Have a Plan A and a plan B — Face the facts that even the best plans can fail, no matter how hard we try, see me things just don’t turn out. Be flexible and while working on Plan A, in the back of your mind form a plan B. You will be surprised how often Plan B will become the best path to success.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Agota Gabor.
Agota Gabor, empowers women to chase dreams, reinvent themselves, and succeed against all odds. Gabor grew up as a ‘Ballet rat” –a ballerina to be- at the Budapest Opera. She contracted polio, which shattered her dreams and after the 1956 revolution she sought refuge with her mother in Canada, Gabor recovered from polio, and became a nightclub performer in swinging Montreal. She later earned a journalism degree from Ryerson University and worked in television in Canada, the Far East and Europe.
Gabor began her career in Public Relations in Hong Kong, at the Mandarin Hotel, doing publicity for visiting heads of States, and celebrities (Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, The Shah of Iran, Shirley Bassey, Lee Radziwill), and continued PR in London England as Public Relations Manager of the London Intercontinental Hotel.
In1981 she founded The Gabor Group, a Communications Company in Toronto, which she is still running today. Gabor lives life to its fullest despite having post-polio syndrome. During the COVD-19 pandemic, 2021, she released the handbook, Public Speaking, Presentations, Media Interviews — proving that age does not determine relevancy.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I was born in Budapest, Hungary. I grew up during a communist dictatorship but had a magical childhood. I was a ballet Rat at the Budapest Opera house.
If you visited a major opera house anywhere in the world, you’d find us Rats: scurrying underfoot at rehearsals, loitering about during the off-hours, eagerly watching any event or performance. We ate, breathed, slept, dreamed, worked, and lived for the love of ballet. It was: study, sleep, practice, perform. That’s all we did, and we loved it more than anything we could imagine.
Then at age 15 I contracted polio. I was paralyzed and my dreams of becoming a ballerina, were shattered.
I improved after a year of very hard physiotherapy, and was about to start working towards becoming an actress, when the 1956 Hungarian revolution happened.
My Mom and I were among 200,000 Hungarians fleeing the country. We ended up in Canada.
After working as a model and night club dancer, I went back to school and got a Journalism degree. I worked for ten years as a television journalist and then stated by communications business, which I ran for over 30 years.
I am married and have a daughter and two grandchildren
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My biggest account of my early years in business was General Motors of Canada. In addition to holding workshops for GM executives, we sent visuals of various GM plants and workers to the television networks for use as archival footage.
One of the most-used visuals was a short video clip I called “The Dance of the Robots.” The fascinating and somewhat graceful way the robots were moving among the cars on the assembly line reminded me of ballet, and I couldn’t resist editing their 180 movements to Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker.
The lesson is: consider small, original ideas. They often have the most impact.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Know what you know best. We became story tellers on video and used long version TV to tell those stories.
A good example was our campaign to educate the public about Insurance fraud and how everyone pays for it. Our concept was to present it as a TV program.
The television special, Scruples (Or, What Would You Do)? was produced as a town hall meeting with an audience and a panel of experts. We played short video vignettes on a giant screen, with actors playing out various scenarios. One showed a woman at an ATM, withdrawing cash. The video shows her selecting sixty dollars, counting the cash, and realizing that she received eighty dollars instead.
We then asked the audience what they would do in that situation. Would they pocket the money? Or go into the bank and give it back? A panel discussion about fraudulent behavior followed.
Scruples was shown on Global TV and syndicated across Canada.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Dodi Robb, one of Canadian TV’s first female executives was my mentor.
I first met her in 1961, when after about a year of modeling in Toronto, I decided it was time to try to get into television. Armed with my success as a ballroom dance teacher at the Arthur Murray studios in Ottawa, I had the idea that I could also teach ballroom dancing on television. I watched daytime TV talk shows, and I decided that teaching people to dance would be a natural broadcast segment.
I managed to get an appointment with Dodi Robb, who I heard was a pioneer of Canadian television and one of TV’s few female executives. At that time, she was producer of CFTO’s morning show. She liked my idea for a dance segment and gave me a chance.
I appeared once a week, around nine thirty in the morning, and taught the cameras to dance the foxtrot, the cha-cha, and the waltz. I had graphics created showing the various steps, and I asked the audience to write in to receive them by mail. Within six months we were getting close to a thousand letters a week.
Six months later, when Dodi became executive producer of CBC network’s afternoon show Take 30, she took my segment and me with her.
She also gave me my first director job and later producer job at CBC. I am not sure, I could have done it without her.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Mom used to tell me, “Agota, ne ugraj.” The verbatim translation is “stop jumping around.” What she really meant was “think before you act.”
My best friend, Mary Lou, tells me being impulsive is both my best and my worst characteristic. She and my mom are both right. But sometimes if you don’t jump at opportunities fast, you may not jump at them at all. That’s when you really miss out.
I believe in taking chances and taking risks. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But it is necessary to take chances in life.
I think if you want to list the characteristics of resilient people those would be:
- Belief in yourself — self confidence
- Taking risks
- Having a plan A and having a plan B
- Using your strengths
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
They are similar. Try, and come back from failure. Then try again.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Hillary Clinton. Because, in her private, professional and political life she dealt with failure she couldn’t control. She worked hard and was close to become a Democratic candidate, but the time and the charisma belonged to Barack Obama. In the next election, the times and mood of a divided nation was her enemy.
Yet she bounces back and keeps on going.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Starting a new business in which I first had to explain my product and then sell it.
Media training in Canada was nonexistent in 1981. Business executives were most often advised to say nothing, or “no comment” to the media.
I learned from New York City experts, how to train executives to develop key messages.
When I was cold-calling and offering my services, the reply often was: What? And why would we do that? Today, being able to speak to the media is an essential skill and most communications firms now offer the media training service.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
For the first 15 years of my life, dancing and ballet were my life. But then I got polio.
While I have to fight the virus all my life, I managed to carve out an active and wonderful existence.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Because I had polio and had to learn to walk and move again, I had to be resilient. Then, 40 years later, polio came back in the form of the post-polio syndrome, which I will continue to fight as long as I live.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient?
Please share a story or an example for each.
- Optimism and the belief that things will work out
When My Mom and I arrived in Canada, we were frightened, but because we were optimistically looking ahead to a future, we made it our home.
You need to believe in yourself if you want to sell people on the idea that you are the answer to their needs.
- Have a Plan A and a plan B
Face the facts that even the best plans can fail, no matter how hard we try, see me things just don’t turn out. Be flexible and while working on Plan A, in the back of your mind form a plan B. You will be surprised how often Plan B will become the best path to success
- Hard work
Without hard work, there is nothing. Luck is great! But you have to work hard to get lucky!
I found that physical exercise was a must for me. How else can you be strong and resilient? At one point of my life, I had a full time job, went to night school, and took care of my ailing mom m and a teenaged daughter. The one hour each day I stole for Pilates was my time
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think people should think more and try to follow their dreams. I am not a ‘start a movement person’
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Hillary Clinton, because I admire her resilience and smarts.
Misty Copeland, because to become the first black Odette/Odile is a great accomplishment and she is tough and admirable.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!