Fill Up Your Tank and Keep Your Foot On the Gas
Updated: Jun 16
What is the real secret behind “doing it all”? On the second podcast episode of Dare to Interrupt, event marketing entrepreneurs Dahlia El Gazzar of DAHLIA+Agency and Shannon DeSouza of DeSouza on Demand discuss the importance of showing up, practicing gratitude, servanthood and self-care while balancing family life and running their own growing businesses. Listen now to experience the full episode!
Read on for a few of my favorite parts of our conversation:
Not only have you really climbed the ladder as a woman in the events industry, but you’ve also climbed the ladder in a sector where it’s even more heavily dominated by male leaders or male founders, and you’ve crushed it. I would love to hear a little bit about how you started your company, Dahlia+.
DAHLIA: So, the way it came about was twofold. Basically, one was I was working at onPeak. I was VP of marketing there. And I ended up at a leadership institute summit, which was with IAEE. And it was a two-and-a-half-day summit with 30 other peers. And the moderator or the facilitator, which is Eric Burton, he said you have to put a flight plan together.
With the flight plan, you are supposed to mark a destination, obviously an origin, and think of yourself as a flight. And what are the challenges, turbulences that you will face, as well as who you will have within your tribe or community that will support you and have this be a successful flight. And with that destination, it needs to also have a definite time of arrival.
We wrote down our flight plan. And my flight plan was—so this was in 2011. My flight plan was in 2012. I was going to start my own agency and it scared the shit out of me. And at that time, I was a mom with two little kids. Ruud, my husband, and a lot of people know that, he’s been ill quite a bit. He’s chronically ill with several different things, and he was getting ready to have brain surgery. And so, it all came together.
I think what really made it solid was that I wrote it down. If you’re going to take a leap of faith, if you’re going to do anything that scares the crap out of you, write it down. That way it comes into fruition and it’s not just a thought.
And if you say it out loud, it’s as if—and I’m not being touchy-feely, but I do believe in this—that people from the woodworks will come and support you, and the universe will support you. And I’ve always believed that.
It’s so easy to think of career success as a job. It’s something that you have to do, whether you do it with passion or you just do it because you want your paycheck. I think it’s so much more fun to look at it as an adventure, where you can really go on a ride, and you can choose who sits next to you on that ride and which ride you get on next.
DAHLIA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the other part of this is when you’re able to collaborate or partner with people that are not afraid to tell you like it is. If you are doing a crappy job in some way, shape or form, then that just makes you bigger and stronger.
There are some people that cannot relate or cannot take that kind of critique. I think that has to change, especially with women that instead of them having it ferment inside of them, they need more of a sounding board than ever before at this point in time. That I think is something that we can offer them as the three of us, to be honest, and this podcast, this platform.
SHANNON: Totally, so they’re not alone. A big part of my own philosophy is not to let it ferment inside of me—I put it out to the universe. And like you said, as soon as you put it out there, then the energy starts attracting. So, I’ve been practicing positivity for about four years, and I swear to you, it’s changed my life. The type of people I’m interacting with, the clients, the events, the projects, changed my life completely.
How do you practice positivity?
SHANNON: Oh, that’s a great question. And that is something I am faced with every single day. Every decision, every interaction, every email, every client, every phone call, situations arise. I think it’s up to us to decide how we’re going to react to that. And so, I try to react in a positive manner.
So, I’ll give you an example. A client is unhappy with some of the work, maybe website work that we’re creating for them. And then instead of being like, “I put so many hours into this, this was amazing. You’re not looking at it in the right way,” like, and then just completely shut down, I can look at it as feedback. I can understand where they’re coming from. I can look at their vision and I can push myself to be better and improve. That’s a positive reaction versus a negative.
DAHLIA: Exactly. But one thing about how to be positive is I’m actually reading a book right now called The Magic, which is by Rhonda Byrne, who wrote The Secret. It’s all about how you create magic within your life, and it talks about how kids have this unlimited imagination adventurism—I don’t know if that’s a word—but that sense of adventure that anything is possible, etc. And then as adults, you lose it, which totally makes sense to me.
The question is, how do you get that magic in different parts of your life: health, wealth, family, friends, relationships, business, work, all of that good stuff?
It boils down to gratitude, and that you just become grateful and thankful for different aspects. And that abundance of gratitude, or when you say, “Thank you, thank you thank you” to the people around you, things around you, things you take for granted, then the abundance becomes bigger.
And it actually has 28 exercises that you do for 28 days, so that you sort of rewire your mind, your brain to being more grateful. I don’t know if you guys saw that. I think it was like a GIF or like an image that was viral for a bit where it’s like, “Stop writing, I’m sorry, or I apologize and start writing differently.” So, instead of saying, “Oh, sorry, I’m late in responding, like to an email,” then you say, “Thank you for your patience.”
I think women in general have this tendency of apologizing a lot. If you look at it, it’s like we’re apologizing that we don’t have enough time.
We’re apologizing that we forgot something. We’re apologizing for—whether it’s a client or whether it’s a family member or anything—like if you think of it, and it comes out real clear in the way you write, right? Not only in the way you speak.
And I tell my kids who honestly, I mean, you know Aisha and Lilly, and they think I’m crazy anyway. But you have to flip it. You have to stop apologizing for asking too many questions or stop apologizing for not having the time to send an email or to finish something. I think there’s a lot of strength there.
There’s also a lot of work that women, especially in our industry because our hair’s on fire, we wear so many hats personally and professionally, that’s one thing that we owe it to ourselves because in the end, you need to know that you should be grateful for yourself—200%.
Dahlia, you mentioned right at the beginning of the podcast that you also have a chronically ill partner, yet you show up and you show up with the sun radiating from the smile that you bring and the energy that you bring to your team and to your clients. How do you do that?
DAHLIA: Well, it’s kind of self-serving and I’ll tell you why. With everything that goes on at home, and then I show up with you guys or I show up with a client, it’s self-serving because I thrive, and I feed off of energy.
And so, my whole philosophy—and don’t get me wrong, it took me a while to work this out because with Ruud being in the hospital on and off, and I have a blurred line where all of my professional contacts, even clients or peers, have become friends as well. I enjoy that they know about the family and they know about when Ruud goes to the hospital and about my kids growing up, and when they meet them, they know about them.
I know some others don’t like that blurred line. I thrive on that. But what I was gonna say was I thrive on energy. And this goes back to in order for me to get the energy that I need to go on and to keep me sane, I need to show up, and I need to give the energy in order to get it right back to me.
Shannon, I believe that you’re a very emotionally intelligent person, and I’ve been super impressed with your ability to not only read what other people are thinking or what their next step is going to be, but to also know what your next step is going to be and how to really tap into that.
SHANNON: I would say that is a practice. I think I received feedback very, very early in my career about listening to the room, only speaking when you can provide value, being intuitive. I’m really, really big on feedback. My undergrad was in speech communications, and we had to practice a lot of feedback from a very young age. And then that was supposed to veer into our actions and our words and how we treat other people.
I think another way of looking at it is being politically savvy, and that kind of may come out as a negative perspective, but I mean it as what it is in the workplace, right? So, if you’re connected to other co-workers or your boss and understanding the vision, understanding relationships, understanding how people work, understanding people’s strengths, Dahlia is really, really good at understanding her team’s strengths and how to put them on specific projects.
But it really comes down to listening and spending that energy on trying to listen and trying to improve. And so, definitely, that’s one of the things that, even with my clients, understanding how I can help them. Then I become an ally and a benefit to them, and then they can’t live without me. And then that’s how my business has been able to grow.
Is it necessary to be politically savvy in business?
SHANNON: 100% yes. And it comes down to me saying, “You’re listening.” That’s what being politically savvy is. You’re just paying attention to the situation. You’re paying attention to what people are saying. You’re paying attention to strength. You’re paying attention to your interests and likes and dislikes. That to me is what politically savvy is.
It’s not by any means trying to backstab, trying to get ahead of people, trying to earn more money, trying to hurt people. To me, it’s paying attention.
If you could give one piece of advice to the women within the events industry, and it could be about anything, what do you think they need to hear or should hear?
SHANNON: So, the very first thing that came to my mind, and I’ll speak to the women in our age group, Courtney. Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal because you see having a family on the horizon. I got this advice from an older cousin of mine, and it’s so true. I don’t want to say you can do it all because nobody can do it all.
But it is possible for you to have a loving family, a loving marriage and children, a career that you are interested in, but it may take some reorganization, and that’s really what my story is all about, is just how I’m constantly trying to figure out balance. But it takes a lot of self-care and self-love and effort I would definitely say.
DAHLIA: One piece of advice is be good to yourself and take it easy on yourself. Maybe those are two pieces of advice. But you need to stop being so critical of what you do, how you do it, how much you think you’re doing or how much you’re not doing.
I think women have a tendency of looking at the to-do list and saying,“I didn’t do enough, or I didn’t do the right things” or… And the funny thing is we do it to ourselves because what happens is you start with a to-do list, and then you actually add on to it. And you don’t get the stuff that you were focused on doing out of the way first. You just keep adding on to the to-do list.
And the flip side, which I started doing, is I started putting a list of what I did do. So, even that simple email or text message to your kid’s teacher or you ordering party favors because there’s a party coming up on the weekend or a birthday gift or paid the bill or did a doctor’s appointment or went and reached out to five people... I have this on my to-do list every week. I reach out to five people just to check up on them. That’s it. I say take it easy on yourself because you matter to so many different people. And it’s not governed by a to-do list or by an accomplishment list at all.
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