Tell me how you got started. My road to executive coaching and leadership development started with an onset of sudden panic attacks. I have always had the “good girl” syndrome – working hard, being “the best” student, striving for unwavering acknowledgment and praise from teachers, needing recognition from bosses and colleagues, etc. This worked very well as a technique when I was growing up and even into my early career. I went to all the “right” schools (Horace Mann, Georgetown, Columbia), got the “right” job (PR and marketing), was making “good” money yet something always felt off despite the outward appearances of happiness. It’s funny how something ridiculous like a panic attack (merely a manifestation of fear, I believe), can bring this obsession for “good girl” or “nice girl” to a screeching halt. At first, I ignored the attacks – I would be up in the middle of the night trying to catch my breath, sweating, sometimes fainting, then they would subside and I assumed the worst had passed. But they persisted. Sometimes I would just be sitting on the couch or happily enjoying dinner with friends and the symptoms of nausea, breathlessness, dizziness, waves of warmth would just echo in and out of my body. It’s like I was experiencing myself outside of myself. Long story short – I couldn’t ignore the attacks any longer. What ensued was a year-long journey of rediscovering myself – finding peace within. Because I was, quite honestly, addicted to finding validation, love, appreciation from the outside-in, I had lost touch with what I wanted, what I yearned for, what I was meant to do on this Earth. This journey had many ups and downs, incredible discoveries, frightening truths revealed. In the end, the truth was simple – not easy, but simple. It was time to get quiet, go within, and unleash my inner strength and power no matter what everyone around me believed to be the “right” thing for me to do, say, and feel. Back to executive coaching and leadership development – this is who I always was. As a little kid, I would be the one giving out advice, helping people much older than me find solace through my intuitive listening, helping force clarity out of chaos. It seemed too “easy” to make a career out of who I simply was. But alas, a year of rediscovering my deepest truths allowed me to see that there is no room for hiding any longer. And so, I quit my “good girl” life, started my own practice, and am now serving companies, organizations, and individuals who are serious about finding their personal power through leadership development.
What interests you most about what you’re doing now? Helping people tap into their most powerful selves. I have always been able to see what’s possible in people – not in a Pollyanna, rose-colored glasses sort of way – but in a tough-love, truth-unleashing way. I believe that only when we tap into our deepest inner worlds can we truly hear the voice of our intuition. From that place, we find not only inner peace also profound wisdom. When we have courage to act from that place, everything changes – from relationships and work to money and happiness. My personal mission is to help teach as many people as possible to lead their most inspired lives.
What’s been your biggest accomplishment? Biggest challenge? I think the biggest accomplishment and biggest challenge are bundled into one. Without a doubt, it was finding the courage to stop listening to everyone else and go inward to unlock the answers. For me, it was leaving the comfort of a corporate job that just felt like “work” and starting my own company – without a safety net, just my belief in myself and my passion for helping others. On my bulletin board is a quote which I read each day: “Leap and the net will appear”. So often, we wait for the net, and keep waiting for the net, and when it doesn’t show up, we shrink in our fear and decide not to leap. It doesn’t work this way. FIRST, we need to courageously leap in the direction of our knowingness, and then the universe conspires to bring us everything that we need to live that passion or purpose to its fullest. So yes, my biggest accomplishment was the leap – and staying true to it despite the ups and downs of the incredible roller-coaster of entrepreneurship has been my biggest challenge. And worth every minute, I might add.
Who or what inspires you? So much in my world inspires me but if I had to choose something, I would say simple gestures that I observe each day as I move from client to client. Last week, a crippled man entered the NYC subway and asked for money. While most of us looked away (partly because this happens so often), one man looked at him straight in the eye, opened his backpack, and gave him a home-made lunch that I presume was making its way to work with the commuter. I felt a sudden stream of joy and admiration go up my spine. Other days, it’s observing two friends playing in Central Park and noticing that a third child is sitting alone with his baby sitter. Rather than ignore this child, they go up to him and invite him to play. The way his little face lights up brings another shiver of gratitude towards me. A smile from a stranger, holding a bus door longer than you have to, swiping your metro-card because the person behind you forgot hers – these simple moments that remind us we are not alone, we all contribute to one another’s happiness in big ways and small. This is what most inspires me – in the chaos of our days, to remember this simple truth.
Why is peace sexy to you? What does “Peace is Sexy” evoke for you? When I’m working with my clients and see them tap into their inner power and strength for the first time – I can literally see a tremendous wave of inner peace washing over them. It’s as if they have been freed from shackles – indeed they have, the shackles were just the voices in their head keeping them playing a small game in life. This inner peace brings an incredible amount of strengths, grace, elegance, even power to the surface. I believe when someone is exuding that power – all manifested through inner peace – sexy is an effortless side-effect! When people exude their inner confidence, they are sexy. They embody every single part of themselves – they own it. “Peace is Sexy” reminds me that it all begins within – and when we feel sexy from the inside-out, the outside-in just radiates light, passion, and energy. And who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by people like THAT throughout their days, weeks, and lives? Sign me up!
What is a simple thing you do to create peace? What is something you do everyday? I begin my day with 20 minutes of mindfulness. Some days it’s a guided meditation, other days it’s journaling in order to get thoughts out of my mind and onto paper, other days it’s a walk through Central Park. Connecting with peace, for me, is remembering that we are part of something so much bigger, so much wiser, so much more magnificent than we can ever imagine. When I surrender, with a simple morning intention, to that vastness, I feel peace exude. And if the day to day becomes chaotic, a simple few deep breaths, no matter where I am, can bring me back to that space of calm and connection.
How would you like Peace is Sexy to make a difference in what you are up to? I would love to incorporate Peace is Sexy into my lectures and teachings in Corporate America. I think that these corporations and organizations are hungry for this type of work. And to me, peace is directly linked to the leadership development work that I coach and teach. If there are modules, lessons, soundbites, articles, etc. – we need to get them into the hands of the “enlightened corporates” that I serve. If we make it easy to access, those who are ready can take it from there. So much of this work is about creating ripple effects.
Where would you like to see your passion go in the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? I want to be the Oprah of Corporate America. I think conversations of mindfulness, leadership, personal power are so needed right now in industries where people work each day and experience so much pain – whether through anxiety and stress or lack of fulfillment and hope. And I believe that it starts with each and every one of us, particularly those who hold leadership positions and have the capacity to impact dozens, hundreds, or thousands of lives. I would love to create personal development programs (audios, books, live events) that not only inspire but transform people from living “good lives” to living their most powerful and profoundly purposeful lives. Big vision? Yes. Possible? Absolutely.
Is there anything else you want to tell us? I’m big on quotes. I read a quote from Gandhi the other day that really resonated with me. He wrote that when what we think, what we say, and what we do are in alignment, we are happy. So much of my work and the work of Peace is Sexy is around aligning those three components. So often we think something and lack the courage to act in that direction. Or we say something which is incongruent to how we end up acting. If we can put just a little bit of conscious energy into aligning those three each day, I really believe that both peace and leadership are very close behind.
Find out more about Valia and get in touch at The Paradox of Leadership