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Finding Opportunity in Obstacles

Q&A with Ellie Shefi

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Photo Credit: @ellieshefi
Photo Credit: @ellieshefi

Ellie Shefi is a survivor. An abuse survivor. A rape survivor. A domestic violence survivor. A cancer survivor. But Ellie hasn’t just survived. She has thrived. An attorney, entrepreneur, award-winning author, featured speaker, teacher, trainer, strategist, and results coach who is determined to change the world, Ellie has conquered all of the obstacles thrown at her and intentionally created a life of authenticity, abundance, and purpose. And now she’s helping others do the same. As the go-to expert for easy-to-implement results-driven tools, Ellie’s no-fluff strategies help her clients facilitate the change they need to design their authentic, abundant lives. I recently spoke with Ellie about how she transformed her life’s adversities into opportunities and to learn what advice she has for the Thrive Global community. This is what she had to share. 

How have your roles evolved over the years? 

Life is a wondrous journey, isn’t it? Many of my roles were born from necessity. Growing up, my family didn’t have money for extras, so I launched my earliest entrepreneurial endeavors—tutoring, proofreading and editing, and teaching art and dance—to pay for clothes, shoes, movies, concerts, and other activities. 

By 19 years old, I was working in management training. I followed a potential job opportunity in the field that took me from California to Texas. I arrived there with no home, no connections, and, ultimately, no actual job. But I had skills; I knew how to talk to people, how to motivate them, and how to hustle! So, with what little cash I had, I lived out of my car (even eating the food restaurants tossed away) and instead rented office space to open my own management training center. I would recruit, teach, and train people to manage and motivate themselves and whatever sales teams they would oversee. Once fully trained by me, my management trainees were ready to get to work at whatever company needed them! A business that I started out of nothing pretty quickly allowed me to get an apartment, build a community, and paid for my college education. That was really when I began to level-up my entrepreneurial skills. And the daily need to figure things out not only for myself, but for my clients and my trainees as well, was the genesis of being a true strategist. Time and time again, I’ve relied on being a master problem solver who could quickly and adeptly navigate the twists and turns of life…and business. 

Other roles, like becoming a speaker and becoming an attorney, were born of desire—a desire to help, a desire to teach, a desire to fight injustice, a desire to make a difference. 

Over the course of my 30+ years as an entrepreneur, speaker, teacher, trainer, and coach, and my nearly 20 years as an attorney, I’ve had countless opportunities to reevaluate, reconsider, and redefine for myself whether I wanted to continue down these paths or whether I wanted to change direction. I’m fortunate that I’ve intentionally curated a life that I love. Truly, I love what I do—all of it! Even those roles, such as becoming an entrepreneur and a strategist, that were initially necessary, are now incredibly fulfilling. You see, I’ve embraced and integrated these roles so deeply into my core that they have become an integral part of my mission, my purpose, and the impact I make on the world. 

How do you balance these different roles? 

For me, there are three keys to balancing so many roles: clarity, perspective, and prioritization. I view each of my roles as a piece of the puzzle…each piece contributes to the picture as a whole. In order to prevent overwhelm, I need to be crystal clear on the part that each role plays in the bigger picture, and then keep that in perspective so that I can prioritize tasks within each role to ensure that things progress smoothly and nothing falls through the cracks. 

What advice do you have for Thrive Global readers who have to juggle a myriad of responsibilities? 

First and foremost, breathe! Do the very best you can in each moment, be kind to yourself, and show yourself grace. Be intentional with your time. Intentionality, fueled by the power of clarity, perspective, and prioritization, will allow you to say “yes” to the things that truly need to get done in that moment and say “no” to the things that aren’t a current necessity or priority. In this space, you control your life; your life doesn’t control you. 

You’ve faced a number of obstacles throughout your journey — how did you work to overcome these challenges? 

I’ve developed the ability to find empowering meanings in everything that happens, to be grateful for everything I have and everything I’ve experienced, and to remember that no matter what I’m going through, someone, somewhere is going through something much worse. I’ve truly embraced a “life happens for me” mentality, which allows me to find the good, the lesson, and the blessing in everything. 

What advice do you have for Thrive Global readers in the face of setbacks? 

My advice for when you’re facing setbacks is this: Focus on keeping your thoughts, your actions, and your perspective positive! After all, you can’t see possibilities, opportunities, and solutions in a negative state. Embrace progress over perfection (there’s no such thing!). Do something every day to move the needle in the direction you want to go. Celebrate all wins—no matter how small—because that will help fuel you to continue making progress. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and empower you. Ask for help—no one does it alone! 

What are your thoughts on the stress and burnout epidemic, and how do you think readers should adjust the way they work and live in order to overcome it? 

The unexpected, yet necessary, convergence of life, work, school, etc., coupled with social restrictions and isolation, has resulted in unprecedented levels of stress and burnout. These have, in turn, led to a mental health epidemic as people struggle to cope with overwhelm, loneliness, anxiety, lack of connection, instability, and unpredictability. In these times, I think it’s critical to focus on the things you can control, to establish and uphold healthy boundaries for yourself, to show yourself patience and grace, to be kind to yourself, and to carve out time to practice self-care. Prioritize and do what you can, when you can, the best you can—and recognize that that’s all you can do, and that it’s more than enough! 

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of life and everything pulling at us, we forget that an empty vessel has nothing to give. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but taking time to rest and recharge (even when the “to-do” list is longer than Mt. Everest is tall) actually allows you to dive back in with more energy, focus, and productivity than if you kept plowing along. 

How does your work help unlock human potential? 

I believe that each of us has untapped potential, that, when fully activated, allows us to be unstoppable. Often, we just need someone to believe in us and to equip us with actionable tools and strategies so that we can create the life of our dreams! That’s exactly what I do in my work. Part of helping my clients to unlock their full potential is helping them get clear on who they are, what they stand for, and what they want their life to be. Armed with that clarity, I then help them find their voice, step into their power, and create an actionable roadmap for getting from where they are to where they want to be. 

What’s your personal philosophy? 

Life happens for me, through me, as me. I recognize and am thankful for my countless blessings and I celebrate being fully present and aligned in my integrity, my values, my purpose, and my mission. I believe that each of us has value, has purpose, and is worthy of love, life, health, and opportunity. I also believe that our greatest growth can occur when we see each other, hear each other, include each other, and respect each other. 

What does success mean to you? 

Success to me is living an authentic, abundant life of service—a life of impact that I design with clarity and intention, where I live in alignment with my full power and purpose. 

How do you find meaning and purpose in your work? 

I’ve intentionally designed my life to be centered around meaning, purpose, service, and impact, so those things permeate everything I do—work included. As I teach my clients, life is too short and too wondrous to operate out of obligation or to be unfulfilled. Sure, there are times when we have responsibilities to tend to that perhaps, in and of themselves, don’t feel meaningful or joyful, but when armed with the clarity, perspective, and prioritization I talked about earlier, even those responsibilities become meaningful because you understand their place in the purpose-driven life you’ve designed. 

You describe yourself as a community servant. Can you elaborate on what this means to you and tell me a little about the importance of giving back? 

My life’s mission is to serve powerfully. It’s my purpose to help create a world where all are seen, heard, and valued—a world where people have access to clean water, clean food, education, and economic opportunity—a world where authenticity is welcomed and differences are celebrated. That’s why I’m establishing the Made 2 Change the World™ Foundation, a global nonprofit that supports and empowers youth to create the lives, communities, and world they envision. It’s also why I coach, why I mentor, and why I’ve created You Are Not Your Scars™ (a movement to help women regain their voices and step into their power) and Sisters Rising™ (a book series by women, for women, to celebrate and showcase women). 

I live my mission and my purpose daily, but I can’t effect change of my desired magnitude alone. Change happens when each of us does our part. Each and every one of us can give something every day—whether that’s checking in on someone you know who is struggling, or helping someone at the grocery store, or mentoring a child in the neighborhood, or donating time, money, or supplies to an organization whose mission aligns with yours. No matter what you have to give, give something. Not only do I get to live my mission and my purpose, but I get more joy and feel more alive from giving than I could ever get by receiving. Try it! It feels amazing!

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