Interview to Andrea Serrano

For many different reasons, the fourth interview of the year took me more than expected but it makes me so happy to be back writing about another rich conversation. This time my interviewee is a woman that I admire a lot. Andrea is an outstanding professional and a great professor that I was lucky to experience when I did my Marketing specialization at Universidad Catolica Argentina. I feel lucky and grateful for the time I got to spend with Andrea and her generosity to share her experience and to exchange points of view. What I love most about the interview was her push back in some of the concepts or my interpretation of them and how generous she was to offer different perspectives. I hope you enjoy the reading! Thank you Andre.

Thinking about the choice

From the book: It is a choice. A choice to buy into the fear and the system or to chart your own path and create value as you do. It is your job to figure out how to chart the path, because charting the path is the point.

When we started discussing “The choice”, Andrea very quickly understood the concept and very clearly told me that since she was very young, around the age of 9, she already knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Study business and develop a career in Marketing. She has never had a vocational crisis. It was never a conflict for her to think and manage her career. As she explains it, it was by the book: Graduate from college, do an internship in a big company and go from there. She was thorough and had clear objectives and she remembers herself as not being the best at all times but being always in the top 3. All the decisions she made were towards her dream. But (big BUT), when she got there, when she got the position and the job she has been working for so long, she realized she was not enjoying it. She realized that job did not make her happy. As we were talking about this topic and her experience, Andrea acknowledged that the clarity she has when she tells the story is driven by all the learning that she gain looking back at her career and she said “When you are swimming in the river, you don’t know if you are half way through or where you actually are”. It is hard to fully realize what is going on when you are going through something like what she explained to me. At that point she could not make a decision to quit the company she was working for but the company made the decision for her and let her go. It was then when she started asking herself “What do I really want to do?” It wasn’t clear. She decided to start “walking” slowly and let her intuition guide her. She learnt how to look at things and if something is not working or she doesn’t like it, she lets it go. She gave herself permission to go with the flow, overcome fear and stop following some rules or doing things “by the book”. And in that process, she realized that there was nothing wrong, that nothing happened, that being fired wasn’t that bad. And that gave her permission to try new things. She started making smaller yet assertive decisions. It made her think there was less risk. The first move was to go back to the corporate world. That second chance did not work either and she finally quit to start working independently. She explored different options. She realized no model is perfect and that you have to walk and build as you go. Today, I would call her a hybrid. She is an entrepreneur but has a lot of stability working most of the time for a business strategy agency in different projects. It is what works for her nowadays because among other things she feels she has the freedom to generate value for the people she work for because she does not operate under any fear, she is driven by conviction. It is honest for the company and for the customer. She gives 101% because she has nothing to lose, it is all genuine.

I was impressed by Andrea’s story and I continue to be as I listen to the recording and write these lines. I feel I am not making justice to her story. One of the things I know from her and I hope it is coming through is the GRIT. And since “GRIT” from Angela Duckworth is the book I am currently reading, I decided to connect her to this concept that was not familiar to her. Specifically, around the fact that, in very simple terms, it is good to have talent but it is not enough if there is no GRIT, meaning passion + perseverance. She liked the concept and build on it. First, she mentioned “Outliers” and reminded me that those outstanding people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others “did not build their businesses in the shower. They spent +10,000 hours pushing the pencil”. Andre believes talent is sometimes overestimated and wrongly measured. It is not true that we are born with it and there is no hard work behind it. She believes in natural talent but she thinks it is mediocre to just stay with that talent as is because we have done nothing to have it. The secret is around what the person does with the talent, what she or he does to grow it and multiply it. And that is when GRIT comes to play. She believes that we need GRIT so that the talent does not become a burden. “When you are good at something and people acknowledge it, it feeds our ego and makes us think that with low effort we can outperform. You start walking a successful path but if there is no passion, that plant will dry out and the more profound question will come back: Why am I doing this? Having a talent is a plus but we build from passion. And in order to express this even better, she offered me another book: Ikigay. Form Google: Ikigai (ee-key-guy) is a Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” When combined, these terms mean that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose. The following diagram says it clear:

My personal note: I love these conversations. They make me a better person and a better professional. They make me a better listener. I feel like a student trying to absorb all the knowledge from people I admire. They remind me to stay humble. And I love to connect what I read in Linchpin with the experience of the interviewee but most importantly to re-think together the different concepts and re-connect them to other books and experiences. From Linchpin to GRIT, I feel Andrea’s story about her choices is inspiring. From her clarity early on to a moment of fear followed by a decision to follow her intuition and ask herself “What do I really want to do?” A simple yet so profound question that can help us guide our paths to doing what makes us happy. It is such a powerful story towards the end when she reveals that she was afraid at some point but she was able to overcome the fear that the system impose to us and now operates from a place of freedom, value and conviction. So Linchpin! And I am so glad that she introduced me to the Ikigay, the Japanese concept that has given a Japanese community the chance to live over 100 years driven by purpose and happiness. Another connection, another new concept I learn and share here to inspire more people.

The Resistance

From the book: So, why is this so hard? It turns out that it is biological. Deep within your brain lies the amygdala, the lizard brain. It sets out to sabotage anything that feels threatening, risky or generous. Until you name, recognize, and deal with the resistance, you will stay frustrated.

Andrea told me something very interesting she has read in the book “Letting Go” by Dr. David Hawkins. As human beings we connect with our thoughts and not with our emotions. Thoughts can take you anywhere, but the key is to find the emotion that is behind it. If it is about safety, find out how to feel safe, if it is about frustration, find what is driving that emotion. It is important that we understand what are the emotions that drive the thoughts than the though itself. In her particular situation, Andre faced fear after realizing she has prepared herself her whole life for something that in the end was not what she wanted. Looking back, she acknowledges that she had the courage to stop and say “I changed, I have figured that what I want today is different than what I though it would be”. And the fear she felt, it was also driven by the perspective of other people or, in other words, what would they say? She feels strong about how others can influence us “It is not true that we don’t care about what people say. It could be your mother, your father, your spouse, it could be Instagram”. During this specific conversation she gave herself room to reflect on a friend’s career, someone who has been jumping from one job to the other. “As a first reaction I was horrified. But the second thought was why do I have to feel horrified? You should feel like that if you spend 10 years in a place where you don’t want to be. He goes where he wants to go and probably does not let the system, or the view of others influence his decisions”. As a final thought, she said “The perspective from other people could be decisive depending who the other one is and if it is a shared decision or an individual one.

Before we moved to the next topic, Andre shared a final conclusion about the Resistance which is also connected to something Seth Godin mentioned in the Choice section of the book. Sometimes, we blame it on the outside and when we say “I can’t”, in reality is “I don’t want to”. Some time ago, she wanted to take a break from teaching in college but she always told to herself “I can’t”. Last year and due to a personal situation, she had to ask for a 6 months leave. So, in the end, she asks herself “Was it real that I couldn’t? No, it was that I didn’t want to, I couldn’t stand the “I can’t do it”.

My personal note: Andrea is the first person that takes the topic of resistance to a specific place, particularly to how we can be impacted but what others think and say about us. As a father of two young girls, I am particularly interested in this topic and whether it is peers or social media, I am afraid of how this can impact their life and their development but at the same time I am determined to help them. And that is when courage and determination kick in. Twol characteristics of Andrea’s personality that allowed her to overcome the Resistance and her fear to change, to acknowledge that she was not doing what she liked and that she needed a change. Her story is inspiring as it is her friend’s story as well. Those are different stories but in the end they take us back to the same thing again and again: What do you want to do?, Where do you want to be? What are the things that you enjoy more? Very basic questions that should lead to deep answers that can take us where we want to be. With no fear, with no frustration.

The powerful culture of gifts

From the book: Art is a gift. A real gift, not part of a deal, not a transaction entered into with reciprocity in mind. The culture of gifts has a long history on this planet and understanding how it brings people together is a critical step in becoming indispensable.

When we got to this point of the interview, Andre and I realized we are both big fans of Adam Grant. She started talking about his book “Give and Take” and the different personal styles. There are people that are naturally generous (givers), others are naturally matchers and finally the takers. The last group ask for things when they need them and once they receive those, the relationship is over. The matcher is looking for transactional relationships. They give as much as they can take. The givers prefer to give more than they get. Long story short, the most successful people are the givers.

Andrea agrees that when you do things and what you are thinking is to monetize, it becomes a strategy, a plan but never a gift. Everything has to do with the people, their style, their essence and how they want to build relationships. People that become indispensable, those who others are seeking all the time are the ones that are generous in essence. “I help you because I want to help you, because it makes me feel better. In the long run, life will give it back but if it doesn’t, I don’t care because what matters to me most is to give”

My personal note: So beautiful and so genuine, I love Andrea’s words. Those were chosen with care. Generosity, essence, building relationships, help, give and feel better. It is unbelievable how powerful giving could be. You read it in many places nowadays. Giving, being thankful, expressing gratitude. All of these behaviors definitely impact your life, your mood, your ability to think, to create and most importantly to connect with others. If you are not having a good day, please try this. Go give something but do it because it matters to you and it makes you feel better, go say thank you to somebody for something they did for you, express gratitude for what you have. All of this will change your day and once it becomes a habit, it can change your life. I wrote about Neil Pasricha in previous stories. He shared a game he plays with his family that we have also started playing at dinner time. He calls it Rose, rose, bud, thorn. Everybody in the table would share two good things they are grateful for (rose, rose), one thing they are excited about (bud) and one thing that has not gone well. It has been a beautiful game and ritual to do with the family. My oldest daughter will ask us to play it every night and my youngest, even if she doesn’t totally get it, will play it with a big smile on her face and will say night after night that she is thankful for having dinner together.

There is no map

From the book: Indispensable Linchpins are not waiting for instructions, but instead, figuring out what to do next. If you have a job where someone tells you what to do next, you’ve just given up the chance to create value

I have always liked to think about this in the corporate world. It is easy to say I have my own map when you are an entrepreneur but when you think about becoming indispensable for the company you work for, that is when having your map becomes a challenge that not everybody can figure out.

Andrea agrees with this partially. She says it is a tricky situation. In her experience, big companies want people that are proactive, innovative, that add value, etc. But at the same time, they want them to achieve certain objectives. She sees it as a conservative model “I want you to add value but only where I told you to do it”. If we are ok with that, we have tools to create our map and that map should have a lot of what we like and minimize the things that we don’t because those will still be there. On the other hand, and because she also has experience as an entrepreneur, Andrea feels that there is a lot of romanticism around it. People think entrepreneurs do whatever they want but they also have clients that in some cases could be more demanding than a manager in the corporate world.

Her conclusion about the map is that it is not truly a blank page where you draw a map but more of a “Choose your own adventure”. There are several already developed paths, you make choices and that is how you create your map. In order to choose your own adventure in the company, you should know what you like and what you don’t so that you can maximize the first one and minimize the second. Be proactive about the things you like and just “survive” those you don’t like. Find sponsors to be more efficient and successful. Do small moves and adjust. Like in design thinking, prototype, test, learn and adjust.

My personal note: I feel I sound like a broken record by now but once again, Andre offers a different point of view for one of the interview topics. A map that is not a blank page but more like a “Choose your own adventure” book. Paths, stories and endings that already exist, as a menu to choose from and create your map. It is an interesting perspective and as someone who really thinks you can have an entrepreneurial spirit in the corporation, it is a good way to look at the map. When you are working for a company, if you are a good observer you see things around you, you see those adventures and you can choose which one you want to follow. Each decision will take you in a different direction and will probably lead to something different. That is why it is important to Andrea to do the prototyping, the testing and adjusting as you go. That gives you better chances of success.

Possessing a unique talent.

From the book: When you meet someone, you need to have a superpower. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake. It’s not about touting yourself or coming on too strong. It’s about making the introduction meaningful. If I don’t know your superpower, I don’t know how you can help me (or I can help you). If you want to be a Linchpin, the power you bring to the table has to be very difficult to replace. Be bolder and think bigger.

As a marketer, Andre immediately associated this topic with brands. Understanding the differentiation, why to buy one brand and not the other and the positioning that makes you unique, relevant and different. She has found her superpower but sometimes it feels it puts her under pressure. “When people know my superpower is X, they expect X all the time and they rate my work based on X. Those titles put you under pressure because they put you in a box that is hard to leave. Her superpower is to be very systemic, not the best one in anything but will always perform very well in everything. It is like that multifunctional player that all teams want to have because he or she can play if different positions and always do it right. It is good when clients are looking for that of course but it can be a burden if she cannot be associated with being a specialist in any area when she could be one.

Instead of making my personal note for the superpower topic, I will type Andrea’s final conclusion about being indispensable and my approach to the interview and the book. As you can expect, she challenges me a little bit and made me think about the book in a different way. These are her words: “It looks to me that Linchpin talks a lot about the person but little about teams. We have to be careful. Think about sports. Messi is the best football / soccer player in the world. However, it took him years to win something with the national team. We have to potentiate those who are talented, and the team should be the hero not just one person. Individualities can stand out in the short term but in the long run, you need a team. We all save each other by working together. The president that will save the nation does not exist, we save it all together, day after day, building together with a team that has a support system for every player. The culture of work has made people feel fear to be replaceable and in the end we are. Showing our vulnerabilities and asking for help is positive and does not make us more or less indispensable. Vulnerability gives us sensitivity and possibility to change”.

I want to thank Andrea for the time, her thoughts, challenges and diverse perspectives. Specifically for the last opinion I shared in the last paragraph. I want to say that this is her reaction to my questions and the interview, not to the book in its totality. But to me, her words have been inspiring. Balancing the work to become indispensable, showing our vulnerabilities and prioritizing the team over the individual is a great piece of advice to succeed at work and in life. Putting too much emphasis in the indispensable pillar may lead to wrong places and behaviors that we should avoid. Probably more to come on this as I evolve my thinking and continue to be inspired by books, podcasts, real life experience and this rich interviews like the one with Andrea. Thank you again! I hope the conversation has been rich for you as well.

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