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Let’s Talk Money with Farnoosh Torabi

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Financial literacy month is upon us, tax day is fast approaching, rising costs of energy, food and shelter are squeezing household incomes, and the inflation rate is a record 7.9%.

So there is no time like the present to talk money, strategize, and ensure your financial plan sets you up for success. In this episode, award-winning financial journalist and So Money podcast host Farnoosh Torabi will explore everything from the basics — like budgeting, debt, investing, and savings — to equal pay.

Walk away feeling empowered with invaluable money tips to help you end the year in a stronger financial position than you started it.


Farnoosh Torabi

Farnoosh Torabi is one of America’s leading personal finance authorities — hooked on helping you live your richest, happiest life. As Editor at Large of CNET Money, multi-bestselling Financial Author, former CNBC host and creator of the Webby-nominated podcast So Money, Farnoosh has become one of the country’s favorite go-to money experts. The New York Times calls her advice, “perfectly practical.”

Farnoosh’s award-winning and critically-acclaimed podcast, So Money, has surpassed 18 million downloads with listeners in over 160 countries, thanks to its one-of-a-kind interviews and deep conversations about money. On the show she spotlights leading experts, authors and influencers – from Arianna Huffington to Margaret Cho, Queen Latifah and Tim Gunn – about their financial perspectives, money failures and habits. She also answers listeners’ personal financial questions each week.

Farnoosh was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to immigrant parents who left Iran in the late 1970s in search of a more fulfilling life. Money may have been tight (really tight), but it was never a taboo in the household and for that, Farnoosh is eternally grateful. It’s what ultimately inspired her to lead a mission to help others achieve financial greatness.

The author of multiple books, Farnoosh’s latest bestseller is entitled When She Makes More: The Truth About Love and Life for a New Generation of Women. Her next book is an insightful memoir, entitled A Healthy State of Panic, coming out in Spring 2023. @farnoosh

Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Speaking of Race: Why Everybody Needs to Talk About Racism—and How to Do It, Do Nothing, Heard Mentality, and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee


 

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Transcript of Farnoosh Torabi’s Interview on Women Amplified

Celeste Headlee:

So you say conversation and money in the same sentence. And sometimes, for some people, that gives them hives. It is difficult to talk about money, not only because many cultures think that talking about money is not polite conversation, but also because I think for many people, there’s some shame associated with it, right? Many people don’t feel like they’ve made the right decisions, that becomes a reflection on their own character, and so they don’t want to talk about it. How do you get past this?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Well, I have to say that I was really lucky, in that I grew up in a household where money was not taboo. That’s not to say that my parents didn’t bang fists on tabletops talking about money. There were good conversations, and there were not so great conversations. But nevertheless, I grew up in a home that I grew up with the fluency around money. We also… My parents are immigrants, so there was this strive for the American dream. And with that came lessons on how to navigate your career and how to buy a house and how to build credit, because they came here with none of that. And so starting from the ground up, that was a real gift to witness. And I think it gave me some language and some emotional strength around the topic that I know people don’t normally get.

And to your question about the hives that we get around money, I mean, those are serious, real threats. And I want to first let people know that you’re not alone when you feel that way. And, it may help to recognize that money is just a thing. It’s a tool. It doesn’t really become anything until we interact with it, until we engage with it. And so, I often say that money is like this tool, but it’s a reflective tool too. When we look at money, when we think about it, it says things about ourselves. And so we need to sit with that and figure out, “What is it telling me about myself? Do I like what it’s telling me? Do I not like what it’s telling me? What is the reason behind this?”

So, in essence, what I’m asking people to do is to figure out their story around money. How did you arrive at these hives? It didn’t just happen because you heard the word money. Something triggered you. And that is the first step for everybody, to unpack those experiences in the past, and also the ones that are still happening, that are creating a narrative around money that you just don’t like, and to know that you can change that narrative, but it does require getting to the root and bottom of things first.

Celeste Headlee:

Well, that brings us to our current moment in time. Because for many people, the past two years have been tough financially especially. And I know for myself, when you talk about that narrative, I had to ask myself a narrative about, as a freelancer, as so many people are, what kind of benefit is there in finding at least one gig that brings in steady income, right? So, what kind of things can women especially be thinking about now, as they perhaps begin to recover from financial stress?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Well, the first thing I would encourage women to do is to still think big and plan. We often think that we can’t have hopes and dreams, until there is some money to work with. And I know so many women were outed from the workforce. A lot of women who, that wasn’t the plan. Their plan was to continue working, but the pandemic had other plans. And, women, more than men, were left unemployed in the pandemic, because often, who’s taking care of everybody else? It’s women. They’re leading that charge. And so that, coupled with a career in a pandemic, was just unsustainable. So we saw a lot of women be forced out of the job market and still recovering. I mean, the men have recouped all of their job losses, as of the last jobs report. Women, they have not.

So, my advice is, don’t wait for the job to anticipate the goals and the things that you want to accomplish. Start writing them down. Start talking about them with people you trust. There is real science that proves that when we visualize what it is that we want, and we make a plan, not saying the plan’s going to work out perfectly, but it does lead to more success. Take for example, if you have a savings goal, just actually sharing that with a friend or your partner, it not only increases your chances of saving, but it means that you will save more money, because it just becomes top of mind. And, I think when you associate those goals with the real change that you want to see in your life. You wanted to make freelance money, I’m sure you had goals attached to that. There was a why behind that.

Celeste Headlee:

Of course.

Farnoosh Torabi:

So really getting really clear about, “Why do I want more money? Why do I want a particular career?”, I think can be really a powerful exercise.

And then control what you can control. So, there’s so much luck, I will be the first to admit, that influences people’s financial prosperity or failures, to be honest. I mean, the world has a way of working out on its own, and we can’t obviously control things like pandemics and recessions and systemic problems. But, if there are areas of your life that you can create change, even small change, like saving a little bit more, because you found a way to cut back on a cost in your budget, creating a little bit of extra revenue, even if it’s just five hours a month that you’re dedicating to a side hustle. If you got to start somewhere, and I always find that, when you start, that is the hardest thing. And then once you see the results, you do get motivated. You do start to see, “Hey, maybe I was shortcutting myself. Maybe this isn’t as hard as I thought.”

And then also, other things you can control is your environment. If you’re around people who are telling you, “Life’s too.” If you’re around a lot of naysayers, and it could be people in your family, your friends, the people you follow on social media that might be more negative than positive, I think that can also change the way you look at the world, and not for the better.

Celeste Headlee:

Have you had disruptions to your career in recent years?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Well, the biggest disruption was probably in the last recession, for me, the great recession in 2009 where I got laid off. And, I say it was a blessing in disguise. Of course at the time, I sat in bed and watched a lot of Bridget Jones’s Diary for as long as I could. And I felt really bad for myself. And I was like, “How could this happen to me?” I felt like the world was out to get me. And, I tell you, it’s really easy to go into that rabbit hole. And really, it would’ve been so easy to just stay in bed. But, I decided that I was going to change the story. I wasn’t going to let this layoff define, for me, what it was going to mean. I was going to decide.

And so, I was at a crossroads. Like I said, it was the recession, so it wasn’t like I had so many job options. As a journalist too, the media world was, in some ways, collapsing in some places and other places consolidating, so it was really hard to be able to replace the job that I had and make the money that I was.

And so, I was fortunate in that I had some savings. They bought me some financial runway and time to figure things out. And what I finally landed on was, I’m going to do this on my own. I’m going to strike out on my own. Because while there’s a lot of fear in not having a job, I’m talking a full-time job, and it’s also scary to be an entrepreneur, but I chose for me the lesser of two fears. I was like, well there’s uncertainty in both. Both ways you look at it, there’s uncertainty. Uncertainty in going back to work for an employer who could lay you off without any notice, or being your own employer and dealing with the variance and pay and the inconsistency in work. But I’m going to go with door number two, because… I don’t know. Part of me was just ready for it. And I will say that having that savings was invaluable.

And I hear this a lot from guests on my podcast, who’ve gone on to build big business and small businesses, that there’s always going to be risk in anything you do, but giving yourself some savings, taking the time, even if it takes you a longer period of time to start that business or quit your job, if you have savings, then it just means that you can afford yourself more options, more time. You don’t make knee jerk reactions. If I had no savings, Celeste, I probably would have just taken on any job, just to, obviously, I had to pay my bills. But that’s not ideal.

Celeste Headlee:

So, maybe we can talk about some of the other disruptions that can impact people’s finances and your advice for how to recover from them. One thing that you say that’s interesting is that, we should all be thinking about climate change, in terms of our financial plan. What do you mean?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Yeah, we just did a big feature on this at CNET Money. We’re really proud of the coverage, because we don’t think enough people are talking about money at the intersection of climate change. But, climate change is not an issue in its own silo. It is something that is, whether you’re talking about the war in Ukraine, there’s climate implications there. Or you’re talking about the pandemic, there are climate implications. You’re talking about money. There are things we have to keep an eye out for. And so, being able to see where the world is headed is important when you’re planning your life. When you start to see trends, I mean, there’s no denying that climate change is rearing its head. It’s changing the way that we live and work and the costs that we pay for things.

And so being able to anticipate this in your own life, whether it’s because you live near a coastline, or because you have a business that is still dependent on fossil fuel and you haven’t made the change to being more carbon neutral. I mean, these are things that you can foresee, and it would behoove everybody to start making little to big changes in their lives, in their work, in their businesses, to prepare for that, so that the cost won’t be as dire and that you won’t be scrambling in a moment of urgency and emergency. But rather you can, when the storm comes, you’re like, “Yep, I have the French drain. I have the dehumidifiers.”

After the last season of climate wreckage that we saw in the United States, I guess the months of August and September were particularly devastating for people who lived in, say, the West Coast who were experiencing drought and fires, and then all the way to Florida and the Gulf states where you’re seeing hurricanes just wipe out farms and crops and people’s homes. And, my parents lived on the west coast of California, in Northern California. Although they weren’t in the thick of the fires, they were experiencing the residue of that, which is pollution, air pollution. And they also had, prior to that, a lot of a drought that they were dealing with, and they’re heading to retirement, and we were talking seriously about, should they relocate as a preemptive strike to climate change? It’s going to get worse before it gets better. You don’t want to ever be in a place where you’re like, “Yeah, I saw that coming and I did nothing about it.”

And, it is asking people to face their fears, and I’m writing a whole book about fear and how it can be an agent for positive change in our lives. We often tell people, “Try to be optimistic. Be fearless.” And sometimes, that is the absolute worst advice. It does not prepare you for the realities of life. It just keeps you in this state of denial sometimes.

Celeste Headlee:

Well then, okay. So there’s something else going on right now that might be impacting people’s finances. I mean, maybe they made the best plan and best budget in the world. And then suddenly, we have inflation. That means they’re spending more on groceries. They’re spending more on gas than they planned for. How can we get through this period of inflation without going into debt?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Yes, I think resilience, and now more than ever, is so important. The ability to be willing to adapt, and… I say this and I recognize that inflation is, I was reading the other day, it’s like an extra $276 a month for average household. And that’s before we saw the inflation numbers skyrocket the next month. So it’s only going to get more expensive for households. Putting gas in your car, depending on where you live, could be anywhere from an extra 15 to 20 bucks a month than it was this time last year. So these are real hard costs. And, in your financial life, you always got to be looking at, what are all the different levers that I can pull to offset some of these shifts that I just can’t control? What are the things that I can control? You can control perhaps some of your discretionary spending. You can control sometimes the money that you make. I mean, have you asked your employer for a raise? Have you looked to starting a side hustle?

At CNET Money, one of the most popular videos we just did was on how to start a reasonable side hustle of making an extra $500 a month, which can be life changing for a lot of people. But it doesn’t really require that much time every month to earn. If you have an extra 10 or 15 hours a month, that’s a lot for some people, but when you think about making that $500 a month, maybe you’ll find the time, because that can mean the difference of total disruption in your financial life because of inflation, or keeping status quo. And, these are the things that I encourage people to examine. What are the forces in your life that you can control when life hits you with a curve ball?

Celeste Headlee:

I mean, at this moment in, I guess, recovery from the pandemic, what should most of us be watching for? What are the things we should be thinking about concerning ourselves? You already talked about climate change, but are there other things that we might be able to foresee?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Well, I think one of the rude awakenings of the pandemic was that, we’re just all overworked. And, I think some of our priorities were really messed up, and it wasn’t really our fault. It’s because we live in a capitalist world, and so what’s more of a priority than meeting your boss’ deadlines and being productive at work. But I think we learned in the pandemic that, that comes at a really big cost. And, it was actually, I loved seeing the great resignation that happened in 2021, with people leaving. And I mean, everyone made their own choices for different reasons of why they leave. But a big reason was because people were just burnt out. And, I think they were able to leave their jobs because the pandemic.

The other thing that the pandemic afforded us, for some of us, if we were fortunate to continue having jobs, was to save, because we weren’t traveling. We weren’t spending as much discretionary income. And so, the savings rate in this country shot up to 30%, the personal savings rate. Before the pandemic, it was like zero, maybe a few percentage points on average a month. But it went up to 30%. Historically, I haven’t seen that in my lifetime. And so, that, coupled with the realization that “I hate my employer” or like, “why am I in this career?”, we had been just kind of like Joe versus the volcano-ing it for a long time. That’s an old reference to my Gen X friends.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, but totally. I am also Gen X, great movie, super underrated.

Farnoosh Torabi:

Yes, yes, yes. Like you just get up and you do the drills without questioning them. And I think that all came to a head, and I think it was really important that it did. And it was unfortunate that it had to happen that way. But I think the lesson that we take away from this, that I hope endures, is that health is wealth, that your priority is to yourself first.

And, that’s easier said than done, I know, because the bills don’t care if you’re in a good mood or in a bad mood. They’re due when they’re due. But, I think it is important that we put employers more to this test of making sure that they are looking out for us and asking for what we need. There’s never been a better time in the job market to, as job seeking people, to be selective, to ask for things that we would’ve been scared to ask for maybe five years ago like, “What sort of benefits do you have to address things like mental health at this company? What are your feelings and what are your policies around leave of absence? What are your policies around promotion and pay? And what is the salary band?” And having more transparency ahead of time can also manage expectations better and help you plan your financial life better.

If you know you’re in a job where you start out at a certain pay rate, but you know there’s potential for more, because they’ve told you this is the scale, that is also something that I’m seeing more employers require it. States are requiring it. And, you better believe that has happened simply because the people are asking for it and demanding it. And, the employers that are getting the best talent are the ones that are doing this sort of stuff. And so, that’s the silver lining I see. But to answer your question, I think addressing mental health, the toll it can take on, not just our health, but our financial lives, is, I think, more at the forefront, and I’d like to see it stay there.

Celeste Headlee:

I wonder if you have advice on how to get through that conversation. So many women hesitate or feel bad about asking for too much money, right? I remember reading Cindy Gallop, the marketing consultant, saying, “Think of an obscene amount of money to ask for, and then take one step below that.”

Farnoosh Torabi:

Yes. Yes.

Celeste Headlee:

Oh, that’s your advice too?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Kind of, yeah. I would echo that. I think, well, obscene is relative, but I would say, safely, you can ask for… Whatever you think you want to ask for, pop it up to 20% more, and then maybe start there. In the absence of knowing what the pay scale is, or the pay band is, which I hope more employers begin to offer, it is unfortunately still on, the power is totally in the hands of the employer. And so, to tip that scale a little bit, you need to go in there and be very optimistic and ask for more than you think the job would pay. More for women I say this, because we do tend to undercut ourselves and short sell ourselves.

And, I just did a podcast interview with Ruchika Tulshyan, who wrote one of the most popular Harvard Business Review pieces, co-wrote it, which is called Stop Telling Women We Have Imposter Syndrome. We are systematically told that we are less than, and that gets to you. It gets to you. And it’s a false narrative sometimes that we buy into, and it has serious repercussions in how we show up at work, how we ask for money or don’t ask for money. And so, that’s important is to recognize, sometimes you’re buying into a belief system that is false, that is meant to oppress, and you need to be smarter than that and say, “Nope, I’m 100% worth it.”

And here’s the other thing I would encourage us to do, men and women, but particularly women, because I struggle with this too, and I think I’m not alone, is to disassociate worth and value. We often say, “Ask for your worth.” But what does that trigger? It makes you feel like you’re asking for your, like it’s self worth. And, if you don’t get paid a certain amount of money, it makes you feel bad, because it’s reflecting on you. Think about what you’re asking for. If you’re asking for a raise, think about attaching that more to, what is the value that I’m bringing to this company?

You’re not getting more money because you’re nice. You’re not getting more money because you’re a helper. That maybe is how you’re worthy. But, in terms of your value, it’s like, how are you contributing to the bottom line, right? It’s not about putting in more hours. It’s about productiveness, your accountability, your ability to bring in more revenue, whether it’s directly or indirectly, but being able to really articulate that, illustrate that, point it out. These are the ways that I think the best negotiations happen, is when the pay seeking person is very matter of fact about why their value is worth what they believe it is.

Celeste Headlee:

I mean, I hope I could go back and replay that answer about six times. Something like that’s incredibly useful.

Farnoosh Torabi:

Let that be your morning mantra.

Celeste Headlee:

Exactly.

Farnoosh Torabi:

Just brushing your teeth and hearing that. I mean, what a way to start your morning.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah, no kidding. Yeah, absolutely. I feel like we could probably just end there with a mic drop. But we’re not going to, because I want to talk a little bit about your new book that’s planned, I guess, coming out next spring, a year from now?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Yes. A Healthy State of Panic.

Celeste Headlee:

Which it is a very intriguing title. The subtitle is Winning at Life When the World is Out to Get You. What do you mean?

Farnoosh Torabi:

Oh my gosh. Well, it’s a tongue in cheek subtitle, because the world, I mean… I mean, certainly on days, it does feel like the world is out to get me.

Celeste Headlee:

It does.

Farnoosh Torabi:

I didn’t ask for this pandemic, “What’s going on? Thanks.” So, it can feel personally attacking, for sure. And truthfully, depending on your own circumstance, I mean, if you’re in a hostile work environment, if you’re in a hostile relationship, there are forces working against you and they’re very intentional. Racism is intentional. Sexism is intentional. Sometimes we often bill it as like, “Oh, this accidental thing. I didn’t realize I was being racist or sexist or ableist,” but, I think that’s up for debate. And so, what I mean by a healthy state of panic, and this book is part memoir, part sort of prescription, big idea, is dismantling fear.

I grew up the poster girl for fear. I was, again, the daughter of immigrants who came here, just petrified. They didn’t want to risk anymore. Their risk meter was completely depleted. Think about leaving your country.

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah.

Farnoosh Torabi:

Yeah. They’re like, “We’re good with risk. We’re done. We have stopped taking chances, because we just took a huge leap of faith. Thankfully, it worked out. We landed on our feet, but we’re good.” And so, as a result of that, they replaced that with a lot of fear as a way to, for me, really meant for me, to keep me in line and in check, because they didn’t trust systems. They were unfamiliar. And frankly, I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts for part of my childhood, which in the ’80s, the New York Times called it, “nobody’s first choice”. It was a lot of crime, a lot of five o’clock news, sort of top of the newscast crime, child kidnappings and rape and murder. And so that happened, I mean, still happens, but the news chose to make that the top story back then. And my mom, who didn’t speak English and all the thing, again, she channeled her fears into me.

But the flip side of that is that I’ve delivered a lot of strength in my life, being able to navigate through life, as I say in the book, with ninja like skills, looking over my shoulder constantly, but also it gave me the street smarts and this ability to cut through a lot of life’s BS, and to use fear as almost my superpower. Because when we’re afraid, the fear didn’t just show up for no reason. Sometimes it does. But a lot of times it doesn’t. It’s there for a reason. It’s rooted in something in you. It would be great if we could just sit with it for a little bit longer, as opposed to what the prescription currently is out there, which is like, ignore it, be fearless.

Farnoosh Torabi:

One of my favorite quotes is from Caroline Dooner who wrote Tired As F, and she wrote, “This idea of fearlessness, it doesn’t mean you’re a hero. You’re not brave. I’m sorry to tell you. It means you’re a psychopath.” You know what I mean?

Celeste Headlee:

Yeah.

Farnoosh Torabi:

Fearlessness, I can’t afford to be fearless, Celeste. I have kids. I have a mortgage. I’m the breadwinner in my marriage. I need fear to direct me towards healthy choices.

Now, from point A to point B, there’s some learning that has to happen. That’s where the book sort of shows up for everybody is like, “Okay, I have this fear. I don’t want it to run me into a brick wall or stop me in my tracks. Okay, Farnoosh, how do I harness this? How do I intellectualize this?” And that’s what I hope the book gives readers. But through it too, you’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll see yourself in it. You’ll learn about the little girl who took a razor to her unibrow and tried to change her name multiple times throughout elementary school, this is me I’m talking about, because I was so scared. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be this. I wanted to be that. I wanted to fight the fears. Didn’t work. Did not work. So, anyway, more to come in the spring of next year.

Celeste Headlee:

I mean, before we end, I got to continue on in this theme, because so much of what we’ve talked about today is based in how to respond to fear, right? When adverse events happen, whether you’re leaving a job, whether it be a huge bump in inflation, the pandemic, a lot of people probably right now are afraid.

Farnoosh Torabi:

Yes.

Celeste Headlee:

I would imagine that the past couple of years have made people feel more afraid than they might otherwise have felt, right? Because bad things happened. Maybe they felt they weren’t fully prepared for them. And I wonder what other advice you have at this point. I mean, we always hear, “prepare for it”, right? Like, “make sure you’re prepared”. That only helps me next time. What do I do now?

Farnoosh Torabi:

So here’s my advice. We say we’re scared. What are you really afraid of? Go to that really dark place, experience the nightmare and go there, not because I want to get everyone to wet their pants. I want you to really understand what is at stake. And on the financial advice world, we often say, “When you’re trying to achieve a happy goal, have a why attached to it.” Have something that is anchored in a desire that can motivate you to get to that goal, because just trying to get out of debt to get out of debt, eh, okay, that’s nice, but it’s a hard journey. So you have to root it in something exciting, like this will enable me to then start the business or have a kid without feeling constrained because I’ve got this debt.

Similarly, if you’re afraid of something, I want to encourage you to go to the dark place, so that you can see the stakes and that I think can identify why you’re so afraid. When we’re so afraid, Celeste, what actually that fear is telling us is that, we care a lot about something. So what is that something that you’re really insistent on protecting, that you want to endure? Because that is your why, and that is going to be so powerful for you, as you then start to plan. Because yeah, you have to plan at the next step. And, you might also realize there are things I can do right now to avoid getting to that dark place in real life.

And that’s the exercise, and it shows up in a variety of different fears that we experienced. If you fear failure, if you fear rejection, if you fear losing your freedom, which is different for everybody, that has many connotations, but identifying what is at stake if your fear comes true. I have always been motivated by that, to actually see, oh my gosh, if I actually don’t change something in my life today, with inflation, with job uncertainty, with this, with that, I think I’m scared now, there’s a scarier place waiting for me on the other side of not doing something right now, of not having a plan, of not going back into my budget, of not asking for more money.

I think asking for more money is scary, but what if I don’t? That’s scarier, because that’s going to leave me in a place far worse than where I am today, if things keep going the way that they’re going. So I always say, we think we’re scared, get more scared, because that’s… You need to use that adrenaline. It’s a good adrenaline. If you can really intellectualize it, go there and then use it, almost weaponize to cut through the fog and the uncertainty. And then you get to, “Okay, here’s what I need to do. Here are two things I can do today. Here’s five things I can do over the next year.” Nothing like fear.

Celeste Headlee:

Wow. Okay. And on that note, I want to say thank you, not afraid to say that. I really appreciate it. I mean, honesty and practical advice is really helpful in this field. So, thank you so much.

Farnoosh Torabi:

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.