Go For It (with Zaila Avant-garde)

Episode 37

About the Episode

In today’s episode of Professional Troublemaker, we’re focusing on a Rising Troublemaker. Rising Troublemakers are teens and young adults who are absolute game changers and are out there living their audacious lives and dreams right now.

Today, Luvvie is talking to Zaila Avant-garde. Zaila is a multi-talented powerhouse, with success springing from all her endeavors – and all before the ninth grade. We got to know Zaila’s name when she won the Scripps National Spelling Bee – the first African American to win. But along with her triumph there, she holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball prowess and was named SportsKid of the year in 2021 by Sports Illustrated Kids


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Luvvie Ajayi Jones (@luvvie)

Zaila is curious and driven and works hard. She knows what she wants to do and has the discipline and focus on going after it. Zaila and Luvvie talk about how she uses visualization to reach her goals, how she was able to harness the discipline she needs to reach those goals, and how she has developed confidence through doing.

If you go all in on your dreams, then you get good results.

—Zaila Avant-garde

About the Guest

Zaila Avant-garde

Zalia Avant-garde

Zaila Avant-garde is a multi-talented powerhouse, with success springing from all her endeavors – and all before the ninth grade.

Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, she won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making her the first African-American to win in almost 100 years of the competition. Avant-garde landed on her winning word, murraya –a type of tree –by associating the word with famous comedian Bill Murray, who surprised her by phoning in during her appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Avant-garde’s spelling triumph is just one entry on a very impressive resume. Along with competing in spelling bees for two years, Avant-garde holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball prowess. She holds the records for the most bounce juggles in one minute with four basketballs, the most basketball bounces in 30 seconds with four basketballs, and ties of the record for most basketballs dribbled at once.

Her success has been celebrated by the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, LeBron James, and Dr Jill Biden, who attended the bee. She was recently named SportsKid of the Year 2021 by Sports Illustrated Kids.

Avant-garde’s aspirations continue to grow: she hopes to one day play basketball at Harvard before a career at NASA or in the NBA.

Wisdom from the show


Creating a life that is authentic, bold and purposeful takes audacity. It takes disruption. That is what it means to be a Professional Troublemaker. Professional Troublemaker is a book, a podcast and a life habit.

I’m your host, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, bestseller of books, aficionado of authenticity, and sorceress of side-eyes here to bring you conversations with world movers and change agents who have gotten where they are through their tenacity, truth-telling, and commitment to making good trouble. From time to time, I will even do deep dives on topics that are on my spirit.
My hope is that this show compels you to do BIG THINGS in a world where we have so much to fear. Let us loan you courage. Listen in!

Before we jump into today’s episode, know that this podcast is named after my second book and 2nd New York Times bestseller Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual. Which btw, is now out in paperback! Not only does the paperback version have a sleek new cover and travels well, it has an exclusive BONUS CHAPTER called “The Guide to Truth-Telling”. This chapter takes you step-by-step through the most common fears of speaking your truth AND how to overcome it with boldness. How do you speak up in the meeting when the tough idea comes up? How do you confront a loved one who hurt you? What are the things to consider when silence is the easiest, not the best answer? I talk about ALL of that in the Truth-telling guide.

How would our lives would be different if we were given permission to be disruptors for the greater good? How high can we soar if we knew FEAR is natural and we’re actually supposed to do the things that scare us? How audacious would we be if impostor syndrome wasn’t holding on to our ankles? I wrote this book to loan people courage. In PROFESSIONAL TROUBLEMAKER, I talk about how my life has transformed because I’ve ran towards what felt bigger than me, doing the things that feel scary as shit.

Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual is game-changing, and I know it. So, if you value this show, if you value the guests and their stories, the lessons and the wisdom. If you’ve ever listened to something I said and wrote it down, YOU WILL LOVE Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual. Courage is a habit. You can choose courage each and every day, and this book is the verbal hype team to let you know YOU GOT THIS.

So, get a copy of Professional Troublemaker wherever books are sold, or go to ProfessionalTroublemakerBook.com. You can get the hardcover, paperback with the new exclusive chapter or audiobook (which I narrated, AND has the new chapter included). That’s PROFESSIONALTROUBLEMAKERBOOK.com. I’m so excited for you to read it.

For the next couple of episodes of the podcast, we are focusing on Rising Troublemakers. Teens and young adults who I think are absolute game changers and are out there living their audacious lives and dreams right now.

My guest today is Zaila Avant-garde and I am so excited for you to hear this conversation.

Zaila is a multi-talented powerhouse, with success springing from all her endeavors – and all before the ninth grade. We got to know Zalia’s name when she won the Scripps National Spelling Bee – the first African American to win. But along with her triumph there, she holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball prowess and was named SportsKid of the year in 2021 by Sports Illustrated Kids

I was so impressed by this conversation. Zalia is curious and driven and works hard. She knows what she wants to do and has the discipline and focus to go after it. We talked about how she uses visualization to reach her goals, how she was able to harness the discipline she needs to reach those goals, and how she has developed confidence through doing.
Let’s get into it.


All right. So, usually, I ask my guests on this podcast what they wanted to be when they were growing up. But, in your case, I’m going to ask you what do you want to be when you do grow up?

ZAILA: Okay. What do I want to be when I grow up?


ZAILA: It has an expansive answer. My first thing, I would probably want to be a NBA head coach and/or work for NASA.

LUVVIE: I love the ranges. Okay. So tell me about the head coaching of it all.

ZAILA: The reason that I want to go in to be NBA head coach is simply because I’m afraid that if I do that, I might actually be the first one. That’s the first thing, just break that barrier that there definitely is right now, even though I hope somebody does it before me. Also, being it’s basketball, I love the idea of coaching, of just being the coach of an NBA team, right? That’s just a dream of mine.

LUVVIE: What is your favorite team?

ZAILA: My favorite team right now are the Brooklyn Nets.


ZAILA: Yeah. Well, I like them because Kevin Durant is there and Kyrie Irving and when James Harden was there, because of that, too.

LUVVIE: Got you. And then you want to work for NASA as your second wish. Tell me more about that.

ZAILA: I went to work for NASA just because it’s the next frontier for me. Space is kind of the final frontier, and so I want to be at the front of moving us ahead. Also, it’s just a dream I’ve had for a very long time in some form or another of working for NASA because I’ve always been fascinated by what’s up there and that [crosstalk]-

LUVVIE: That is incredible. I love how varied those things are. I think you’re already a history-maker. I mean, you already are in two different ways, and a trailblazer, and we really got to know your name when you won the Scripps National Spelling Bee. You also happened to be the first African-American person to win the bee. How did it feel to win? Did you know you were going to win? Did you just have that conviction?

ZAILA: I’m not going to say that I knew it in my soul that I was going to win, but I definitely felt like there was a good chance of it happening because of how long and extensively I worked training for spelling. I definitely felt like it was a good possibility. But, at the same time, I don’t want to discount my fellow spellers because they’ve also been working very hard for a very long time. So I definitely felt like there was a good chance I was going to win.

LUVVIE: How did you practice? What was your preparation for that spelling bee?

ZAILA: My preparation was I used a program called SpellPundit, which is a program that all the top spellers have mostly. It’s this really neat program that has basically all the words that are high likelihood to show up in a spelling bee. Also, I have a tutor.

LUVVIE: How many hours a week were you dedicating to it?

ZAILA: A week? I tend to do about 13,000 words a day, which would take me about seven hours. So I will say that’s 49 hours or 50.LUVVIE: You were practicing spelling for 49 hours every week?

ZAILA: Yeah.

LUVVIE: For how many weeks? How many months?

ZAILA: Months? I was actually only spelling…. It took me a while to ramp up to that, but altogether I was only spelling for two years, which is really short compared to other spellers because they’ll be studying for a decade literally.

LUVVIE: That is significant. You were spending work days. So you went to school, you’d come home, and then you’d spend seven hours studying?

ZAILA: Yeah. I was homeschooled, so, actually… Yeah.

LUVVIE: This is incredible. So, for you, was it a passion? How did you get started with spelling as a sport? Because you basically turned it into a sport.

ZAILA: I got into it simply because I have a love of words. Even before I knew how to read, I loved the books, and I’d just look at the books and look at what I know now were words, and I’d just look at them. So I’ve always just really loved words. I was always a big dictionary diver and stuff. So spelling just kind of came as, “Hey, this is a perfect way for me to do something that I love.”

LUVVIE: I mean, wow. So you’re also an elite basketball player and world record holder in dribbling. When did you start playing basketball, and how did you go, “I’m going to pursue the world record?”

ZAILA: Well, I started playing when I was five, and the way I got a record was just kind of… I wanted to get a record simply because for my eighth birthday I got the Guinness World Record book and so, looking through it, I was kind of like, “This is something that I want to do.” I don’t remember any specific record I saw, but just the general idea of it was like, “I’ve got to do this. I got to get in this book.” So that’s kind of how… Fast forward until when I was 13. For my 13th birthday, actually, that’s how I got into trying to get a record, just because I wanted to be in the book, and now I am, so that’s the happy ending.

LUVVIE: So that’s amazing. So you were spelling, and then, also, I’m sure you were also practicing a lot for basketball.

ZAILA: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yes.

LUVVIE: How many hours are in your day?

ZAILA: 25.

LUVVIE: So you would then basically… How did you create your time management? Because now I’m curious. You keep going into these deep moments of study for the things that you love. So tell me how your day goes. How did you create space and time for this?

ZAILA: So the thing is that I’m homeschooled, so that means I do… I have a slightly different schedule. I do six hours of school a day, but I do it six days a week, all year round, and so that kind of… I’m doing more school obviously than most people throughout the year. So what happened is that I had six hours but per day it’s a bit less, especially since I also don’t have to commute and the getting dressed and all that stuff. So six hours a day of schoolwork, and then I do my seven or so hours, for however long it took for me to do 13,000 words. Then basketball was downsized a little bit, obviously, because I do have to sleep, eat, do that stuff. So that was only about two, three hours of my day that I would be doing basketball stuff during that period. It’s just time management.

LUVVIE: It is time management and discipline and focus. So for the days where you were like, “Ah, I don’t feel like doing it,” what pushed you through saying, “I still have to get to this 13,000 words?”

ZAILA: Just the idea of knowing what I wanted. The screen, the backdrop of my computer when I was studying, was actually a picture of the octo-champs, who were eight people who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee the previous year, all looking at the trophy, and so I would use that as my motivator, like, “This is what I want.” Even if I’m the 0,000th word and I’m like, “I really just want to go to sleep,” I look at that picture and I go the extra mile and I do it, even if I’m having a moment where I’m just a bit tired, like I just don’t want to go anymore.

LUVVIE: So you use the picture to remind you of what the goal is?


LUVVIE: And then what about for basketball? What did you use? Was it just a book?

ZAILA: For basketball, I never really… When I do have periods of just being tired, basketball is more physically tired. With spelling, you can get a bit more just mentally tired, like you’re focused in and sometimes it’s just tiring. But basketball, you’re physically tired. So, typically, I just catch my breath and I just… I never really have moments, really, where I don’t want to… Really, I don’t have moments where I don’t want to do anything. I just have moments where I’m tired, and that makes me want to stop momentarily.

LUVVIE: Got it. So your focus, your discipline, have you always been this focused and disciplined?

ZAILA: The official story is yes. The unofficial story is no. When I was a small child, I was like any kid. I kind of am to this day still a bit of a… I’m a highly energetic person, and I like to get out there and have fun, and that was especially true when I was a small kid. I could not have sat at a computer for 30 minutes when I was five years old. I was just off the wall, just running around the house causing trouble.

LUVVIE: When did you actually say, “Okay, I’m going to be focused now?” Because, I mean, five-year-olds are supposed to be really, really energetic, can’t sit at the computer for 30 minutes. That’s fine.

ZAILA: Yeah. I think the moment where I… I started calming down a bit when my parents introduced basketball to me because that’s part of the reason why they did when I was five years old, because they needed a way to make my energy levels go down a bit. So that’s how basketball was to me, and that’s when I started being able to mellow down a bit because I’m being tired out and my energy’s going into this, and that’s when I started being able to relax a bit.

LUVVIE: Okay. So that’s how you stay grounded, is you keep your energy high?

ZAILA: I guess so. Yeah.

LUVVIE: Is there something that you have wanted that actually didn’t happen? Because you’ve set these big goals already. You were like, “I want to be a world record holder.” Yes. “I want to win this spelling bee that nobody who looks like me has ever won.” And you won that. Is there any time you’ve been disappointed that you didn’t get something that you wanted?

ZAILA: Oh, yes. Definitely. The Scripps National Spelling Bee wasn’t just the only bee I participated in. Due to the unfortunate circumstance of the pandemic, there were lots of virtual Zoom spelling bees that I participated in, and I can tell you, I did not win all of them. I only won half of them. I would study for them, and then I just have a moment. I get the word. I don’t know it. That’s when you have to go back to the drawing board because then you’re a bit disappointed because you lost the spelling bee. You only got fourth place. You didn’t get first place. You got fourth place, fifth place. That’s when you have to go back to the drawing board and you’re a bit disappointed.

LUVVIE: Got it. But you push yourself past the disappointment and say, “I’m going to do it next time?”

ZAILA: Oh, yes. Of course. Oh, yes. Of course.

LUVVIE: So how do your parents encourage your dreams that are very audacious?

ZAILA: Basically, by just allowing me to go with the flow. There was never a period where my parents forced me, like, “You are going to do this and you’re not doing anything else.” Whatever I said I had interest in, and I’ve had interest in some pretty wild things, whatever I had interest in, they were all for it. They never said, “No, we’re not doing this.” They were all in on whatever I said I wanted to do, and I would say that’s how it turned out so well for me, because whatever I was doing it wasn’t because my parents had me doing it. It was because I wanted to do it.

LUVVIE: Yes. Yes. So these are your dreams that they let you have and they encourage you in the process.


LUVVIE: So you’ve taken on all these things. Are you ever afraid? Are you ever like, “I don’t know?”

ZAILA: I guess. Especially in the past, yeah, definitely. But, just in general, I don’t scare easily, and that’s simply because from a very young age… I started basketball at five, and by the time I was six years old, I was good enough to… I had, well, the cute factor of being a small six-year-old and with an even smaller voice than I have now, and I was good at basketball. So, of course, if I’m at the court, everybody’s going to stop and stare and stuff, and so I would say that’s given me the ability to just never be afraid or feel pressure or anything because from a young age I was acclimated to the idea of people looking at me or knowing people were thinking about me or something. So I will say I never had that fear that some people have, where they’re just petrified on stage, not because I’m some superhuman, but just because I practiced it and practice makes perfect.

LUVVIE: Ooh, I love that. That is a great point, and I think it’s really good to hear coming from somebody as young as you because oftentimes we get our confidence taken out of us very, very early. So, for me, I’m affirmed by the confidence that you walk with. I’m affirmed by the fact that you’re like, “No, I got this because I actually practice.” You put in the work, which is important. So do you hang with a group of friends who are also like you? What are your friends like? Who supports you? Who’s your squad?

ZAILA: My squad is actually mostly my family, but I have a big family. I have a pretty big squad. The friends I have on my basketball teams and stuff, the friends I have, they’re generally more like me, which means that they’re bookish and stuff. I’m sure sometimes the wilder types of girls, like the girls who aren’t so bookish and stuff. I look at them, I say hi to them, but I typically… I hang with the girls who are the good students and stuff and the ones who would probably rather be in a book than at a party or something. That’s typically who I hang out with.

LUVVIE: That is great. From one nerd to another, affirmed. Because, listen, the ones who would rather be in the books at this point, they grow up to be really interesting adults. They grow up to be really interesting people because they get to escape into these worlds. I’m also a nerd in that way. So what is your advice that you would give to young people who might be afraid to try something new or something that might feel big or slightly unattainable?

ZAILA: I would just say go for it. That’s my motto, is just that short phrase, just go for it, whatever it is. I don’t need to hear what… If you want to be a rugby player or handball player, whatever it is that you want to do, just go for it as no holds barred because if you go halfway in, you’re going to get halfway results. [inaudible]. So just go all in and whatever happens, happens. Just work at it. Typically, you’ll get good results.

LUVVIE: Go whole into it, not half.

ZAILA: Yeah.

LUVVIE: So do you consider yourself a role model?

ZAILA: I mean, that’s a tough question because I’m 15 years old and role models tend to be older people. But I consider myself a blank canvas where if you want to have me as a role model, sure, I’d be quite happy to be your role model, but I don’t feel myself as an active, “I am your role model,” type person. If you take me as your role model, that’s nice.

LUVVIE: I like that. And what do you hope your work, your accomplishments inspire in other people?

ZAILA: I just really just hope, at the end of the day, that it inspires people to just remember that whatever dreams that they have, the phrase, again, is go for it. That’s all I want people to take away from maybe seeing me, is just that I’m proof that if you go all in on your dreams, then you get good results.

LUVVIE: Absolutely. So what brings you joy outside of when you are looking to achieve something? In what ways do you find joy? What lights you up?

ZAILA: Listening to music is a big one. I’m a huge music person. I don’t know what I would do in the world without music. I love music. Also, just hanging out with my family is also a big thing for me. So I’d say listening to music and hanging out with my family and reading, always reading, are the big, big things that bring me joy.

LUVVIE: What is your favorite music genre? What’s your go-to?

ZAILA: Probably ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s music. I don’t listen to-

LUVVIE: Really?

ZAILA: Yeah. I actually don’t listen to nowadays music for a lot of reasons. Mainly, my parents don’t let me. Also, from what I have heard of it, I’m not interested. So I listen to ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s music. That’s my go-to. My favorite artist is Whitney Houston.

LUVVIE: Okay. Yes. Yes. You are wise beyond your years because Whitney is in my top three. You know what? Give me your top three. So you got Whitney. Who else?

ZAILA: Oh my God, this is tough. I’m probably going to put Mariah Carey up there, too.

LUVVIE: Okay. Okay.

ZAILA: This is so tough. I guess Diana Ross. Yeah. Diana Ross.

LUVVIE: You have great taste in music, great taste in music. That is phenomenal. Cannot lose with those three. Okay. Okay. And then reading, what genres are your favorite?

ZAILA: Oh, I’d say my favorite are science fiction and fantasy because you can do… I just love anything that’s like… My favorite books are the Lord of the Rings trilogies, and I love because it’s imaginative. Basically, the writer doesn’t have any holds barred. They can create their own world, and their worlds are very entertaining when you see what’s inside of people’s minds. So that’s why I would say sci-fi, fantasy, kind of the same thing somewhat, are my favorites.

LUVVIE: How old were you when you started reading?

ZAILA: Actually, I was not the six-months-year-old that sometimes you see. I started reading… I didn’t think of that. My first book, real book, I read was when I was six, actually. Let’s just be honest. I was a wild kid, like I said, so I was not one of those one wonder children that you see reading at three years old or something. I was kind of late to the party.

LUVVIE: It’s okay, though, because you can still be late to the party and still be excellent, which is what you are.

ZAILA: Fashionably late.

LUVVIE: Right? That’s the proof. Fashionably late. You were late. You still on time, though. You were still on time.

ZAILA: Yeah.

LUVVIE: So are you watching the NBA playoffs right now?

ZAILA: No, I’d probably get shivers if I did. What happens is I get reports from my father. My father sees the results on ESPN and watches highlights, and he relays to me the happenings. Right now, I’m just… I’m going to get a report pretty soon from my father, so we’ll see. Oh my God. I’m just getting nervous just thinking about it.

LUVVIE: You are? So, wait, you don’t… Is it that the game is too intense? Are you just like, “Oh my gosh, I have to close my eyes,” or what?

ZAILA: I think it’s really partially that, and, also, I just don’t have the time. I have a busy life, and, also, I don’t really watch TV because of all the commercials and stuff drives me crazy. I can’t do it. I’m like a parent in that way, so I can’t stand commercials. So I don’t watch TV. I’ll probably maybe watch the games that I want to watch later on YouTube.


ZAILA: But it’s also I just don’t have time to sit there for three hours and watch a game. That’s not how my schedule works.

LUVVIE: Right. You’re over here practicing basketball, you’re over here doing all the… Yeah, no, you busy. You’re booked and busy.

ZAILA: Yeah.

LUVVIE: So what is something that you’re really excited about right now?

ZAILA: What am I excited about? I think I’m excited because I took a break from basketball, not a break, but lessening, I said, for spelling and stuff. So that is ramping back up, and I’m beginning to get back into the flow of playing in games and stuff. Between the pandemic and spelling, that wasn’t happening. So now I’m getting back into playing, and that’s what I would say is exciting for me.

LUVVIE: I love it. So where do you find the courage to constantly go for it? What is the driving force for you?

ZAILA: I would say the driving force is just… I have many, but the big one for me is just knowledge of who and what I am. I’m an African-American female. I got to work three times as hard and stuff. So I remember that. Whenever I want to take a break, I have to remember I can’t afford to take a break. Also, that just gives me the strength because I have so many of these role models, like Katherine Johnson, like all the hidden figures and people who I remember. Also, just being a female just in general, for me, is really important for me. I feel like I have to represent us well. I have to remember to work hard because people are looking at me. I’m being looked at, and I’m a young African-American female out there, and many people might get their visions of who we are just in what they see in me or something. So I have to remember to always be my best.

LUVVIE: That’s powerful. That’s powerful. So what is something that people would be surprised to know about you?

ZAILA: I don’t know.

LUVVIE: Are you an introvert or extrovert?

ZAILA: Well, I’m an extrovert with a timer. What that means is that I’m like Cinderella in the fact that I will be your best friend for two or so hours. I’m good. But I get to a point where I’m like, “Well, it’s time for me to go home,” and it’s that thought… So I’m an extrovert, but I need time to get back home and just recuperate, take a break from people, do yoga, do something, just be with myself.

LUVVIE: To recharge.


LUVVIE: So I might shock you. I think you’re actually an introvert.

ZAILA: Okay.

LUVVIE: You are a social introvert. So what that means is ultimately the introvert and the extrovert of it all is how we receive energy and give energy. Extroverts are people who they might be tired when they’re at home, but then they go out and just being around people gives them energy, so they’re like, “Yes, I’m ready.” Introverts have energy by ourselves, and then when we go out, we give energy to people, so then we’re drained by the end of it and we’re like, “I’m going to go home and go sit in the corner.”

ZAILA: Okay.

LUVVIE: So you might be an introvert who just happens to be social, which is kind of what I am. People always get surprised when I say I’m an introvert because they’re like, “No, but you’re not shy.” I’m like, “It’s not about being shy. It’s about I give my energy and then people drain me and I have to go recharge.”

ZAILA: Okay. I think that’s my new catch phrase now. I’m a social introvert.

LUVVIE: You’re a social introvert. Yes. That also means you’re usually self-motivated. It means that whatever’s happening around you, you might not really be affected by what people are thinking. You’re like, “No, my drive is within me, not necessarily from other people.” So it’s great. I think a lot of people who are avid readers are introverts because we love seeing other worlds in our heads and we love escaping into other worlds. We’d rather do that than be at a party.

ZAILA: Yeah, definitely. Any day. Every day, 100 out of 100 days, I’m staying home.

LUVVIE: So you are definitely the social introvert. Amen. So self-care is important to me. What are the hobbies outside of

reading? Do you go for runs? What do you do to recharge your batteries? You already mentioned yoga. What else?

ZAILA: I actually just got into that, actually, as part of… It’s sort of part of a rehab thing I was doing for an injury I have that I’m doing that, and now I find that I just like it. So I think I would be doing more of it. Also, my big thing is taking baths. Ask anybody. In my family, nobody wants to take showers after me because what happens is that I use all the hot water. So that’s a big thing, if you’re just taking… You’re in the steam, and it’s just so recharging. It’s almost like a magic machine. I can be down in the dumps, not feeling too good. I was just out hanging out with people for 12 hours or something. I need a break. I go into the bath. I come out. It’s a new day. I’m all set. So I would say that’s one of my big recharge things, just taking a shower.

LUVVIE: So give me tips on yoga. I keep being like, “I’m going to try it.”

ZAILA: I’m a beginner. I’m the beginner beginner. I don’t know. I didn’t have any blockages or anything that I was uncertain about when I was getting into it. Just be forewarned, the stuff with really stretching, you’re not going to look like their pictures at first because I’m looking at stuff and I’m looking at myself and I’m looking at the pictures and it’s like, “I don’t look this good.” It’s fine because you’ll get better at it. I’m already seeing some improvement because I was pretty bad when I started. So I would just say just go for it. We’re back to that again.

LUVVIE: I’m going to try it. I’m going to try it. I tried it one time, and I think I got halfway through, and I was like, “I’m bored.” So I got to try it again.

ZAILA: You were bored?

LUVVIE: I was bored. I don’t know why. I did it one time. I think it was four years ago. But I said I was going to try it again and hopefully feel the effects you were saying. Because I’m probably going to be terrible at it, and I also don’t like being bad at something.

ZAILA: Oh, Lord. Who are you telling? [inaudible].

LUVVIE: I was like, “I do not like being bad at something,” so then I’m like, “I know I’m terrible at this right now.” So I got to push myself past the whole thing, like, “Yes, you can still be bad at it, but keep practicing it.” So I got to figure that out. You might be inspiring me for real to go for it. I’m going to try yoga. I’m going to try. I’m going to try it. So when you hear rising troublemaker, what does it bring up for you? What does it mean to you to cause good trouble?

ZAILA: The idea of causing good trouble is really important for me. I never thought of it like causing good trouble, but, definitely, I don’t… For me, that doesn’t mean going in and being a vocal… I’m not going vocally advocating and stuff, but, for me, it’s just being the best me and letting people see that. It’s not quite my personality to be going out there and holding up the signs and stuff, but I’ll just be the person who’s just in the background, just, “Hi, there.” Just being excellent and people just seeing that and maybe getting inspiration from that, for me, that’s enough for me. That’s my good trouble.

LUVVIE: And I love that. That’s valid good trouble. I think the best type of trouble is when you are staying true to yourself, honoring your values, your dreams, and then other people can watch. It’s you just doing what you were going to do anyway, but you’re showing people what’s possible, and you’ve already showed people a lot of what’s possible because you are now a record holder on two different fronts in two very different spaces. Whatever new dreams you come up with, I’m excited to see. You’ve already done so much at 15 that if you were like, “You know what, I’m going to take it easy for some time,” nobody would blame you.
But I think we’re really excited to see whatever you decide to do and when you do become this NBA head coach because, clearly, that’s going to happen, too, because you’re two for two already. You’re two for two. You’re going to be the NBA head coach who in the off-season is getting people ready for space missions. I think it’s amazing. That’s going to be so good. But I am excited to see Gen Z and people like you, the rising troublemakers, show up. Y’all have the audacity we didn’t have, you have the confidence that we could not have, so I am here for it and I am rooting you on. So, yeah, thank you for joining me on Rising Troublemaker.

ZAILA: Thank you for having me here.

If you go all in on your dreams, then you get good results. I mean. A whole word. So many of us have dreams, but we keep them in our heads. We don’t figure out what we need to do to make them happen. And that includes continuing to dream and visualize the ultimate result and transformation we’re trying to achieve.

And to hear a young Black woman who knows so deeply who and what she is, and understands the legacy she’s creating at this age – that is so powerful. We all have people looking to us to catch a vision of what is possible. And to know that at this age is powerful.

Make sure you follow Zalia on social. She’s @zailaavantgarde on Instagram. That’s Z-A-I-L-A-A-V-A-N-T-G-A-R-D-E. You can see some of those basketball skills in action and watch her on the rise.


Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the Professional Troublemaker podcast. If you loved what you heard, make sure you:

  • Subscribe to Professional Troublemaker in your fave podcast platform (Apple Podcasts and Spotify).
  • Leave a rating with a five-star review. Your insights and comments help us gather more Professional Troublemakers into our community.
  • Go to TEXTLUVVIE.com on your phone, and text “PODCAST”! Join our Text Squad, and talk directly to me. Let me know who you’d like me to be in conversation with. Or what topics you want me to do a deep dive on, in a solo episode.

Until next time, make some good trouble.



Squiggle blue replace

Subscribe to Professional Troublemaker

Make sure you’re subscribed and that you rate and review! Share on social media using the hashtag #ProfessionalTroublemaker. Also, follow the podcast on Instagram! Email info@aweluv.com with feedback or questions!

Site Design Rebecca Pollock
Development Alchemy+Aim