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Embracing Her Potential With Tonya Montella


Tonya Montella turns ambitious women into confident career changers, and fulfilled professionals through career coaching services, she has set out to enable women to maximize their potential and truly thrive, landing jobs that they love and receiving pay that they deserve. She is an author, public speaker, podcaster and CEO of Tonya Empowers LLC.

In this episode, Tonya shares her journey from conformity to self-discovery. From her college years to working in prestigious companies, she realized that true success is about more than impressive titles.

Reflecting on growing up in a military background and the pursuit of perfection, Tonya unveils the pivotal moment that made her question everything. As a high performer, she found herself supporting others' dreams while putting her own on the back burner. That all changed when a realization struck her: It was time to step out from behind the scenes and embrace her own potential.

If you're ready to shatter expectations and unleash your true self, this episode is a must-listen. Join us as we explore the power of self-discovery, pursuing your passions, and creating a life that truly reflects who you are. To connect with Tonya, visit website


Watch Tonya's Story




Welcome to the I Don’t Give a Should Show – a podcast exploring ALL the ways that women SHOULD all over themselves. How many times do you find yourself acting out of obligation or doing what everyone ELSE expects from you without stopping to consider why? Where do all those beliefs that are driving you come from? If you’re tired of feeling resentful, overwhelmed, stuck, exhausted, or pissed off, you’re in the right place. Shoulding all over yourself is a real thing, but it doesn’t have to be in the driver’s seat.

I’m your host Jen Sherwood, and I spent waaaaay too many years trying to prove that I was good enough and worrying what other people thought while avoiding conflict at all costs. Today, I don’t give a should – well, not as many anyway, and neither should you. I’m talking to women like you who figured out how to stop shoulding and start LIVING.

I'm so excited to introduce you to my guest today, Tonya Montella.

Tonya turns ambitious women into confident career changers and fulfilled professionals through career coaching services; she has set out to enable women to maximize their potential and truly thrive, landing jobs that they love and receiving the pay that they deserve.

She is an author, public speaker, podcaster, and CEO of Tonya Empowers. I am so happy you are here today. Tonya, this is so exciting and off-camera today. We just decided we're totally best friends now.

This makes it even more fun to help my new best friend on with me today - welcome!


Thank you so much for letting me be here!

This is wonderful.


I am thrilled that you are here. Let's dive in because I am excited to hear the story, and I'm sure my listeners are as well.

So, Tonya, can you tell us what it was like for you when you were living under the shoulds?



I would say let's start where I went into college, right? That's one of the biggest shoulds in life, right? You graduate high school, you go to college, you get a good job, so I was on that exact path. I went to college; I started, you know, working my career, like towards the end of my college time, and then I got a full-time professional career and, you know, continue to build it throughout landing jobs of Fortune 500 companies, which is another should I say, right?

You think, like, the names that you spout out for where you work isn't always, you know, impressive and prestigious and oh, yeah, I know that company or oh, well, you do advertising for this. Okay, that sounds so, you know what I mean? It just sounds so sexy. My degree is in communication, but the work that I was doing coming out of college was in marketing and advertising.


Yeah, it does sound sexy.

When were you able to just like that recognizable name slide off your tongue? Was it somehow for you? Was it having that credibility, almost like it really kind of validated you as a professional and as a successful woman? Was there something like that in there?



I think it was that, and it was, I mean, yeah, you know what, it probably was just that because even when I think about choosing a college, right, like, I actually ended up going to George Mason University - I'm from Virginia.

That's what was referred to as a commuter school because, you know, it's not like your typical, like, large university where everybody's living there, and I had some feelings about that. Like, oh, what, maybe I should go to Radford University, or maybe I should go to, you know, all the other ones that are in the area. I said George Mason feels comfortable for me; I don't care that it's, you know, a commuter school, quote, unquote.

The same thing transferred into corporate life, it was like, you know, if you're working for a company that's known, or you're doing a job that sounds sexy, that is equated to success, in my mind, at least,


Oh, my gosh – you have no idea how much I identify with this.

I am a commuter school college graduate as well, and it's funny how you sort of, somehow, that seems a little less than, and so then there is almost this element of like, okay, well, in my career, let me work hard to prove where I'm at.

I earned my position, and I deserve to be here, and I can't imagine women listening are so nodding vigorously along with this. There are shoulds there are expectations about going to college and getting into your career, and I know you moved up the ladder pretty quickly, so talk to me a little bit about that.



I mean, I am just by nature, and this comes with some shoulds because I think it comes down to the way that I was raised, but by nature, I am a high performer – anything that I do, I go full force.

I want to be the best that I can possibly be at it so that, you know, lends credit to being able to move up the corporate ladder, but it even became true even when I changed careers, you know, sometimes it required me to take a step back in terms of pay.

You're starting doing something you've never done, and you've painted the picture to show why you're qualified to get the job, but it means, you know, you're not going to start out at the top of the rung. Even when I would do that, I would be able to build myself up again to, you know, senior level positions, promotions, that has always been a constant for me.


What's the drive you were saying?

It's the way you were raised, so what's the drive behind like overachieving?


Great question.

I've actually been reflecting on this fairly recently, which is funny that it took me so long to do so, but I tend to think it comes from a military background.

My dad, you know, served 20 years in the Navy and just having the mindset of at least this is what I was exposed to, right? Almost a sense of perfectionism, like, you know, you do something, and if it's not completely right, then it's not great.

You make a mistake, then it's not the best it could have been, and, you know, maybe that wasn't ever communicated to me directly. It's just sort of by nature, kind of what I learned based on what I saw and heard as a child.


I don't know what the exact quote is, but isn't it more that we learn by what we see happening in our homes more so than what we're told?


Yeah, yeah. I would agree with that.


It's interesting that perfectionist piece, I mean, goes hand in hand with that high-performance overachieving piece, but it really does get ingrained in us.

If you were growing up knowing like mistakes really aren't tolerated – failures aren’t tolerated, then of course, you're going to be really driven. I love that you're reflecting on this right now, by the way, so, what was there a point where you started to, like, was this not working for you anymore? Tell us kind of what was the next iteration of your journey.


Yeah, I would say it's funny because I thought that it was working up until, I would say, there was a pivotal moment where I realized what I was doing. Just leading up to this a little more context – you know, being a high performer and being seen among my peers, my family, and friends as like the career woman. I think that's why people tended to send other women my way for advice because when they thought of Tonya, they thought of the professional, the successful woman.

I found myself; for example, I was always performing and striving for the success of others, whether it be making businesses profitable for my husband. I was supporting him from the back end, doing the marketing that I know, and the digital advertising, you know, handing out pamphlets, literally on the ground, helping to promote it, building the website, things like that.

I was always behind the scenes, and I started to, and it was funny because I always would tell him, so for my nine-to-five job, I would book speakers for events that we would have, and I would look at how much we're paying these people. I was telling my husband, now you need to be a speaker because he's got the gift of gab. I would always say you need to be a speaker, you know, you do something for 30 minutes an hour, you can make this amount of money like this is totally up your alley.

He was like, oh, it's not really for me – it wasn't until I started to learn these patterns where I was behind the scenes, helping other people to be successful, that I realized, it's me, I need to be the speaker, I need to get out from behind the curtain.

I need to show what it is that I have and stop, you know, being the one behind the scenes, making other people successful, and I need to do it for myself.



Was there an event, a time, or something that brought that into your awareness? Or were you just generally not feeling as satisfied? What actually made you see this?


It was a combination of things, and they all happened around the same time.

It was actually towards the end of 2021 and the start of this year when I noticed an increase in people sending women my way for career advice.

I started recognizing how much it lit me up whenever I would have those conversations, okay, and how much value those women got out of those conversations. I noticed when I was a guest on someone’s podcast, and I noticed how much I enjoyed doing that and having conversations which is what sparked me to create my own podcast.

All these things were kind of happening around the same time, and I said, I think these are all coming to fruition because this is showing me that I need to, like I said, come out from behind the curtain and do these things myself, not be a guest always but be the host you know, not books, speakers, but be the speaker.


Okay, so this starts to happen, and then what do you do? You start seeing you've been kind of doing things in a way that was expected, and you follow the path, but something's shifting, and you're starting to see you want something different.

What happens next?



The other pivotal moment that was happening at that same time was, and I won't go into detail, but I observed something that happened in my nine to five where I realized something. This is something that I knew before, but it was just very, it was more obvious when this particular event happened how easily you could be removed from a company, regardless of performance.

It became much like I knew this right – layoffs happen, and things happen, but this particular event was like, wow, it really can come out of nowhere, it really can hit anybody. I needed to do something where if that happens, I have something else to fall back on, and I have my own thing going, something that I get far more fulfillment out of doing.

To answer your question, I just started doing it. To be completely honest, I've had somebody ask me this before, and I'm like, I didn't even think. I mean, those events are happening all at the same time. It was so impactful for me that I just started doing the things.

It was funny because, at the time, I recognized how I was taking these steps that were so different from the person that I knew, you know, just months before. I was like, I don't know who I am, I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm not thinking and I think that was key.

I was not allowing myself to think I was just doing it. I started my LLC, and I started building my website like I was just doing and not thinking, and that is kind of what was the kickoff point.


I love this so much.

Do you think if you had allowed yourself to think that you wouldn't have done it that you would have? Would you have talked yourself out of it?




One of my old business coaches had said to me one time she said, you know, if I had known what it was going to take to get from here to there, I never would have done it. That's kind of the beauty of not knowing what it takes to get somewhere because you're just dealing with each thing as it comes up.

It sounds like for you, you were like, that's it, I'm just gonna get to work, and let's just see what happens. People were already coming to you for career advice, and you were able to help those women, so it just feels like this natural progression for you.

Tonya, tell us, like, what is this like for you? Now you're actually doing this work, so what is life like for you now where you're like, I'm just gonna go from my thing, and I'm going to come out from behind the scenes, and what does that feel like for you? And what does it look like?


It feels so powerful.

I feel like I'm finally how I say I like to enable other women to maximize their full potential. At this point, I am living, you know, I'm practicing what I preach, I am living my full potential. I'm doing things I never thought I would have done.

I'm really exposing myself and putting myself out there into the world through podcasting, speaking. You know, being really active on social media and recording videos and things that I never was doing.


It's a whole different ball game when you get into business for yourself!

Yes, I hear you – and so doing this, you're growing this business. I'm gonna take a left turn a little bit, what is it done for your personal life? Has it changed your personal life in addition to your professional life?


Yeah, I would say it's interesting.

Before all of this started to happen, I would consider myself a competent person. I mean, not all 100%, and I don't think anybody is competent in every single aspect of themselves, but quite a confident person, right? This has, you know, taken that to the next level because I'm realizing, like, how much power I have, and how much capability I have, and how much, you know, how fearless I can be, right?

Like taking a leap of faith and doing these things that I would never have imagined doing before. It's allowed me to set boundaries because when building a business, and you know, being a mother and being a wife and trying to find time for me, you can't do it.

I really have to be very selective about how I spend my time, and I have to make sure that if I'm, you know, spending too much time in one area, okay, it's time to put that down and go do this thing and really find that balance but setting boundaries is a key part of that.


I love what you're saying so much right here.

First of all, I think you're right – I think that you can't have it all the way the media tries to portray we can have it all. I won't even go down that road. It is critical for you to have the things that matter to you to put the boundaries in, and be really intentional with how you spend your time.

Tonya, tell us who you work with today and what does that business look like?


Yeah, so primarily right now, I'm working with women who are seeking a new job, whether it be they're looking to make a career pivot and go into something that they have not done before, a new role, or a new industry that they haven't been in before.

Or if they're looking to make more of a lateral move, do the same type of work just for a different company. It's really, you know, women, job seekers, in general, are how I would classify the women that I'm working with right now, I am going to start to offer my services to, you know, employed already employed women who are just looking to, you know, have more of a focus on their career development, have somebody alongside them to help them.

I've always gotten promotions and been a high performer, so I want to extend that to other women. Though I primarily work with job seekers right now, I will be working more with women who are already in a job just looking for more development.



I can imagine there are those exact women listening right now, or maybe just women who are kind of considering what their future holds for them.

Tonya, how do you want people to get in touch with you?


The easiest place is my website because from there you can get pointed to my podcast – my website is

Very easy, but also on LinkedIn, I would say I, you know, I'm very active on LinkedIn, I like to be direct messaging women to give them, you know, feedback on their resume or inspiration for the week, if they're feeling down.

Sometimes I'll even go as crazy as you know, giving out my cell phone number. If somebody's really feeling down, and they're really feeling like that. I just am so frustrated in my job search, I need someone to talk to, but on LinkedIn, you can find me

I'm very much more engaged on LinkedIn versus Instagram, for example, right? Instagram is where you can find more of the fun stuff. I'm doing less of the career advice on Instagram because it's a little more, it's just a different place for me.


I love that you are so connected to the women that are going through this process that that's how you interact with them.

I think that speaks volumes about who you are, honestly. Tonya, this is fantastic – thank you so much for being here for sharing your story and just generally just being a great shining light in my day today.


Thank you for having me, this has been wonderful,


My pleasure.

Those of you who have joined us, thank you for being here, and we'll see you next time.

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