I met Adela when I was organizing a Mentorship Programme in AIESEC Bucharest, the youth organisation I was part of for some years. She gave me insights on how to design the programme and also became a mentor for one of the organisation members. She caught my attention on our first meeting for her warm approach and openness as if we had known each other for long time. Back then, she was a Learning and Development Professional in a bank and today she is a professional coach and trainer on Emotional Intelligence. To me, she is a great inspiration on how to live a brave and honest life and interact with others with positivity and kindness.
I invite you to read her life-story and find out how she transformed her major failure into a personal discovery process and later into a professional career. Also, in this interview, Adela talks about the importance of identifying and accepting emotions and revealed how she deals with the difficult ones.
Adela, one of the reasons why I decided to talk to you is because I admire how you do the things you do – with great kindness and empathy- and I would like to have a conversation about your story and the way you perceive life. I will start with my first question, which is simple, yet complicated: Who is Adela?
If I think about roles, the first one that comes to my mind is the one of a mother of a son because I’m participating in the creation of a new life for someone else. And then, I’m a wife and then the professional, with everything it involves and there are other sub-roles.
How did you spend the last 20 years of your life?
Let me think about it…so, it’s from 19 to nowadays. Well, 19 was a very challenging period, because three things happened in the same year. The first was the fact that I had my admission exam to university and I failed. There were 50 places available and I was the 55th one on the list, so I was rejected. Back then I considered it a big failure and I was not prepared for it, I was coming from a good college where 99.99% of graduates were succeeding to pass the university admission exams and I was the one who failed.
And then, one after the other, two major things happened. One night, my family business burnt to the ground. My mother had a small fast food restaurant that used to be the main financial source for the family. One morning, she went to work and everything was gone. No insurances, nothing… Thinking back now, I believe that it was really good that I failed the university entrance examination and had to stay home because this way, I could be close to my mother as it was important for her. On the other hand, I was very close to all the troubles, challenges, painful thoughts, crying and all of that. I was not ready for those two big negative experiences at once. Yet, it was not over, one month after the fire I was having pains in my abdomen which I didn’t care about and they led to serious complications that brought me to an emergency surgery. It was really too much to handle at once.
But if I think retrospectively, these 3 events taught me some lessons: one is that your life can come to a cross road any time, meaning that today you are ok but anything can happen tomorrow, good or bad, so you have to be prepared to handle whatever comes. The second one was that failure is an option too, because, back then, I didn’t know how to handle it so I put a hard label on myself: “You are just stupid”. This actually followed me when I started to have success as I kept believing about myself that I was some kind of impostor. I needed to learn to remove this label. And the third lesson is that you have to be really connected to yourself and when I’m saying “to yourself” I mean to your body also. Pain is something positive because it sends a message and if you don’t listen to the message, you can really screw it.
So, you mentioned the events when you were 19. What other events followed afterwards? Or major activities that you’ve been involved in?
The years which came had some good and bad things. I lacked support because my mother had a difficult time recovering after the fire so I had to start work as a second year university student.
So you got into university in the end?
I got into university, in a private one, but due to all that happened I became so curious about the whole area of emotional intelligence, trying to understand better what led to my failure, because it was clearly something related to how I handled my emotions. I managed to understand a lot about how my brain was working and not working and why.
So you learned all of this while you were studying?
While I was studying and then afterwards. I mean, I got really curious about how the mind works, what impact all those emotions have on ourselves, what is resilience and a lot of things of this kind.
What were you studying?
Psychology. I remember that I was really afraid of success, and every time I got very close to succeeding or finishing something big, I panicked. There were a lot of times when maybe I didn’t try hard enough, as I was afraid to show everything that I could do. I had a lot of fears that I needed to face straight on.
So, for how long have these old fears had an impact on you?
I’ m not even sure. Maybe I still have some shadows of them…
Let me put it in another way. When did you start to be conscious of them and work towards these fears that are you talking about?
It was a process, but along the process, something happened. I got more in contact with myself. If I was to think about some milestones, one of them was when I got back to work in the spring of 2007, after a one year and a half of maternity leave. I felt the need to do something for myself so I started an NLP course (neuro-linguistic programming). The content is not important, because it was not the techniques that were really relevant to me, but the whole experience with other colleagues – getting in touch with other people and sharing our most intimate fears, thoughts and wishes helped me to become more self-conscious and more self-reflective and also realize that I was not alone, each and every one of my colleagues had his own pack of bad experiences, failures, fears.
What are you doing now and why?
Now I am a freelancer, facilitating learning and development experiences for people (coaching and training). I really like it because I can choose projects that have an impact, that are meaningful for me and for others and in which I can really bring a valuable contribution.
And how did you choose to have an impact?
I’m teaching emotional intelligence now, which is something that I needed to know when I was a young adult. If I had participated in an emotional intelligence course when I was 17-19 years old, maybe my whole experience would have been totally different. But now, I get so much satisfaction when I share with my students those things I missed in my education years. Some weeks ago I delivered a course to a group of students whose ages ranged from 16 to 47. It was so meaningful to have all those people of different ages, with different experiences in different life stages share their stories and support each other. It was powerful to see all those people gathering their experiences together and teaching one another.
Even if you are 47, you can learn from a teenager, who is still a dreamer, and the other way around. I remember a lady who introduced herself this way: “I am x and I haven’t achieved anything in my life until now”. I was sure that she actually had achieved something in life, but, because of the way in which she approached herself, she couldn’t see the beautiful things that happened to her – she was healthy and alive. For sure, there were really positive moments, but when you’re down, you can’t see them. For me, it’s really easy to connect with all these experiences because there were moments when I failed, when I thought about myself that I didn’t achieve anything in my life. It matters how you are looking at the reality.
I manage myself by acknowledging emotions and thoughts and choosing in a conscious way where to put my attention: to the positive or to the negative.
I am curious to find out what or who helped you to move on in those times when you felt like giving up and hanging there? Were there books, or courses, or people around you that inspired you one way or another? Or you did you do this all by yourself?
For sure, there were books and stories that inspired me. I was like “c’mon, my story is nothing, comparing to some others’ stories”. I remember for example when I had read Victor Frankl’s book, “Man in Search of Meaning”, and I cried for two days in a row. These kind of stories helped me realize that it could have been a lot worse.
Let’s now look back at the image of your road life. We’ve talked about the valleys that you’ve been through and I would like to focus now on the mountains that you’ve climbed. Which is the greatest achievement that you are proudest of?
I wouldn’t put labels on some moments, but it’s really rewarding for me when someone comes to me and says: “you told me something that was really meaningful and made me think and take some decisions or changed something”. These are the things that make me feel like I’ve reached the summit.
That’s so beautiful. Now, you know there is an open wide world about happiness, more people are studying, teaching, writing and singing about topics like positive psychology, mindfulness, creativity and well-being. How do you perceive that? Do you feel that has a positive influence on people’s lives?
For sure. I am also teaching these things to students that come to my courses. The extremes are not good in any environment. The same applies to happiness: if you’re looking only for happiness, you might miss some lessons that are hidden in negative feelings and experiences. You have to be present in the moment, be connected with the reality, but also dream and plan the future in a conscious way, otherwise the future might not be meaningful. Absolut happiness doesn’t exist. We’re all humans, we are complex, and we have to accept that sometimes we are not happy and that sadness is something really livable. We need to pay attention to it, not to dig or stay into sadness for a long time, but give it the attention that it deserves.
How do you cope with negative emotions when they pop up?
It depends. Sometimes, I just let myself be sad and other times, I take a walk. For me, walking is good because it clears up my mind. I also have dialogues with these negative voices and now I no longer give them power as I used to, but, in a way, I challenge them and make fun of them. I will give you an example. My son went to a summer camp, where they had a pool and the “screenplay writer” (I named one of my nagging voices like this) started to tell me something like “oh, my God, the pool is so dangerous – the kids will not pay attention, something bad will happen”. And there was bubbling- bubbling… it’s like you turn on the TV and there is a horror movie and you say you don’t want to watch it. So, I thought: “But what if he is having the best time of his life?”, thinking he could enjoy his water splashing along with his colleagues. I mean, this is something that I learned I can control and it’s really helpful –it’s like pressing a different button on the remote control to rewrite the screenplay. This technique also helps me in my professional life, when for example I was challenged with a difficult project that I accepted and immediately after I was like “Oh, my God, what have I done? What will happen? What if I am not ready enough?” And then, I allowed myself to feel these emotions and I decided that everything that would happen would be alright. So I manage myself by acknowledging emotions and thoughts and choosing in a conscious way where to put my attention: to the positive or to the negative.
I see that. That’s fantastic. What’s your definition of happiness, then?
Happiness is not jumping up and down with a smile on your face no matter what. No, happiness means being comfortable with yourself, it’s more like a calm and peaceful internal state. There are moments when I don’t have a smile on my face and I’m still okay with myself. A lot of people tell me that I look serious, but I’m happy when I’m serious. If I work on something and I focus, I don’t feel like smiling still I am really enjoying it. On the hand, sometimes, when I write an e-mail, I smile and my husband asks me why am I smiling and I respond that I’m writing something nice to a person and smiling helps me express emotions to another person through written words.
What are the teachings of emotional intelligence that you share with the participants?
A: It depends on the audience. Overall what am I teaching them is some helpful tools and things that have been scientifically proven. For me, it’s meaningful because we have an amazing tool that is not replaceable: our brain, so let’s understand how it works. And then, I teach them how you can connect with others to a deeper level, how their networks are influencing, and how to build meaningful relationships. So, these are some topics discussed within the bigger topic of emotional intelligence.Sharing experiences is more meaningful for people because they realise that they’re not alone, that their experiences are universal. I think there is a huge need for that, at least in the Romanian society, where a lot of generations seem disconnected from their emotional side, maybe due to communism or maybe due to our content base education where the mind is the king and emotions are not really given space.
Ok, we’ve reached the last question. What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
This is a tough one. It seems like it would be simple, but I would say: “Just accept yourself the way you are”. I didn’t accept myself for a very long time, when I thought that I should have been more in a way of another, or that I should have had different or more qualities. I’m not sure if I’m accepting myself 100% now, but I’m definitely kinder to myself. You must treat yourself with patience and kindness and just allow the experience you encounter in your life to happen and then learn the lesson. Also, if I were to give advice to my 11-year-old son, I would say: “Along your journey in life, you are the only person that will be next to you, the whole time”. If you’re present in your life, of course. The others are just partners for some of your time. There will be people that you will meet for two meaningful hours and there will be others that will be next to you for 10 years and some of the relationships may prove meaningless. But the only person with whom you will be until the last moment of your life is just yourself, so, try to be kind to others, but first, you must be kind to yourself.
The first picture is from Adela’s personal archive.
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