Leadership, like a great meal, requires the right blend of ingredients and a smart recipe. Add seasoning. Set the cooking temperature. Prep the ingredients. Follow the plan. Recipes are meant to be personalized and adjusted to fit one's taste. But deviate too far from the necessary steps, and your meal won't turn out the right way. My own recipe for leadership involves four essential ingredients: understanding, thoughtfulness, patience and control.
I try my best to be understanding of people, situations and issues. Listening and critical thinking are vital to leadership.
During the early days of Fresh n' Lean, the organic meal delivery company I started in 2010, I performed every job — from washing the dishes and cooking the meals to portioning them out in trays and doing customer service.
I ended up working countless 20-hour days, pouring every ounce of my waking energy into the company.
In the moment, it was a lot to tackle. But looking back on it now, that experience was significant and meaningful. Working every job gave me an understanding of what I want from my employees, and it allowed me to relate to the work that I ask employees to do across all departments.
That background gives me a huge appreciation and deep respect for every person on the team. I know exactly what they contribute. The company is one big puzzle, and everyone is a piece of that puzzle.
I was 18 years old when I started Fresh n' Lean.
Photo credit: Laureen Asseo
My father's health struggles inspired me. After he faced a crisis, eating fresh organic meals helped him regain his health. I want everyone to have access to nutrient-rich meals that are convenient and affordable, just like my father did.
Navigating the corporate world as a young woman has come with its obstacles. During meetings with mostly older men, they'd ask me my age, and I would feel compelled to lie and say I was 27.
I would be in meetings, and instead of asking me questions, men would direct their questions to my male counterparts. I'm right here! Hello!
Other times, people would come into the office and try to tell me what to do, or how I should do things differently, suggesting I must not know anything because I don't have the proper experience.
Those conversations were difficult and intimidating. They caught me off guard and troubled me deeply. But I stuck to my guns, and I'm happy I did.
Too many people discount others because of their preconceived notions, and that mistake can be costly. I consider who I'm dealing with and address them accordingly — my expectations and responses are not one-size-fits-all.
Change takes time.
Society has evolved during the decade I've been running Fresh n' Lean. People are doing more to empower women to be entrepreneurs and leaders and really showcase them, especially young women. That change is reflected on the cover of magazines like Forbes or Inc or Time.
Is everything 100% equal? No. But compared to the way it was 10, 20, 50 years ago, there's been a lot of progression, and I see it continuing.
It's important to remain patient in the process and realize that some things are going to take time. It may take you months or years for you to implement the changes you'd like to make.
I feel very fortunate. There are many countries that don't allow women to run their own business.
I'm grateful to be able to wake up and do what I do each day, even if there are roadblocks along the way.
Being a business leader is never easy, whether you're a man or woman, young or old.
More people are becoming empowered to take that risk.
My advice for women looking to be leaders: don't let the naysayers put you down. We can't change the way people perceive us, and in some cases, even if we are the most competent person in the room, we won't always get the attention we deserve. And that's OK!
A lot of times in a meeting I'll sit quietly and listen and observe, waiting for the right moment to make my voice heard. You don't have to be the loudest person to be the most powerful.
As a leader, it's important not to wear your emotions on your sleeve. The last thing I want to do is show my employees that there's a problem or that I'm stressed, because that sends the wrong message.
I try to always have a smile and remain calm in every situation.
I never yell — all that does is tune people out. Remaining level-headed is vital. No matter how stressed I am, I make sure it's never apparent from the outside.
Empower others, empower yourself
The key to leadership is empowering people to believe in themselves and encouraging them to be the best they can be.
I want my employees to trust their judgment. A lot of people second-guess themselves. Maybe they're worried about failing or afraid of taking risks. But we can surprise ourselves when we follow our instincts and trust our gut.
Take the risk. Don't be afraid to fail. If things don't turn out the right way, you can always double-check your recipe, make any necessary adjustments and try again.
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Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.