Be proud of your strengths and celebrate your weaknesses: This mantra grew out of endless development workshops and performance reviews back in the day, focusing more on blaming weaknesses for failure instead of supporting a healthy balance between both. Our talents are super, and our weaknesses keep us balanced, they make us human. This is why we are all super-(hu)mans, quite literally superheroes.
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 Isabella Zaczek.
Isabella Zaczek believes it takes an uncomfortable analysis and serious commitment to change to create a legacy and greatness.
Having worked for a Fortune 500 telecommunication company for 18 years in Europe and the USA, supporting over 250 global companies across 5 continents, and now back in Germany having led the transport division and managed two companies developing logistics software, Isabella believes global companies have made an art out of complicating relationships and workflows. Having moved back to Germany during the pandemic, Isabella is even more motivated to drive impactful and purposeful change through human and digital transformation. Certified in a variety of cutting-edge leadership and team performance tools, Isabella helps organizations untangle the complexities of people, processes, and metrics, to create stronger bottom lines, more engaged employees, and customer devotion.
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?
Me, myself and I in a nutshell:
-50,000+ hours in the trenches of everything global customer success, operations, sales, bid management, service delivery, project management, global client and team management, talent recruiting and optimization, executive and life coaching, DISC, Leadership Profile, Design Thinking, entrepreneurship, consulting…
-Impacting over 250 customers and top brands globally, converting millions of $, and pulling the odd rabbit out of a hat, being called Tinkerbell thanks to some aces up my sleeves
-Doing my teams and team members proud, trying to walk my talk, and leading them with passion, integrity, and the best of intentions while asking so very much of them…
-My upbringing in Germany, formative years in Scotland, the first taste of real life in Ireland, growing up professionally in Germany, finding my why in the USA, and coming full circle back to Germany for my next chapter…
-Having traveled quite a distance, meeting the most amazing people walking this planet.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
The most interesting chapter in my career was the opportunity to build a global team of ‘rockstars’ within a couple of months, truly building my resilience muscle and testing my comfort zone and my boundaries. At that point in my career, thinking I had already seen some things, I finally understood the meaning of ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’, especially regarding communication, collaboration, and compromise.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Any company that encourages, champions, and commits to change not only stands out but most importantly fosters and grows resilience within its daily practice. My wish for companies is to see resilience as a win-win for stronger bottom lines, more engaged employees, and customer devotion.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life because it takes a village to be successful. There are two incredible humans who I hold very dear as they believed in me during crucial times in my career: -Kevin Paige, a former boss of mine, who grew my leadership skills by being such a role model and challenging and supporting me at the very same time.
Karen Gerwitz, the President of the World Trade Center Denver and the perfect example of a passionate and compassionate leader, was my first client when I started my own boutique consulting firm IZ Consulting.
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?
Tough times, tougher people — for me the essence of resilience. I believe that people who:
-accept joy as their birthright,
-understand that there will always be good and bad, shadow and light in the world and yet stand up and fight for their beliefs,
-let go of control,
-reach out for support and guidance, and
– live life in the moment with gratitude and a healthy dollop of humor,
are truly resilient and capable of achieving everything they want.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different from resilience?
In my opinion, it takes courage to build resilience, and the more resilient you become the more courageous you will be. Courage is a spark, a fire that ignites in a moment. Resilience is the permanent foundation that courage can lean on and evolve from.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I have yet to meet someone more resilient than my mother. I am not even sure that I will achieve the level of resilience she has shown through so many hard times, traumas, and challenges in life. She was my biggest champion, reminding me of my strengths and abilities in times of sorrow. My mother would always say that I can take a short break when I am feeling down and tired but not linger there and get up from the ground and try again.
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?
The one situation that comes to my mind immediately is when I almost failed my final English exam at school in Germany. At that point, I had already received admission to a college in Scotland. My English teacher, upon telling me my grade, made it very clear that he doubted whether I will make it through college at all. When I graduated college, I finished best in class.
Did you have a time in your life when you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My greatest setback so far has been the sudden and unexpected death of my beloved mother and the subsequent moving back to Germany amid the pandemic and earlier than I wanted. After 10 years in Colorado, returning to my home country was nothing short of a culture shock. It has taken me over 2 years to surrender to this change, letting go of what existed before, and what was planned. While I always thrived in change, this time was dramatically different as I was missing my anchor, the one person I could always lean on, my mother. Thanks to so many amazing, loving, and supportive people in my life I was able to step out of the dark into the dawn and come out stronger, doing the things I had put on hold for so long. I am incredibly proud that I finally published my podcast “The Bull, The China Shop, and I” to rock the boat, impact change and build resilience.
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?
This is a tough question. What I ask myself is whether resilience can be built or grown without experiencing trauma and/ or loss first. Thinking about my life so far, it pretty much always was a negative event, loss, and trauma that grew my resilience. Whether I was bullied in elementary school for apparently being the ‘teacher’s pet’, in high school for my working-class background, not wearing hip clothes, and suffering from horrible acne, right up to corporate where I was shown ‘who is boss’ for speaking up and out. While all these events left scars, they also made me the person I am today, being tremendously proud of my roots, my voice, and my determination.
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.
Three years ago, I came up with the following quote: “Your uncomfortable truths are the foundation of permanent (r)evolution.”
In my opinion, resilience is built upon it. To become more resilient requires daily practice…or as I call them resilience mantras:
1. Be proud of your strengths and celebrate your weaknesses: This mantra grew out of endless development workshops and performance reviews back in the day, focusing more on blaming weaknesses for failure instead of supporting a healthy balance between both. Our talents are super, and our weaknesses keep us balanced, they make us human. This is why we are all super-(hu)mans, quite literally superheroes.
2. In times of loss and defeat, grieve — to the full extent: Grieving my mother’s death brought me to my knees. Being a certified life coach, I was naive to think that I had all the tools I need to process this trauma. What I tried instead was to shortcut and cheat grief. Needless to say, it backfired big time. As it almost always does when you try to take a shortcut and cheat any process.
3. When one door closes, it’s time to buy the building (Shelley Zalis): I wish I had this quote at my side so much earlier in life. It is what pure determination, resilience, and focus are all about. Sometimes closing a chapter and walking away is the best option and then there are those times when getting up, fixing your crown, and fighting for your beliefs, values, and dreams is essential to moving forward. This is especially poignant in my current career change, finally having been allowed to do what I wanted to do for a very long time and after many rejections.
4. ‘No’ is a full sentence: Oh, yes…this one is a daily practice for sure and key to probably everyone’s mental health and resilience. You can only show up and take care of your loved ones when you show up and take care of yourself first. And this requires boundaries. For me, it is about being clear about my priority when serving my community without becoming a servant trying to please everyone. It is also the essence of letting go of what doesn’t serve you and making room for growth.
5. Breathe — just like a muscle, resilience will be stronger or weaker on any given day: Breathing is probably the most automated human process. And yet I feel that we are trying to go against human nature. I became painfully aware of exactly that when I started with yoga over 15 years ago. Not being in the best shape of my life, trying to prove my worth and that I can take on everything, I forgot how to breathe. I credit yoga for saving my life. Being able to breathe into your core, is essential to building and growing resilience. For me it is also a place to resort to when I need a ‘breather’, to find my inner peace, reflect and be mindful of my actions.
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. There are so many to choose from. And yet, what I hear myself talking about repeatedly is to ‘meet in the middle’ by engaging in critical conversations, facing uncomfortable truths, and actively listening to each other. We seem to react to one extreme by going to the opposite extreme, fighting to prove each other wrong or right instead of giving common sense, human logic, and facts an honest chance for compromise.
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 🙂
I would need an entire ballroom for that brunch. Top of my list is Shelley Zalis, an amazing trailblazer for women, and hopefully a future guest on my podcast.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please find me on LinkedIn where I am happy to connect.
You can also subscribe to my podcast, The Bull, The China Shop, and I, to rock the boat, ignite change, and provide your input.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!