding. The falling down and standing up is humbling. The rejection and loss taught me how to become someone who could take a situation that seemed like a defeat, and turn it into a huge win. Every, single, time.
I think when it comes down to it, relationships are at the core of everything we experience in life. If I were to break down this very question, I would frame it as, “What is my relationship to risk?’ as our experiences often shape our relationship to things. With that said, to truly answer this question I want to highlight my relationship with risk by first providing some relevant background information…
Risk taking is in my ancestral DNA. Growing up, learning about my family history truly helped me frame how I looked at risk from the time I was born. My maternal grandmother, Smilja Robnik, an extremely poor Croatian woman, escaped from Croatia into Italy during World War II when the communists took over leaving behind her mother and sisters. She took a big risk in fleeing Yugoslavia because had she been caught by the communists, she would have been imprisoned or possibly even killed. While working for the American Red Cross in Via Reggio, Italy, she met and married my grandfather, George Duncan, an African American who grew up poor on a farm in Augusta, Georgia during the Jim Crow era. When my grandparents met in 1945, my grandfather was a captain in the segregated US army. He went on to have a distinguished 20 year military career and retired as a lieutenant Colonel in 1965. He took a big risk when he married my grandmother as theirs was an interracial marriage, which in the 1940s, was illegal in my father’s home state of Georgia. Upon returning to the US after World War II, my grandparents encountered racism as an interracial couple and grappled with issues like housing discrimination even though they moved to California. I understood from a young age that I was a product of generational struggle and that:
- I would not even exist if it was not for so many people in my family taking tremendous risks that led to our family being here;
- My family has so much courage which has lead them to achieving success and creating a family legacy which includes better lives for their children and grandchildren;
- If my family took so many risks, from which I am clearly benefiting, then I must be willing to do the same (in my own way) for future generations.
The seeds of risk taking exemplified by my maternal grandparents’ story led to my mother working incredibly hard to put herself through Stanford University receiving two degrees from the ivy league school, a BA in Economics and MBA from the graduate school of business. By the way, while she was working towards her MBA, she was pregnant and became a first time mother when my older brother was born during her second year in B school. I remember her telling me about how crazy that time in her life was, and how she was so focused on getting her MBA that she had no social life and did not even see a movie during the two years she was working on her degree. After she gave birth to my brother, she would go to a friend’s apartment during her lunch break to pump her breast milk which would be refrigerated and given to my brother while she was in class. Although it was a tough decision to have a child who was not planned while weighing the challenges of single motherhood and trying to craft a career, she chose to take the risk. She chose love and the unknown over certainty and her career. She chose family and the hard route, facing the challenges of motherhood while building her own business but the risk paid off. She was able to build a successful business while working from home and caring for my brother. I am so amazed by her. Knowing her story has definitely given me immense strength and inspiration during my own personal struggles.
A few years after getting her MBA and starting her own business, my mother met my father, a Stanford Engineering Grad who grew up in Inglewood and turned his life around, devoting himself through excellence and education. In addition to his Stanford engineering degree, he received his MBA from Harvard. He started a myriad of companies with the goal of providing engineering and business consulting solutions, doing business all around the world for decades. He was raised partly in South Carolina with his Aunties, and then joined his mother where she was living in Arizona. My paternal grandmother made the decision to leave South Carolina and start teaching on a Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona so she could make more money and send it back home to provide a better standard of living for my father, who ended up joining her after several years. She risked her life and connection to her family to create a better life for her future. My father risked everything he had to become a great man, who has received accolades and awards that few from his hometown had before him. He made something marvelous of himself when statistics on black men from Inglewood at the time suggested he would likely have few opportunities in life.
Knowing that all this happened before I even entered this planet, I felt I had quite a lot to live up to when it came to courage, bravery, and the willingness to take risks as demonstrated by my incredible family. I grew up in the aftermath of each individual member of my family taking those risks. I grew up in an environment that was the positive result of the risks that my family took. We lived in California, we owned property, my parents were not wealthy but they were solidly in the middle class. We were very comfortable for the most part. Knowing this rich personal history within my family, I knew taking risks was a very natural and necessary step for me. This is what I needed in my journey to becoming the woman, person, healer, artist, and business owner I am today. It is sometimes not even about the risk at hand, but rather who you will become as a result of taking that risk, that changes the course of your life and career for the better. I equate risk with transformation. I equate taking risks with tuning into the natural process of life to take on obstacles and thus transform in the process, almost like a flower reaching its next natural stage in the developmental process. There are so many blessings and unlimited opportunities in the unknown which can only be discovered by taking risks.
I remember talking to my parents (both Ivy League Intellectuals and Entrepreneurs) after attending a private university for a year, and telling them that I was quitting school because I wanted to pursue music. Like, actually quitting. That was a concept that was foreign in my family. We were BIG on commitments and didn’t break them. Although, surprisingly, they took it well and supported and encouraged me in every way they could. I remember being terrified about having this conversation with them as they had always drilled into me the importance of a good education, BUT, they also drilled into me that I could always do and be whoever I wanted to be. So that was their moment to back up their words of affirmation with action by supporting me, which they did. For that I am so grateful for them.
I remember having a conversation with a student counselor at my university, a fellow woman of color, about me leaving school to “pursue music” and her making every attempt to discourage me from leaving. Her words were designed to instill fear into me and my mother as to how I was making a huge mistake to walk away from the safety of a university education to pursue my dreams and my soul’s truest desire. I remember a distant family member pulling me to the side at a family gathering and telling me how he had a friend who once tried to be in the music industry many years ago and had failed and that it is a really hard industry in which no one makes it. He wanted me to know that I should not pursue a music career. During both of those moments I was so disappointed. I was disappointed in these individuals who were trying to instill THEIR limitations in me instead of encouraging me. I remember in both of those conversations thinking “You literally do not know me. I have probably had two conversations with you in my entire life and you truly do not know me, what I am capable of, and what I, Elysia Johnson, am here to do–what I came to this Earth to do and to become.” I knew my voice, my inner calling, and my soul’s purpose on this earth.
Once finding my voice and making the decision to leave school to live my dreams, I faced a whole new set of challenges/opportunities. From the long hours, late nights, and failed partnerships/projects, I learned so much. I remember getting the call from a SONY music producer who had met my dad in passing at a political event. This producer (who had worked with Michael Jackson, Cher, Pink, Christina Aguilera, and many others) said he would meet with me as a favor but could not work with me directly. He told me that he could only give me some advice. I remember making the decision to drive down to LA for the day just to meet with him. I remember basically auditioning for him, without any formal training in singing or songwriting, while he played the piano, and I thought “here goes nothing” and sang. I also created a song on the spot. He was impressed and was willing to move his entire schedule around for us to collaborate from that point on. I then remember making the decision to pay him $10K to produce and co-write an entire EP with me, which we did in a matter of 4 days. Everything top to bottom was complete in 4 days. You have to have a ton of belief not only in yourself but your team to make those kinds of things happen especially when you did not even know producing a CD in such a short timeframe was possible. I did not know if I could even generate that kind of money in order to complete the project yet I did with the support of my family.
Years later I took a risk when I had the opportunity to be featured on a song and music video with Snoop Dogg. I chose to not only be featured on the song and music video but also to become an executive producer which required me to raise $10K for the music video shoot to insure that I, and the other independent artist involved, could create a music video (on an independent budget) that was on par with content our peers (from major labels with money) put out. I was all of a sudden in spaces and conversations I had never been in before. That is what taking risks is all about.
Aside from the real and action oriented risks we take in life, there are other ways to take risks. These ways may even mean more and resonate deeper into who you truly are. If taking physical or action oriented risks is the first step, I would say the second step, the deeper step, is to take the risk of being 100% who you are in all your authenticity–Mind, Body, Spirit, and Emotions. This is because when all is said and done, being exactly who you are, and living your truest life is the ultimate “risk.” How many people out there are living lives of perceived comfort to impress others yet they feel empty on the inside? That is the result of not taking those risks that they knew in their heart they needed to take. That is what I like to call the “Frog in the pot” theory. You see, when someone wants to kill a frog, they put it in a warm pot, because if the pot was too hot or boiling, the frog would obviously jump out immediately due to the discomfort. But instead, if the water is warm enough the frog stays in the water and dies a slow death as the temperature slowly rises enough to kill it because it does not realize that the temperature is rising. That is how some people live and I refuse to live that life. My ancestors sacrificed too much for me not to live my fullest expression, potential, vision, and dream.
It is wild because I think over time we lose sight of who we truly are. We experience so many subtle nudges pointing us in the direction of what is acceptable and what is not, how we can be and what we cannot be. This stems so deeply from our race, religion, social/economic class, and gender/orientation. We are taught through small micro- aggressions that we can only partly be ourselves, just not too much, because then we will offend others and we could potentially lose our resources (job, connections, opportunities) or worse, our relationships. This tells us that at our core we are unlovable and not enough as we truly are. We have to be versions of ourselves to be accepted. I reject that notion entirely.
You can even see this concept surfacing right now during the George Floyd (and now Breonna Taylor) Protests. So many people are being tested on their TRUEST values. I am a millennial and we grew up watching movies where it depicted these huge movements where there were bold, courageous leaders on the side of what was good and true, as well as others who were not courageous enough to speak out on the injustices at the time. All the leaders that made this country what it is today were first young activists. They risked their LIVES for freedom. Now we are being called to do the same. Yet, some people, for example, feel too uncomfortable to simply state that they are against racism. They do not even want to have the conversation out of fear… Yeah, it may be uncomfortable to tell your boss that the policy at your company has racial undertones, or you may not agree with the values of brands you support as they may not be speaking up about issues you truly believe in. Now is a time for the collective to put their money, time, and VOICE where their mouth is and back it up with action. Standing up for what is right in the world is not always easy. Having tough conversations with people in higher positions of power than you is not easy. Standing up for your truth and staying in alignment with who you truly are is not easy. Yet we must do it. We are made to do the uncomfortable. What all our ancestors faced coming to America was nothing short of scary, dangerous, and bold. Just by living in America we are the result of generations of risk takers who were lead by a vision bigger than themselves. When it comes to your life and career, that is what I believe the answer is—we all must take risks in order to fully live our lives.
When it comes to taking risks, it may look ridiculous from the outside looking in, but the beauty of following your heart, is that the way you choose to live your life is personal to you and no one else. It is about your specific priorities and how you want to honor them. If this opportunity is a risk but it could get you exactly what you want, do what your gut tells you to do. Your gut always knows. You do not exist on this Earth to please others–it is to follow your soul’s truest calling. So if we think of risk through that lens, BEING who I am meant to be is the risk, speaking my mind and my truth is the real risk, and standing up for what I believe in (career-wise and within my morals and values) is the risk. Right now, companies, brands, teams, business owners, families, and individuals are having the tough conversations and deciding for themselves what they are willing to stand for and speak out on. I was just out in Hollywood on Hollywood blvd and Highland St with my mother protesting in THE biggest civil rights movement in my lifetime. Was that a risk? Was it a risk to be out there with 100k people during COVID-19 while my mother is in the most vulnerable group for this disease? Yes! And, was this a cause WORTHY of this risk? When it comes to human rights, for us it was a resounding “YES!”, and that is something so special, so monumental, so moving, so emotionally charged, and such a positive experience that she and I will never forget the experience. I had moments with all my family that I will always remember by taking that risk. I am so grateful for that.
All in all, I would not have had the best and most growth-oriented experiences of my life if it was not for taking some big risks. I am grateful for the risks I have taken in life. I believe every risk has a reward if your heart (and NOT ego) is truly in it. I believe every risk taken has the ability to be a valuable lesson or an incredible blessing. If the possibility of “what could go right” is in your intention, then that is where luck is created and where preparation meets opportunity. I am not here to play it safe. I would rather know what I am capable of rather than look back on my life with regret and wonder “What If?” I would rather have the adventure and the great story to tell that is my life. It is often in the pursuit of our dreams, along the journey to fulfillment, that the risks we take often shape us into the person we are becoming. We change for the better as a result of going for it, whatever “it” is. If I was here to play small I would not be doing the things I am doing today. I blow my own mind every single day and for that I am forever grateful.
I would not be the woman, healer, artist, or business owner that I am today if it was not for taking the road less traveled, and taking risks to be there. Not only do we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to each other to be the best, brightest, fullest versions of ourselves, and sometimes that takes some risk. Overall, this quote is what I would like to leave you with.
“And the Day Came When the Risk to Remain Tight In a Bud Was More Painful Than the Risk It Took to Blossom.” – Anais Nin
Choose the Risk to Blossom. Everytime.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My work is very unique. I am a singer/songwriter as well as a Shaman. I always wanted to be a singer and knew that was my purpose, however I never knew I was going to be a Shaman, that was more of a surprise. It’s funny because I always felt attracted to shamanism and didn’t know why. I grew up with a special connection to source and spirituality that lead me to my own healing through shamanism years ago. I started embracing, practicing, and embodying the work I was doing, and it started to heal me from the inside out. It led me to becoming a Shaman myself. It led me to opening up psychic and cosmic gifts I never knew I had. It led me to so many deep, spiritual insights and realizations. It sort of chose me to be honest. That’s why I love life. It will always surprise you and lead you on a beautiful path if you are open to the unknowns of it (life).
At first I didn’t know how I could do both (being a singer/songwriter and a Shaman). I saw it as an obstacle or weakness. How could I be this RnB Pop Artist and a deeply connected Shaman? Then, I decided to turn this into my strength! I realized I can use both and infuse them, which is what I am doing over time. I could see how both could magically pour into each other in different ways. I could see the power and the hidden blessing in this, which was so exciting! I can create healing music and incorporate singing into my ritual work as a Shaman. I can add sound and my healing abilities to be the ultimate “Sound Healer” in my own way. My shamanism can add dynamics to the music I write and the healing aspects that I put into the words and vibrations of my songs– similar to what Jhene Aiko did with her newest album. I have wanted to put certain healing frequencies underneath all my songs so that they can assist in the listener healing their energetic body as they listen to my music. If you study sound waves and sound healings you will be amazed. Certain tones and frequencies help you heal and recalibrate the body in incredible ways. I think spirituality and music is so healing if you know how to really use it. I truly feel honored to be the bridge in connecting consciousness that evokes healing and music together.
When it comes to what I do for work, it is a lot of different things. Currently I lead private and group sessions, I teach, I speak, I sing, I perform, and I write. I am multi- faceted, multi-talented, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love working with all these different modalities to connect deeper with others and to support them in making deeper connections within themselves. I love working with individuals one on one to dive deep into what is working for them and what is not, so we can shift it. I do oracle readings where I tap into your spiritual field and communicate with your spirit guides to give you insight into what you are facing now, why, and what to do about it to empower yourself. You see, people are like computers, after a while we need a system update so we can grow in consciousness, intelligence, and effectiveness. We all have blind spots and that’s why I highly recommend having mentors, coaches, and therapists to help you get an amazing grip on your mind and whatever limiting beliefs you may have. I also teach groups when it comes to spirituality, consciousness, feminine and masculine energy (how to identify it and use it), and astrology (a deep analysis of your personality and what works for you in love), and how to heal from trauma. Most of the “unpleasant” and “difficult” people are just displaying trauma responses. When you can’t think straight, or you are disorganized, reactive (angry or unkind), or hypersensitive, those are all trauma responses that start in the nervous system. It is important to have theses discussions and normalize this so people can stop judging one another and provide aide, understanding, and compassion instead. It’s time for us as individuals to take responsibility for our own healing, which is a never-ending process. It’s time to start taking steps to heal ourselves internally and the collective externally. I really love doing this work because it is so powerful to work with clients and watch them grow. I love watching the switch from not being aware of something, to fully understanding the ways in which we have been influenced to be small, rather than stepping into the greatness of who we are. I love assisting others in their own growth and healing, because on the other side of that is freedom, personal power, and confidence. It’s a true healing from the inside out.
In regards to how I got to where I am today and if it was easy, the simple answer is hell no! Haha! I got to where I am based on many things; my spirit, my clarity, my intention, my dedication, my belief in myself, my commitment to growth, self-reflection, having a no quit attitude, and my commitment to following my soul’s truest desires in this lifetime on all fronts. I just knew there was not another option so I went for it, over and over and over again. When you ask if it was easy, of course it was not easy, however, it molded me. The obstacles shaped me. They felt more like initiations to be honest. Like I understand that I needed to gradually take steps to learn certain lessons. Once those lessons were learned, I received new obstacles (and what I like to call “opportunities”) that were the next logical step for me to overcome in order to lead me to the person I am becoming. Over time I have befriended my obstacles because I now see them as a necessary step to my growth and my overall evolution. These opportunities shape us into who we are and show us what we are truly made of. I embrace it (when I know it is aligned), not when I am facing something that is unnecessarily difficult and doesn’t feel good. If that is the case, then I know it is because this obstacle is not aligned with me or my highest good. It is important to know and trust the difference.
Rather than talk about specific challenges (because what you focus on, expands) I would rather mention one of the lessons I have learned. I have learned it really is important to follow your heart (and listen to your body). Our emotions exist to tell us the temperature of our heart–how we truly feel about things and why. There are people who hate “dealing with” emotions, who deny or suppress them. I think we should do the opposite. The strongest, most powerful, most important organ in the body is the heart, even more so than the brain, believe it or not. There is something called heart intelligence where the Heart Math Institute (a non-profit filled with a mix of world leaders, scientists, and researchers) describes it as “Heart intelligence is the flow of awareness, understanding and intuition we experience when the mind and emotions are brought into coherent alignment with the heart. It can be activated through self-initiated practice, and the more we pay attention when we sense the heart is speaking to us or guiding us, the greater our ability to access this intelligence and guidance more frequently. Heart intelligence underlies cellular organization and guides and evolves organisms toward increased order, awareness and coherence of their bodies’ systems.”
In all of these subtle ways, we are taught to disconnect from our heart. Sometimes we disconnect our heart from others, sometimes we disconnect our heart from ourselves, and most of the time, it’s both. Because how you do anything, is how you do everything. As a culture, we are taught to be repressed and suppressed, and that is where this lesson of following your heart and listening to your body comes in.
Only you know you better than anyone else could know you. As stated earlier in this article, I recall many moments where I was told I could or could not do or be someone based on THAT person’s perception of me, not because of what I actually am capable of. If there is one bit of advice I would give, it is to do the work, REALLY get to know yourself on a soul level (not the ego or constructs that shape us due to conditioning) and truly get in alignment with who YOU are. Find out who YOU really are, what you believe on a myriad of different topics and why, Find YOUR unique voice, and challenge everything you believed growing up. Challenge it to make sure it’s YOURS not someone else’s idea that they put on YOU. The sooner we cultivate a rock solid relationship with ourselves internally, the better we can navigate the world in such powerful ways. We can move in the world free of the myriad of illusions with which we are programmed. We can feel confident and because we are in direct communication with our spirit as well as our intuition, our actions will be guided, clear, and grounded, because it’s from a pure place of love, integrity, and authenticity (which I like to call alignment). I want to challenge everyone to be more honest with themselves and anyone they work with to create more transparency in the world. It took me a very long time (and I still have my moments here and there), however, I am very comfortable with being honest now, saying no, and cutting ties if something isn’t working for me career wise. We must choose ourselves, our well-being, our vision, and only choose opportunities and work partners who are in alignment with us, who work under the same code. Now there will be times in life where that isn’t an option, so that’s when you set boundaries and do what you can to work with others who have different stances than you. As long as it is done with respect, integrity, and a super clear understanding of the objective, roles, and consequences, then that is all you can do.
When we work with others and feel at ease, it is for a reason. When we start certain projects where it feels easy and aligned, like things are magically falling into place, it is for a reason. When things feel unnecessarily hard, it is for a reason. Sometimes the reason has to do with us and our approach in mentality, action, or creation of operating systems, and sometimes it’s because the project at hand is not one we should be in for whatever reason. It is definitely a Superpower to not only understand but trust how the universe works. Many times, when we don’t get what we want, we feel shame like we did something wrong or were not deserving. In reality, God was protecting us from either wasting time, a failed opportunity, or just an experience that was not meant for us. When we spend one minute on something that is not worthy of us, that is taking precious time away from why we are here and from living out our truest vision.
When it comes to how I want myself and my brand to be remembered, it is simple. I am someone who stands for equality, empowerment, love, authenticity, and all things healing. I want to be known as someone of integrity, love, and the embodiment of the Divine Feminine, through my art (music) and through my healing work with others (Shamanism).
I want to be known as an individual, who is clear on who I am, who created a life by design that honors my deepest truths, desires, and gifts, so that I can soar throughout life. I want to live by example. I want to show others how to listen to that calling and cultivate a life they absolutely love, that feels full and aligned. I want to support everyone’s growth, healing, empowerment, and connection to their soul.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Honestly, I am from the Bay Area, so if you were to ask me that regarding the Bay, there are so many pockets within the area I could write a weekend itinerary for 3 months straight! Regarding LA though, I still feel new here, so I am still discovering amazing spots to this day! I don’t know the hidden gems just yet however I have found a few favorite spots that I really enjoy currently. I love nature, so some of the parks, trails, and forests here really do it for me here. There are so many and I don’t feel you can go wrong with any. I also am a huge foodie so there are tons of great restaurants in LA, and lots of healthy or vegan options which I love. I also love the beach so visiting the beach as often as I can makes my spirit so happy. I love Manhattan Beach and Huntington Beach the most currently. There are also wellness spots, meditation centers, and crystal shops that I love all over LA. Here there are events taking place every single day with people of all walks on life covering all kinds of topics so theres never a full moment here. I have danced to drums at Ecstatic dance in LA, I have taken nature walks with huge groups, I have attended South Baths, Work out classes, Rooftop Yoga, Private events at SkySpace in LA, Silent Disco on the Beach, upscale events, art galleries, Music Showcases, and so much more. The sky really is the limit here, and if you were interested in something so random and rare, I guarantee there is a group here for you and a list of events for you to participate in. Truly everyone and everything is here in LA.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I would love to give a shoutout to Bibi Khalili of Dam Events (She is an Event Producer, Creative Director, Choreographer, and Stylist) Who has helped me put together so many performances, photo shoots, and styled me for many performances, shoots, as well as the music video I was featured in with Snoop Dogg. She is not only a remarkably talented business woman, she is incredibly professional, and a close, personal friend. She is extremely supportive and a true visionary. Check her out here: www.bibikhalili.com I would also like to thank my parents, especially my mother, for not only encouraging me, but doing everything in her power to see me win. She has attended all of my shows and connected me with every person or resource she knew regarding the entertainment industry. She always does everything she can to support me which I am forever grateful for. My parents are my biggest supporters and my mother really has gone so above and beyond for me which I am forever grateful for.
Other: Here is my music Link Tree as well. https://linktr.ee/lyseej
Montage Dance Productions Julianne Reynolds Toni Nicole