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The Power of Resilience: Carrie Sheffield’s Path to Independence


How does one persevere in the face of adversity? In today’s discussion, Carrie Sheffield ’06, Novak ’06, journalist and TFAS alumna, joins host Roger Ream to discuss her new book, “Motorhome Prophecies: A Journey of Healing and Forgiveness.” With great candor, Carrie shares a harrowing picture of her childhood living, in and out of severe poverty and experiencing abuse from her father. Despite facing unimaginable hardships, Carrie shares how she persevered, pursued her education and forged a successful career in journalism and public service. From her tumultuous upbringing to her journey of self-discovery and faith, Carrie offers valuable insights into discovering one’s purpose, values and voice.

Carrie Sheffield currently serves as a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is a 2006 TFAS alumna of the European Journalism Institute and a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. Carrie is the founder of Bold TV, a nonprofit that elevates diverse voices often avoided by the mainstream media. She has worked in investment analysis and has repeatedly testified before the U.S. House on economic policy. Carrie has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, TIME, POLITICO, The Washington Post and many other publications. She has also appeared on many broadcast networks including Fox, MSNBC, PBS and BBC.

Episode Transcript

The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.

Roger Ream [00:00:02] Welcome to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast. A conversation with TFAS alumni, faculty and friends who are making an impact today. I’m your host, Roger Ream. Today, it’s my pleasure to welcome Carrie Sheffield to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast. Carrie is a journalism and broadcasting powerhouse who currently serves as senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum. She’s also a 2006 alumna of the TFAS European Journalism Institute (EJI), and she was one of our Robert Novak Journalism Fellows. Carrie was the founder of “Bold TV”, and she has also worked in investment analysis in New York City. She’s contributed to The Wall Street Journal, Time, Politico, The Washington Post, and many other publications. She’s also appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, PBS, and BBC. Carrie has a remarkable story of triumph over adversity, documented in her bestselling memoir, “Motor Home Prophecies: A Journey of Healing and Forgiveness”, which we will talk about today. Carrie, thank you for being here.

Carrie Sheffield [00:01:13] Well, thank you, Roger. Thank you for having me. Of course, I’m just so happy to be here in the TFAS community. I’ve just been part of it for so long. So, it’s great to talk with you.

Roger Ream [00:01:22] Carrie, you’ve written a very personal book about your upbringing and your subsequent journey to make sense of it all, to come to grips with the impact of it all and offer and ask for forgiveness. When did you first think about writing the book, and how long did the process take once you really started in earnest?

Carrie Sheffield [00:01:41] I know we talked some, but I didn’t give the full backstory until I really did write this book, but it’s interesting. Since this book has come out, you mentioned that this is personal information, the more I’ve realized I actually think it’s really a universal book because even though I do reveal some very significant traumas in my life, the more I’ve been speaking and talking and writing about it, the more I’m having people share their traumas and their stories. I just see, as the Bible says, there’s nothing new under the sun. So, every single trauma that I’ve had, millions of people have experienced. So, it’s not that personal in the sense that it’s really a universal book, that so many other people have had these struggles. And so, it’s been really liberating in that way. I first started writing the memoir actually way back in 2012. Ironically, I call that book “My Soul Book.” The Soul Book from 2012 and from about 2012 to 2015, I wasn’t doing it in earnest, but I had about 20,000 words, and now the final book has over 90,000 words. You know, 20,000 words by 2015. The working title of that draft was “The Heathen Next Door: How I Left Religion and Found Joy,” and it was going to be a manifesto for the secular conservative, and basically laying out a blueprint to say, this is how we as a secular conservative should move going forward. I was seeing what was happening with the secularization of the country. I had been severely abused in the name of God and through religious interpretation, so I wanted nothing to do with it, and I was deeply agnostic. Well, now, looking back, this is a book that is very different, and I do believe back then, in 2015, when I had first got an agent, I had a different agent at the time, we both said: “Let’s put that book on the shelf,” because at the time I was thinking of starting a media company. So, we said: “Let’s do the media company first and then the book.” That’s what we ended up doing, and in that interim period, I ended up getting baptized and joining a Christian walk in the Protestant Christian tradition. And so, now this is a totally different book, and now I’m happy. I feel at peace as I talk often about how my faith really brought me a lot of recovery from mental illness and depression. I’m happy for this final version.

Roger Ream [00:03:58] Well, why don’t we start with your childhood experience, and perhaps you can summarize some of the details, because while you say very accurately that it’s a universal experience and that meaning, dealing with traumas in life and reacting to events in your life and the kind of stories you create, I guess, to get through those. But your childhood was different than most people. Fortunately, it’s not a universal childhood for most people. You had some real adversity. Do you want to just offer kind of a summary for people listening who haven’t yet gone out to purchase the book?

Carrie Sheffield [00:04:32] So, the title is “Motorhome Prophecies,” and it’s called that because I am one of seven biological siblings, adult siblings with our mother and our father. All ten of us, we were forced to live in a motorhome and travel all over the country. So, when people say: “Where are you from?” I say: “I’m from America.” So, I went to 17 public schools and homeschool over that period. My childhood careen from a first world existence into a third world existence, quite in and out, from living in sheds and tents and motorhomes into houses and mobile homes. My mother gave birth to my brother when our family was living in a tent, didn’t even have a motorhome at that point, and I took my ACT exam when we were living in a shed in the Ozarks with no running water, we had to get hooked up through a hose. In one word, it was hellish. I say over and over, it’s not about being poor. In fact, I was looking at global statistics around suicide, and it was interesting to find out that the bottom quintile of income distribution in countries, GDP per capita, actually had the lowest suicide rate. So, it’s not about being poor, it’s about being abused, and it’s about the type of physical, emotional, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse that I suffered that really led to a lot of mental illness later on for myself and sadly for my siblings. Two of them developed schizophrenia, three of them have attempted suicide. I considered suicide numerous times on and off, over the years, and so, it was a lot.

Roger Ream [00:06:00] As part of that upbringing, you had music in your life. You played violin, as I recall, maybe other things, and your family was doing street performances. Is that right?

Carrie Sheffield [00:06:11] So, the reason we live this way was that my father claimed that he was a prophet, and I’m careful when I explain what he did. So, there’s the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, the LDS church. I use the nickname Mormon Church just because that’s what most people know, but that’s not the official name. But what my father did was not sanctioned by that official church. In fact, later on, he was eventually excommunicated from that church. So, I describe what he did as an offshoot Mormon cult in terms of the control and the abuse and the isolation, but he also himself had suffered childhood trauma. He had been sexually abused by a babysitter from his congregation. He said later on in life that contributed to him feeling suicidal. Unfortunately, combining that childhood trauma with his incredible gifting, he had this incredible musical gifting. He studied with a guy named Andres Segovia.

Roger Ream [00:07:06] Oh, sure, I know Segovia.

Carrie Sheffield [00:07:08] You’ve been familiar with him? Perhaps the greatest classical guitarists. And so, my father was a hand-selected protege of him. He was knighted by the King of Spain, had ten honorary doctorates, lifetime Grammy Achievement Award, and my father was one of his protege. And so, he had this world class level gifting. He also won a National Young Composers Award. Combine this incredible gifting with childhood trauma and then his toxic interpretation of Mormon theology, you get someone who claims that he will be president someday and that in order to satisfy this prophetic call he made, eventually all ten of us join him on the street corners. He initially was by himself playing his guitar, this beautiful guitar music and attracting listeners on the street and passing out Mormon brochures, handmade ones with his own quotes and quotes from LDS leaders and political quotes and things like that. So yes, like you said, violin for me, but I also played the oboe. And then we all sang together, and as a bass instrument, we all played piano. All ten of us were out there, and that was the dichotomy that was so strange for me was we played Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and some of the most beautiful music, and to have that contrasting coming home and being yelled at and screamed at and physically abused and in some cases starved or not given food or given food infected with weevils, it just was such a jarring dichotomy that I only understood as I grew older.

Roger Ream [00:08:29] You may have mentioned it, but your father also thought he was a prophet who would someday become president of the United States, as I recall, and you came out of this environment. We don’t have to talk, there are other things you describe in the book which we don’t have to go into today, but when you were, I think it was 17, you were able to break away. Tell us about what led you to do that and how you were able to do that, because I know it came with severe threats from your father.

Carrie Sheffield [00:08:55] Yeah. So, when I was 17, unfortunately, the older my two schizophrenic brothers, the younger of the two hadn’t developed it yet, but the older one had schizophrenia by that point, and he groped me and he tried to rape me. It was a very jarring attack. I felt physically unsafe. Unfortunately, my dad said that my brother deserved the schizophrenia, basically, or that he had been such an evil satanic person that it was basically God smiting him, which I find really offensive. But in any case, I didn’t blame my brother. I knew that he was sick, but at the same time, I knew that it was dangerous for me to be in close quarters with someone who had this violent tendency toward me. And so, through a various process, I eventually realized, I don’t believe that you’re a prophet. I said to my dad I want to go away to college, I want to get an education away from home. My dad was supportive of education, but only if I stayed at home. I said: “I want to go away.” And so, what he did was he raised his hand to the square, which in Mormon theology is very significant, to raise your hand like you’re making an oath. And he said: “I prophesy in the name of Jesus, you’ll be raped and murdered if you leave.” As you can perhaps infer, that’s part of why I eventually became very anti-God and anti-religion and anti-faith, because I had to had this curse basically spoken over me in the name of Jesus. And so, at that point, having been attacked, but then having this prophecy, I just said: “No matter what happens, I’m doomed.” I ended up choosing freedom and went away to college, and I felt like John the Savage from Brave New World going into this strange culture. I went to a state school in Missouri called Truman State University, and just being very sheltered, I felt like I had more in common with the international students. I think the book “I Am Charlotte Simmons” is like fantastic for describing how I felt. I love that read.

Roger Ream [00:10:47] Tom Wolf.

Carrie Sheffield [00:10:48] Yes, exactly.

Roger Ream [00:10:49] I gave that to my oldest daughter when she was heading off to college, and I think she and my wife never forgave me for that. That was a terrible book for her to have to read before going to college.

Carrie Sheffield [00:11:03] I loved it. I was like: “This man is brilliant that he can talk like a 18 year old girl, but he’s like a whatever 70 year old man.” True character development. In many ways mirrored my experience.

Roger Ream [00:11:16] You know, it’s incredible your educational path given you attended all these schools, you did home schooling and your upbringing because from Truman State, you went to Harvard and have had a very successful career. Were there things in your upbringing that you know accelerated your progress in academia and in your career?

Carrie Sheffield [00:11:40] Yeah, I mean, everything as in life there double edged sword to most things. I would say sort of the upside that I gained and tried to glean from my upbringing was that, for example, when I left home, my dad said my blood changed. I was no longer his daughter. I was not allowed home all through college for summer breaks or Christmas breaks, so I would certainly spend some periods feeling sorry for myself and being jealous of my roommates getting to go home and my classmates, but eventually I told myself: “Well, they’re going home to mama to cry with their teddy bears, and instead I’m going to work my butt off and I’m going to achieve.” I had five internships before the time I graduated from college. I took it almost as fuel to drive my achievement. My dad’s prophesying I’m going to get raped and murdered, but I’ll show him I will excel and I will achieve things that he can’t even fathom. I write in the book about when I was 26 and I was in graduate school at Harvard with my full tuition scholarship through the journalism program, the Shorenstein Center, they fully funded my tuition. They’re funded me for a program in the Middle East. The summer between my first and second year, I was working at the Jerusalem Post, and I was also doing some programing at American University in Cairo, and then also Qatar University in Doha. I didn’t tell my parents before I went because I knew they would freak out about me being in a Muslim country, and I mentioned to it when I got back to them about it, and my dad asked me: “What’s Doha?” I remember being so prideful that I knew more than him and how arrogant I was that at 26, I was more sophisticated than my father. In a very sick way, I felt like I had won. I didn’t need him, that I had done this all without him and in spite of him. Eventually that resentment toward him continued to grow. It really came to a head in 2013 because he said that I had tried to seduce my other schizophrenic brother to have sex with me, which the total lie, but it was something that my brother had said, which I said to my dad: “Why are you taking his side? He’s taking antipsychotic medicine and I’m not. I’m the one with the Harvard master’s and working in finance on Wall Street and a multibillion dollar firm, like, why would I do something like that? And why are you taking his side, considering his track record of many arrests and incredibly irrational statements, not just about me, but other things and people?” And one of my other brother said: “Well, Carrie, you’ve got some good talking points. Let’s talk through this.” I’m just like: “No, I’m sorry, there’s no more talking points.” Because by that point other siblings had left home. And so, I was speaking more to the family and I was allowed home for some holidays, but that was well after graduating from college. And so, I said at that point: “I’m disowning you to my dad.” So, for about seven years until 2020, I disowned him. I unfortunately kept a lot of resentment trapped inside. It became: Yes, I don’t feel worthy. I need to keep achieving in order to feel worthy. Part of why I didn’t feel worthy is because I hadn’t forgiven him.

Roger Ream [00:14:40]  I recall in your book, you talk about how after he put that curse on you when you were leaving that naturally, I guess anytime something bad would happen, you had your bike stolen, anything bad would happen, you have it in the back of your mind this thought that your dad’s put a curse on you: maybe that’s why it happened. That must have been very difficult. You also then eventually converted to Christianity, joined a Protestant church in New York. Talk a little bit about what led you on that path, from having gone from this upbringing and your father’s religious beliefs, to being an agnostic for a number of years to join a Christian church in New York?

Carrie Sheffield [00:15:21] Yeah, it was a very unexpected journey, a very unexpected decision. I say in the book, people laugh when I admit this, but really, the two major forces that led me to the Christian faith were Donald Trump and science. And then I explained why it was more of my aversion for Donald Trump. I am a recovered Never Trumper, but in that period of 2016, 2017, 2015, I eventually realized what was happening, which was that I had really built my life around false idols. And there’s a really great book that I read years after my baptism that I think explains what I was doing. The title is “Counterfeit Gods,” by Tim Keller. May he rest in peace. People called him a modern day C.S. Lewis. He passed away last year, but in the book, each chapter is kind of a counterfeit God that we as humans put in place of God that we worship instead of God. And they’re usually very good things, things like career or your family or success, making a difference, things like that, politics. I pretty much trade all of them, and they kept failing me. So, in the case of career, I had been hired by a previous management. New management came in, a bunch of us were laid off. I felt suicidal because I had no family. I had no faith. It was all that I lived for was my career. And so, I had a suicide plan for how I was going to make those people feel sorry for letting me off. Thankfully, I was able to step back from that and got some help, but I went on to the next cycle of dating and relationships and kept dating verbally emotionally abusive men, in part because that was the model that I’d received from my mother, and she’d imprinted on me that I had not deprogrammed myself. And it just came to a head through a really toxic relationship, and I felt suicidal after that as well. So, it just kept stumbling on and on, and then finally I thought I’d realized this God that wouldn’t fail me, which now sounds funny, but it was the God of politics. I say more of the God in public service, which is I said I went to the Harvard Kennedy School, and I think subconsciously I’d put JFK as almost like the Messiah type figure. He was assassinated for his people. So, was Martin Luther King Junior. So, is Abraham Lincoln, who was shot on Good Friday, very symbolic. And they gave their lives on behalf of their people. And so, I thought that given your life through self-sacrifice and public service was my end all be all that was my reason for being. And then Donald Trump happened. And for me, I just felt like this is an existential crisis that I cannot worship. I cannot worship this individual as my Messiah type figure. I was really upset that he had donated to Hillary Clinton in the past in her Senate campaign, that he didn’t have a track record as a conservative. I didn’t feel that he was authentic as a conservative, and then I just didn’t like the things he said about women. I had been preparing to work in a white House or work on a campaign like that. So, to take a step back, I really thought: “I need something beyond this to be my reason for living.” And that’s really what initially brought me to explore faith. I also, around that same time, started to study metaphysics. I was given a book coauthored by a Ph.D. physicist from MIT and also Deepak Chopra, who gave me an endorsement, quote, on the back of my book. He’s an MD. So, scientists training, they wrote about the interplay between faith and science and how they’re completely complementary, and how it actually takes a lot more faith, statistically and scientifically, mathematically, to believe in random chance for the universe to be the way it is versus some type of divine creator. When you look at the probabilities of creation, it’s phenomenal. These were the things that really led me down that path, looking for something bigger, something that was more eternal. And also I wanted to center and anchor my life on truth. I think that’s one of the big problems we see in our society right now. Understanding our society and our Western values have been rooted in this desire for truth. I think when you’re anchored, looking in sort of these manmade false idols, you’re always going to come up short.

Roger Ream [00:19:18] I just had a flight back from Dallas yesterday, and I began a book called “A Severe Mercy,” which maybe you’re familiar with. It’s a lot of C.S. Lewis, and it’s written by someone who went to Oxford and corresponded with C.S. Lewis while he was there. He was an agnostic who was trying to determine whether he could become a believer. He and his wife was in love with. It’s their journey and it really connects to this. You’d love that book if you haven’t read it, “A Severe Mercy” because he includes in their correspondence, back and forth with C.S. Lewis when he was trying to develop his faith and trying to approach it from a very rational, scientific way. Let me shift gears a little bit. In 2006, you attended our Journalism Institute in Prague. I’m curious how you heard about it. I know you had had some international experience. You mentioned you had been with The Jerusalem Post. You were in Egypt where you interviewed the Muslim Brotherhood. You’d been to Doha, as you mentioned. But how did you find out about the program in Prague and what prompted you to attend that?

Carrie Sheffield [00:20:19] So, I did the 2006, wow, gone by fast, summer, 2006, I believe. My first and only time going to Prague. I need to go back. Funny story, they lost my luggage so I ended up not having deodorant. And back then I don’t know why no stores had deodorant so I didn’t have the deodorant.

Roger Ream [00:20:37] You didn’t need that in Czech Republic by then.

Carrie Sheffield [00:20:39] Then my luggage showed up, but they did give me a voucher, the airline and I bought a great pair of jeans that were my favorite pair that it could not find online, but I first heard about it just through being in D.C. I was working as a journalist. At the time I was working, I think, then at the Hill newspaper about to jump to Politico, and just had seen that it was training for young journalists to go over to the former Soviet Union and talk to people who were learning to build this press from the ground up and learn about what their families had gone through. We visited Radio Free Europe headquarters, their office, I think they’re headquartered there. I love international experiences because it does put things into perspective as far as if I can use the word that’s thrown around a lot our privilege here in America. I would say the word blessed, progressive say privileged, I think they’re probably interchangeable, but it’s all about your perspective and whether something is unearned. That’s what I think is interesting, because what I find in the left when they use that word privileged versus blessed, I think that’s the lens of how you view Western civilization. They’re both unearned graces, when in one case, the left wants you to feel shame and guilt about that, and in my interpretation and what I believe most conservatives today believe, it’s something to be grateful for and something to want to share with others and to bring this worldview, to have this abundance and this blessing. A lot of it has been achieved through capitalism. That’s what’s so strange to me when I hear the left wanting to export socialism and Marxism, to see what had happened in the USSR and the millions of lives lost. And same thing with the CCP in China, like over 100 million people lost their lives through these horrific systems. How is this even up for debate about what to export and how to feel about our Western tradition? It’s Orwellian to me.

Roger Ream [00:22:41] My flight home from Dallas got diverted to Baltimore-Washington airport last night, so I had an hour long Uber ride home from BWI, and my Uber driver was very friendly, but I asked him where he was from. He said: “I’m from Cameroon and Chad.” He told me that his story of having gone through the desert with some friends, made it to the north coast of Africa, boarded a crowded boat, got to Italy, greeted there by wonderful Christian missions, got to Switzerland, to France and did not like France, was treated poorly and managed to get a tourist visa to come to the U.S. And where he’s been now for at least ten years, applied for asylum. He’s had three children, he’s become a nurse, drives an Uber at night and just went on and on about how blessed he was to be in this country. I said: “Do you miss Cameroon at all and or Chad? Your parents are still there?” He said: “I don’t miss it at all. I’m just so blessed to be in America where I can raise my children. My children will have opportunity in the future.” So, I like that word: blessed. You also had a Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship around that same time. Can you talk a little bit about your project and what the fellowship meant?

Carrie Sheffield [00:23:59] For me it meant a lot, in part because I had actually worked for Robert Novak, and the award was renamed for him after he passed, and he had been on the board of the fellowship, but I had been an intern for him to then be able to extend my affiliation with him through the fellowship, it meant a lot. He was my first entry point into Washington, D.C. Politics. He was a very generous boss. As an intern, I felt blessed to work for him. So, my fellowship for the Novak program, it was around the time that Mitt Romney was doing his first run for the presidency. I saw what was happening. It was centered on the so-called Mormon moment, because there’s disproportionate numbers of people in Congress, I haven’t checked most recently, but at the time, there were overrepresentation in Congress by people of the LDS faith. I wanted to examine why, and what about that public service and the culture and doing profiles? I interviewed people from Harry Reid, who was, you know, very prominent Democrat, former Senate majority leader to a former HHS secretary, Mike Levin, to Mitt Romney. And also, it’s not just politics, but in public service. There’s a lot of Mormon involvement in the State Department and the Secret Service and FBI and clandestine services, CIA, just the squeaky clean culture in terms of personal habits and very family friendly environment. I like to say that’s sort of west of the Mississippi, kind of the perception. But there is an underbelly to LDS culture as well, which is unfortunately what I spent a lot of time in. But that’s like anything in life. There’s light and dark. It’s interesting, the last chapter of my book, I call it “Wrestling with God,” that’s the title of that chapter, and I’m only saying it now because in November, Jordan Peterson has a book coming out called “We, Who Wrestle with God.” I’m like: “Jordan Peterson, my book came out way before yours and before it was even announced,” and so, I’d already written it, but why we both chose this title is because that’s what the word Israel means, and that’s the name that Jacob was given after it wrestled with the angel or with God for the whole night. And God gave him a new name, but he also broke his hip or like, injured his hip, you know, and said, when you wrestle with God, not everything’s easy, but at the same time he was blessed and his children then it was blessed for generations because of his wrestling with God.

Roger Ream [00:26:19] We’re almost out of time. Let me ask if you have any general advice you would give to the young people who will be coming to TFAS programs this year, who want to make a difference in the world, want to try to help make the world a better place. Many who want to be honorable, courageous leaders. Can you offer any closing advice that I can pass along to them?

Carrie Sheffield [00:26:40] I think it’s important to think about your, I call this book my antiracism book, it’s all the things that I was hiding and ashamed of and was putting in the dark. I spent so much time focused on my resume. All the shiny things, the things that I was bragging about, wanted the world to know and see. I think it was disproportionate, and it became lopsided.  I had focused more on how I was perceived in my achievements, in my awards, instead of what was going on with my mental health, what was going on with my spiritual life, and even my physical life. I ended up not taking care of my physical body and end up in the hospital from exhaustion. Focusing on your character is very important, and if I may end with a quote from Confucius: “The personal is political in the sense of our national character.” And he said that: “If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there be harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there will be order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.” It’s really about finding that symmetry and not what’s happening in the position of your heart. Your public life is your private life and vice versa. And so, being a person of character, I think is as important as what you achieve in your career.

Roger Ream [00:27:59] Wonderful. Thank you, Carrie Sheffield. My guest today is the author of “Motorhome Prophecies: A Journey of Healing and Forgiveness.” Carrie Sheffield, thank you so much for being with me today. Good luck on your book tour and with the talks you’re giving around the country. We wish you the best and we’re proud to call you a TFAS alumna.

Carrie Sheffield [00:28:19] Thank you, Roger.

Roger Ream [00:28:21] Thank you for listening to the Liberty + Leadership Podcast. If you have a comment or question, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org and be sure to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five-star review. Liberty + Leadership is produced at Podville Media. I’m your host, Roger Ream, and until next time, show courage in things large and small.


TFAS has reached more than 49,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.

Liberty + Leadership is a conversation with TFAS alumni, faculty and friends who are making a real impact. Hosted by TFAS President Roger Ream ’76, the podcast covers guests’ experiences, career stories and leadership journeys. 

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