I grew up in a country that told me I had no voice because of my gender. I moved to the Land of The Free to be whispered this very same sentiment discretely.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sahar Paz. Sahar Paz didn’t grow up playing house, she played office. At the age of 13, she launched a baby and pet sitting company generating more cash flow than all the lemonade stands in the neighborhood! A natural leader with an active left-and-right brain, Sahar was 25 years old in New York City with a lucrative career in Finance and bored out of her mind. Inspired to share what she learned in the business, she pivoted and dedicated herself to feeding the entrepreneurial voice of teenagers by founding Free Your Star Foundation. The nonprofit partnered with low-income high schools in Brooklyn with credit-earning programs written by Sahar herself. Championing the voice of others to help them understand their emotional intelligence and their personal drivers has always been Sahar’s mission. Her book, Find Your Voice part-memoir, part cognitive behavior guide, epitomizes that pursuit. Published in 2014, her message gained attention within forward-thinking organizations such as HBO, Facebook, Whole Foods, and the Texas Medical Center, where Sahar was invited to deliver keynote presentations. After five years on the road, Sahar became the CEO of Own Your Voice Strategy Firm, a personal branding agency that focuses on placing professionals on stages to speak. Today, she resides in Houston and has given up pet sitting to play with her dog Rico instead. You can find Sahar on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @SaharPaz.
Thank you so much for joining us, Sahar! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Bythe time I was 7 years old, I had witnessed my entire existence shift for the worst, a direct reflection of how influential the voice of leadership can be felt on a grassroots level. Before I could articulate my first word, the revolution had already decided that I would have no voice. This left an impression on me, I understood the value of freedom and the power of our voices. As refugees of war, my family relocated to Denver, Colorado in the mid-’80s, as we settled in I bought Wham and Michael Jackson cassette tapes and found a few friends that weren’t turned off by my funny hair and accent. Growing up, I didn’t play house like a lot of the other girls, I played office. I started my first business at the age of 13 a baby and pet sitting company that brought in more cash than all the lawn mowin’ boys on the bock. I’ve worked for myself in some manner or another ever since then. My repertoire of businesses includes an accessories line (while I was holding a position in finance), a non-profit, a book titled “Find Your Voice,” and a speaking tour that took me to the offices of HBO, Facebook, and Whole Foods. Today, I’m the CEO of Own Your Voice Strategy Firm, a personal branding agency that scales your voice for social impact.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
History states that the Zainab Salbi should be my enemy, after all, it was the war between her country and mine that changed so much of my childhood. But that’s not how THIS story goes, she is the woman that took the time to read an email from a perfect stranger, and lent her voice and a tweet in support of my book: Find Your Voice. This tweet was read by Chantal Pierrat, the founder of Emerging Women and that is when my first big speaking break came to be. At that conference, I was listed among speakers that included Brene Brown and Jane Goodall. An email led to a tweet that opened the door for me to launch my speaking business. I’ve adopted a second core value: to never forget where I came from. I am fortunate to now be in the place where I can extend a hand and lend my voice for another up and coming Voice of Impact.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It’s rare to find a firm that focuses just on personal branding. It’s usually a side hustle versus the main focus. We are also working towards our B-corp status, which means we keep that third bottom line in our awareness as we build the company and personal brand. We believe that scaling the voice of conscious leaders will make a social impact. We are a business with purpose.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The journey would have never started if there wasn’t an honest reflection of my power thanks to my dear friend Marisa. Everyone needs a compassionate voice that holds you accountable to your greatness.
This experience has been made sustainable because of my mother and brother’s ability to respect my vision. The sacrificed time. The invested money. They help me keep the engine going when I wanted to give up. Now, we all enjoy the fruits of my hard work and their faith by being able to spend time together remotely and in bulk.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Sturdy. When your emotions are high, your intelligence stays high.
This is key when it comes to my personal relationship with resilience.
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties has so much to do with the initial moment it happens. It is at this moment when you decide if you will drain yourself by taking the challenge in front of you and begin to process it through a negative lens or hold steady and show how sturdy you can be.
… Don’t take things personally.
… Are inspired by their challenges.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Shirley Chisholm is my shero. She graduated from Columbia University in 1952, where I imagine she was one of very few African Americans on campus. She got into politics after that, winning by a landslide victory in 1964 and by 1968 she is the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress, a position she held for 14 years. In 1972 she is the first black woman to seek a major party nomination for President — she won a federal court order to participate in a televised debate. When she was asked about it, she responded: “I ran because somebody had to do it first. I ran because the country was not ready for a black candidate, a woman candidate. Someday. It was time in 1972 to make that someday come.”
Shirley Chisholm’s resilience represents to me the value of leaving the world better than you found it. I have no doubt that she dealt with challenges and uncomfortable situations regularly, probably on a daily basis. She stayed sturdy to her cause, she understood the greater good she was wanting to impact were enough reason to brush herself off and try again.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I grew up in a country that told me I had no voice because of my gender.
I moved to the Land of The Free to be whispered this very same sentiment discretely.
I won’t pinpoint one person because there were a handful of remarks that repeated in my early adulthood that made sure I kept my “ambitions” in check, and ultimately it was me that told me it was impossible, especially when it came to writing “Find Your Voice” and finding a publisher that would get behind it. I worked through that fear methodically for three years, putting myself out there by speaking and sending proposals — it was uncomfortable and often I would get no response — I would retreat, then come at it again.
I was sturdy. I was resilient.
I stopped taking things seriously.
On July 29th, 2012 I landed my publishing deal, and in April of 2014, I had a copy of my first book in my hands.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
In 2016 after the book had launched and I had been on the road speaking for 2 years, my online course was set to launch. The launch was Facebook-focused and it was during the 2016 elections, we didn’t gain much steam and it ultimately made me step back from the Find Your Voice movement for 16 months, as I figured how to pivot my existing brand into another kind of profitable business. I knew there was more there.
I stepped back from my entrepreneurship role for the first time in more than a decade to recalibrate. And, it was the best decision I had ever made. I came back onto the business scene as the CEO of Own Your Voice and launched with a one day summit, putting on the stage voices of impact that spanned from Emmy Award-winning filmmakers to a woman who raised $9M on her own, by simply using her voice. Without the failure of my course, the opportunity to pull back and realign by business with my matured goals, I would not have the opportunity I have today to blend my calling (your voice) with my lane of genius (personal branding).
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Having to abandon my comfort zone and identity in my formative years has attributed to my ability to being resilient 100%.
In first and second grade I had to get used to my friends being there one day, but then not the next, especially after a heavy night of bombings. In high school when my friend was randomly killed, I learned how resilient this made me in these delicate times.
I had to raise myself as my single mom put herself back to school when we moved to a new country. Now, when I experience failure or challenge, I know how to nurture my resilience by exercising a blend of compassion and discipline.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Acknowledge: pay respect to the challenge at hand. Acknowledge it sucks.
- Accountability: the responsibility to pick yourself back up is up to you.
- Curios: Choose the lens of curiosity over negativity and judgment
- Action: Don’t let fear bring you to analysis paralysis
- Recognize: Be intentional with recognizing your resiliency.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There were a lot of rookie mistakes and emotional costs I could have avoided with the right mentor in my life. The reason I’ve gotten into personal branding is that I believe it is a virtual mentorship. Imagine if every professional had one article dedicated to someone following in their footsteps. One nugget of wisdom is all it takes to give another resilient leader in the making the mojo they need to get to the next step.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
My virtual mentor, a woman I deeply admire and champion from afar, Aimee Woodall, founder of Black Sheep Agency. She is the first woman who revealed to me what a Benefit Corporation is, and how you can be a business with purpose. She is an amazing human being making a social impact!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on all the platforms under @SaharPaz
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!