Mental Health Champions: Why & How Nicole Wilson of Cubic Transportation Systems Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness
Self-awareness — I try to listen to myself without being critical. If I’m in a situation that makes me feel bad, I work to unpack it with myself. If I can’t get to a resolution, then I seek outside help. I never have a problem sharing, and it’s all about how you share it — through self-actualization.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Nicole Wilson.
Nicole Wilson is a senior program director at Cubic Transportation Systems. Wilson has more than two decades of experience and comprehensive achievements across operations, manufacturing, supply chain, transportation, education administration and non-profit disciplines. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University and an MBA from DePaul University — Charles H. Kellstadt School of Business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
My upbringing definitely set the foundation for my drive and independence in life. While I have a large extended family, my brother and I were the only ones that did not grow up with two parents, and my single mother modeled more of an older sibling role. My brother is eight years younger than I am, and we took care of each other. This is how I learned responsibility, hard work and self-love — by learning how to meet my own needs.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
I work for Cubic Transportation Systems, which is a division of Cubic Corporation. At a high level, we manufacture and sell products and systems that collect fare from public transportation riders and maintain those products and systems for transit agencies. We played a significant role in the Covid-19 pandemic as it related to keeping our employees connected, aligned and productive. We have contractual obligations that make our staff critical for our success, so we had to be flexible and adaptable. Through all of this, I paid very close attention to how the Covid-19 pandemic affected how people were working, so I could help my team adapt to the new working norms.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I think some of this stems from my upbringing, but I have always been fascinated by people. People with a background like mine tend to have behavioral analysis interwoven into their being. As a result, I study people because I care about people. When you are in a position of leadership, I believe your focus should be on taking care of your people, rather than telling them what they should do. If you really want the best out of your people, I think it is important to invest in them as human beings before expecting outcomes out of them as employees.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I wouldn’t say there was one specific ‘aha moment,’ but I have always held myself to a higher standard. My family left Chicago and moved to rural Mississippi when I was young. A lot was said about how Mississippi did not excel in education, so I always felt like an underdog. As I grew older and connected with positive mentors, people reassured me and instilled a sense of confidence in me. Through this, I learned to give myself compassion and grace. I started looking at every situation as a lesson that you’re supposed to learn and grow from — and then take that lesson to help someone else or make yourself a better person. It did and still does encourage me to keep pushing forward and help people that might be going through the same thing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
During the interview process and when I started at Cubic Transportation Systems, there was a big focus on how the culture needed to be repaired. The leadership presence was lacking, and everyone was trying to figure out their value aimlessly. It felt very toxic. As a result, I focused my efforts on creating a culture of empowerment, appreciation and recognition. I worked hard to create a positive environment. I am very proud of the cultural change I led, and that the team welcomed it. I have learned that you can never make an adult do anything — they have to decide to do something. I am honored that the Chicago team decided to take a chance on me and my ideas.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Yes, I completely agree with this. I have two mentors: a personal and professional mentor. My professional mentor is our CFO Heather Yazdan. She has a financially driven mind, provides a very different perspective and broadens my perspective, which I feel is important. My personal mentor is Kimberly K. Querrey. She is my validation, and my person. I trust her and can bounce ideas off of her, and when I do, I am reminded that I am ok. If I’m feeling like I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing or that I am not doing enough, she is the one that brings me back. She gives me honest feedback even if I don’t want it, and I am grateful for that.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
That number does not surprise me, and I am certain the Covid-19 pandemic has caused an increase. It is unfortunate because therapy provides such a wonderful opportunity for healing and personal growth. Going to therapy is brave and shows that you are in tune with your needs. I have found that the cultural norm is to fear the unknown, and therapy tends to fall into this wheelhouse for many. People do not want others, especially in their professional network, to think that they need help or aren’t capable. I want people to know that seeking professional help in a therapeutic setting means that you are taking a stand for yourself, and your efforts will benefit the collective.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
- The social norms push the idea that there is nothing normal about mental illness. However, self-realization is key. If you feel you need help, then get help and know that it’s ok. If anyone needs someone to validate them, I will be that person. You have my permission. You can say I said that it’s ok to get whatever help you need. You have to take care of yourself first, or you’re never going to be 100% in any other situation.
- There needs to be more PSAs, advertising and marketing that say it’s ok to not be ok. The message needs to be that this is the new normal.
- With more government funding, the message would carry more weight and would stretch farther. The government could help ensure people have sufficient avenues and resources to get the help they want and need.
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Self-awareness — I try to listen to myself without being critical. If I’m in a situation that makes me feel bad, I work to unpack it with myself. If I can’t get to a resolution, then I seek outside help. I never have a problem sharing, and it’s all about how you share it — through self-actualization.
- Act — It’s important to take action. Don’t let things fester or sit. Do something about it.
- Analyze — An example of this would be: This is what I thought. This is the information now. Then I analyze that. It is critical not to overanalyze because that can prevent you from acting.
- Decide — Follow this flow: Am I going to feel this way? Which way should I go to make me ok?
- File It — I file away the lesson so I don’t forget because if it happens again then I know how to handle it. Validate your feelings first, then work to understand them. Don’t minimize them.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
There are so many, but the book I just read was an autobiographical interview. It is about my close friend Louis Simpson, who has now passed. One of the things that I most admired about him was that, even though he was someone who had great wealth and stature, he treated everyone on a level playing field and with dignity and respect. He would ask thoughtful questions, and you would know that he was 100% interested in what you had to say. I knew him for almost 20 years, but to see someone at his level do that, I truly appreciated that and often think about that as I lead people. Whether I push you or give you more, I want you to always remember me as someone who treated you as a human first with dignity and respect.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Because it is necessary. If everyone thinks that everyone else is going to do it, it’s not going to get done. Make it an individual responsibility to help someone else. Everyone needs to help someone in some capacity.
How can our readers follow you online?
Linkedin — https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoletwilson/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: Why & How Nicole Wilson of Cubic Transportation Systems Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.