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Jelena Radonjic: “Who looks outside -dreams, who looks inside- awakens”

A healthy culture is based on transparency, curiosity, innovation, growth — by this I mean not only profit growth, but structures and leadership that fully support personal and professional growth of their employees. An uplifting culture is a meritocracy and also a no-blame culture. It encourages full responsibility and the ability to own mistakes as well as […]

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A healthy culture is based on transparency, curiosity, innovation, growth — by this I mean not only profit growth, but structures and leadership that fully support personal and professional growth of their employees. An uplifting culture is a meritocracy and also a no-blame culture. It encourages full responsibility and the ability to own mistakes as well as achievements. Leaders who really make a difference are open, humble, visionary and can stand in vulnerability, accepting their own mistakes, weaknesses, and humanness.


As a part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jelena Radonjic of WhatWork.

Jelena is an award-winning Career Fulfilment Coach, speaker, author and Forbes Coaches Council contributor. She is passionate about helping conscious, aspiring professionals thrive in the careers they love. With 25 years in international recruitment and education management and CTI coaching qualification, she brings together unique insights into how recruiters think and how personal coaches work. Having lived and worked in 3 countries, she speaks 4 languages and is passionate about cross-cultural competence and communication.

Working in managerial roles with P&L responsibility, sales, business development, candidate selection and talent acquisition, from start-ups to University Career Service, to growing SMEs in Japan and the UK, Jelena has developed a strong business acumen and commercial awareness that allow her to coach clients from a variety of industries and seniority levels.

Jelena has also worked with spiritual teachers such as John DeMartini and Deepak Chopra and infuses love, joy and spirit into her coaching and everything she does. Through WhatWork, her career coaching consultancy, she offers individual and group coaching for Career Transitions and Career Development. She often speaks at events on Career Fulfilment, How to Make Conscious Career Decisions, Effortless Networking, Interview Skills for the 21st Century, to name a few.

Jelena has coached numerous clients from financial services, consulting, media, tech and public sector and her clients have found roles at PWC, Deloitte, Amazon, Imperial College, UNICEF, Frontier Economics, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Oxford Instruments, HSBC, AstraZeneca and Microsoft, to name a few, or have successfully started their own businesses.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?

Originally from Serbia (Ex-Yugoslavia), I was industrious and liked to study as a child. My curiosity grew as I matured and began to explore the works of Erich Fromm, Carl Jung, Paolo Coelho, and the Eastern philosophies. I always loved languages and had an early hunch that I’d live abroad.

At 18, I took up transcendental meditation, I was mesmerised by Zen Buddhism, Japanese haiku poetry, and anything spiritual I could get my hands on. My search for meaning and the unknowable was incessant.

Attracted to the Far East, I chose to study Japanese alongside English. After four and a half years of hard work, I graduated at the top of my class with a double major. This led to a corporate job in Tokyo, an opportunity that was practically unheard of in 1991 pre-war Yugoslavia. I was actually the first woman to land a corporate job in Japan from Ex-Yugoslavia.

I left on the wings of excitement and anticipation. My job in recruitment aligned well with my passion for connecting people and it was a catalyst for work-life fulfilment, which led me to become a career coach many years later.

I was elated with my new life in Tokyo. My hard work was rewarded with more responsibility and opportunities to travel in Europe and the US. However, the gruelling, exhausting days and long commute meant my personal development took a back seat. Being young, foreign and a woman were the three worst career pitfalls, but I embraced them and did my best to build an international career — I moved to London to run the European operations of this Japanese company, which I did for 6 years.

My subsequent roles were all in international recruitment, helping major corporations look for fresh talent. Working in managerial roles with profit & loss responsibility, sales, business development, candidate selection and talent acquisition, from start-ups to University Career Service, to growing SMEs in Japan and the UK, I’ve developed a strong business acumen and commercial awareness that allow me to coach clients from a variety of industries and seniority levels.

I started WhatWork, my Career Coaching business in 2016, inspired by the idea of bringing together my commercial background, love for human development, recruitment, business, spiritual practice and personal development, as well as the excellent results my pro-bono clients were getting. I then qualified as a coach with CTI (Coaches Training Institute) and continued with my spiritual and personal development work of several decades. In 2018 I won the ‘Coach of the Year Award’ amongst 200 other coaches and consultants and continue to serve my clients tirelessly, through individual and group coaching, covering career transitions, career development and leadership development.

Recently I’ve become a Forbes Coaches Council member and publish my content regularly. I also speak in public, delivering talks and workshops at events and major corporations like Amazon. I am very passionate about connecting what truly matters to us — our values — with skills, strengths and motivation, to help career changers and job seekers find meaning and purpose in their work. I also work with those moving into self-employment, helping them shape their business and overcome initial fear and doubt.

I am also a co-author of JOY — Recipes for Abundance, a book in which I share why joy and hope are so important in my life, inspiring many other women to be the best versions of themselves — on their own terms.

When talking to my potential clients, I stand on truth and integrity. This is the most important ingredient of a successful entrepreneur or any professional for me: authenticity. It attracts clients who share the same values with me — trust, truth, authenticity, integrity, joy, courage and love. I see myself in a unique position to bring together business and spirituality, material and emotional fulfilment, as I believe that a whole person does not separate material and spiritual abundance. Seeing my clients achieve fulfilment and growth by stepping out of their comfort zone brings me immense rewards and the sense that I am impacting many lives for the better.

What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?

From as early as 16-year-old I was attracted to psychology, spirituality and self-discovery. I remember reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and Eric Fromm’s collected works, followed by Bushido — Japanese Samurai Code (novels about Musashi), Bhagavad Gita excerpts. Then it was The Celestine Prophecy, works of Daniel Goleman and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior… I was especially fascinated by Zen Buddhism and Haiku poetry, which largely influenced my decision to take up Japanese studies at University, as I’ve previously mentioned.

I learned Transcendental Meditation as taught by Yogi Maharishi, to the consternation of my family and friends who thought I had entered a sect and were very worried about me. Bear in mind that we are talking about a socialist Yugoslavia of the mid- 80s. Though not forbidden, religious practice was not encouraged. We had no religious studies at school and as far as philosophy goes, we learned mostly Marxism, though in secondary school I chose Psychology, Philosophy, Logic, History of Art, etc. and my horizon started to expand. My insatiable curiosity and search for deeper meaning found fertile grounds for exploration in various Eastern traditions, works of ground-breaking psychologists and analysts, such as Jung, Freud and Fromm, as well as literature such as The Book of Tea, Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi that introduced me to the Samurai Code as well as Buddhist monk life. I also read more serious literature by Dostoyevsky and Sartre and though preoccupied with big life questions, I was sociable and outgoing, enjoying nights out as much as old black and white films and reading.

Perhaps it was the absence of structured religious education that opened space to a spiritual exploration and quest, I was free to reach out to anything available out there. And there wasn’t a lot… But where there’s a will, there’s a way!

There was no internet in those days, but plenty of libraries and bookshops. Circles of friends who’d tell me about interesting talks or meditation courses. And so, my spiritual journey began…

Learning how to meditate early on played a major role in my physical, mental, and emotional health. It also started to ‘open my channels’ to various insights that reside outside of the rational mind; in other words, intuition and cognizance. I was still very young to comprehend the impact of this practice and to appreciate the power of intuition — an inner compass that can guide us to the best possible life we can create.

How do your mindfulness and spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?

Even though I learned transcendental meditation and practiced it regularly for a couple of years, I sadly dropped the practice around the final year at university and especially after I got all consumed by the corporate life in Japan. I moved to Tokyo in 1991 just before the breakout of war that would see my country crumble into pieces.

Though the hectic lifestyle, long working hours and exceptionally long commute left me without time or energy to practice meditation at the time, I observed various Japanese practices and rituals and participated in them, such as the tea ceremony, religious or seasonal festivals, etc. Before major events, the Board of Directors and other top managers from my company would go to the local shrine — ‘jinja’ to pray for the successful outcome. I joined them a few times and loved the experience — a quiet communion with deities (“kami”) that would leave me feeling calm and purified.

https://gogonihon.com/en/blog/japanese-shinto-shrine/
https://www.japan-experience.com/to-know/understanding-japan/praying-in-japan

Actually, I learned what could be called a different type of meditation from the Japanese, the meditation of tea ceremony, Shinto or Buddhist prayer, the meditation of observing sakura blossoms or autumn leaves. I experienced it by osmosis — that is, by mere virtue of being exposed to these practices which are in sharp contrast with the day to day hustle and bustle of living in Tokyo.

It took quite a few years for me to start engaging in spirituality again, in my late thirties and early forties, by which time I had already moved to London and built my career here. In response to life’s various challenges, I started to look for answers again, through working with spiritual teachers, immersing myself in transformational courses and various meditation practices. For the last 8 years I have been firmly on the spiritual path again, working on gaining this ever so important self-knowledge.

Jung: “Who looks outside -dreams, who looks inside- awakens.”

Today my entire personal life and my business is rooted in spiritual practice and a quest for raising awareness. As a career coach, I ground my work in the principles of self-discovery as the first and most important step on a career journey. Clarity and self-knowledge lead to self-confidence. Otherwise, how can you be confident if you don’t know what you are confident about?

The combination of life, career, and business coaching with personal development work and spiritual practice helps clients not only thrive in their careers, but improve their relationships and well-being. I do not believe in piece meal coaching; you can only properly coach the whole person. So, a person’s beliefs, values, and drivers are incredibly important to their overall growth and success in personal and professional life. Whenever my clients are unhappy with their current work situation — that’s why they come to me — it’s because there is a misalignment of some sort. Either they are living their life according to someone else’s beliefs and values, not their own, or they cannot fathom what it is that they really want because of a smokescreen our conditioning and society’s expectations create.

My personal life totally transformed once I started to look for inner knowledge and tried to make connections between my own actions and behaviours and situations in my life. Reluctantly at first, I took full responsibility and admitted to my share of creating challenging family situations which lasted for a long time and took years to unravel. It was only when I took that responsibility, though it is easier and more appealing to blame someone else that I actually empowered myself to start creating the change I wanted. Despite the very challenging years (surviving cancer amongst other things) of family breakdown I managed to take the difficult but necessary steps to find solutions which eventually brought not only myself but also my children into balance. This was only possible through the continuous, sometimes exhausting transformational work. In short, it is totally true that you cannot change your circumstances unless you change yourself and that this process can be painful, hard and disheartening, but it was more than worth it!

All my personal experiences, terrific challenges that I’ve overcome, and everything I have learned from my teachers and their transformational techniques has been poured into my coaching. I have deepening and broadening this journey every day since.

Do you find that you are more successful or less successful because of your integration of spiritual and mindful practices?

There is absolutely no doubt about it — my personal and professional life have been a lot more successful since I started practicing meditation regularly, as well as adopting other mindful practices, such as daily gratitude, journaling, intuitive visioning, etc.

With regular meditation, I am calmer, more focussed, have clarity of mind, and am able to make what I call ‘conscious decisions’. What do I mean by that? First of all, the decision-making process is not only and entirely based on data, facts and rational mind. It is also based on listening to the inner, higher self and its wisdom. I truly believe that we have all the right answers inside, it is just that we do not get access that easily — mostly because we get in our own way. I also believe that we create what we think, therefore the concept of ‘mental hygiene’ is very important to me.

Making decisions and taking action from the place of love and not fear, from the place of abundance and not lack, is the key to fulfilment and personal success. Amongst other great teachings of Deepak Chopra (7 Spiritual Laws of Success), is the Law of Detachment. About 18 months ago I decided to create a group programme ‘Career Transitions Made Easy’ and was excited but also apprehensive about getting at least 5 people to sign up, otherwise the programme would not be tenable. As the start date was approaching, and I had only 3 people, I told myself not to panic. I visualised and prayed that the Universe will send me two more people and then I — let go. The Law of Detachment teaches that we can do what we can do, but then, we need to let go. By clinging to the outcome and worrying about it, it is more likely that we spoil things. When I say “I visualised and prayed’ it was a momentary practice just before I went to sleep, so do not think I did anything spectacular or complex. Unbelievably, the following morning I got a message from someone who reached out to work with me. She was thrilled when I offered her the group programme as it was perfect for her needs and her budget. And then the following day, another potential client who was on holiday and was debating with herself if she could join or not (as there was pre-session work everyone had to do), decided to jump on board! Voila! I started my group programme with 5 great participants who loved the course and reaped many benefits from it.

I know, you may say ‘oh well, that could have happened anyway, regardless of your law of detachment!’. Who knows? I choose to believe. It has never let me down, this faith in positive outcomes.

What would you say Is a foundational principle for one to “lead a good life”?

There are several principles to which I adhere and also teach my clients in order to lead a good, balanced life:

  1. Personal growth rooted in raising awareness — getting to know yourself and living in accordance with your own values, not anyone else’s values or expectations.
  2. Kindness and Giving. I believe in ‘Pay it forward’ and practice it in my day to day life. This means giving generously help, time, love, care, attention, without the expectation of it being returned. Experiencing joy through giving. I have a long way to go but have definitely made a lot of progress over the years/decades. Pay it Forward also implies being ‘plugged in’ to a virtuous circle, where positive giving energy circulates and leads to a win-win for all. You may not get back from the same person you have given help or advice or time, but someone else will help you for sure, when you are in need. It’s like building a positive karma, but not for the sake of it, but in order to impact the world in a positive way, to do ‘the bit we can.’
  3. Gratitude and humility. Even though I have no problem with promoting myself, I always go back to gratitude, the genuine feeling of thankfulness for everything in my life. I also remind myself to be humble and not to let my ego take the better of me, as this would lead me in a way directly opposite of how I want to build my life.
  4. Living in love as opposed to fear. This means leading your life from the foundation of love, abundance and benevolence. It also implies courage, as opposed to fear. Whenever we are overcome by F.O.G. — fear, obligation, guilt, we cannot live our highest potential and we diminish our personal power. See my article Are You In Fear Or In Love.

Working on these principles over time will help you develop your own ‘sovereign space’, a base from which you purposefully create your life. This means you start to react less and less to unhelpful situations, people or events, and manage to keep focus on what’s truly important to you. You depend less and less on the opinion of others and egoic feelings such as jealousy, envy, resentment, etc. start to disappear from your life, which is liberating, exhilarating and so empowering. You are starting to feel that you are in your greatness and do not get the petty things in life to sway you.

Can you share a story about one of the most impactful moments in your spiritual life?

I could talk about my first out-of-body experience when I first learned transcendental meditation, or experiencing non-location (being in two places at the same time very briefly) after a long, deep, guided meditation at a retreat about 5 years ago, or maybe when things started to fall into place with regards to a past life story. Yet choosing any of these, very interesting, mind boggling experiences, would probably verge on sensationalism. Yet the experiences that truly shifted my life and the way I saw myself and others, were realisations that:

I am fully and totally responsible for my life and any difficult, challenging, even traumatising events in my life were co-created by me. This was a transition from victimhood to sovereignty and empowerment. It had the most profound effect on my life, and I felt I started to grow like the magic beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk. Enormous weight lifted, I started to flourish in all areas of my life, and while there were still challenging situations from time to time, it felt I managed to loosen and eventually undo the Gordian knot.

Is there a particular person who helped you to where you are now?

I worked with a number of spiritual teachers and thought leaders, either directly or through following their works.

My ‘back to spirituality’ moment happened in 2012 when I attended the first event of (now late) Sidra Jafri in London — The Awakening. From that moment on, I worked with her for 5 years, attending all her courses and several of her retreats. I cannot put into words how grateful I am to her, her amazing spirit, wisdom, and compassion. I was devastated that she lost her life in a tragic accident earlier this year.

I would also like to mention Darren Eden, a knowledgeable, supportive yet challenging teacher of imagination and intuition. Attending his yearlong ‘Transformation’ indeed made me into a new person and all the incremental shifts over the years, climaxed in one, now compounded shift, where I just emerged from a cocoon, with completely new clarity and focus.

In 2017 I also attended a spiritual retreat in Thich Nhat Hanh’s community in France, The Plum Village, where I spent a week with nuns and monks. I experienced the incredible walking meditation, mindful eating and at New Year’s Eve, special practices of gratitude and ‘kissing the Earth’. It is impossible to describe the energy in the big hall where around 500 visitors and monks and nuns devoted themselves to meditation and practicing loving kindness.

I have also been through Dr Joh DeMartini’s Breakthrough Experience and finally last summer, in July 2019 I attended Deepak Chopra’s week-long retreat in Hawaii — Seduction of Spirit.

A truly mind-blowing experience which helped me cement my meditation practice, now extended with sutras.

It is interesting how easy it is to refer to these life-changing experiences as mind-boggling and mind-blowing. Indeed, they are — they transcend the rational mind and challenge many of our beliefs and assumptions, opening doors to new, profound insights.

These are not the only teachers I’ve had, but they are definitely the most powerful ones. I am also following and enjoying the works of Eckhart Tolle and Dr Joe Dispenza. Most of these thought leaders operate in the space that merges spirituality and science and, in my humble opinion, when these two reconcile and fully support each other, we will see bigger shifts on the scale of humankind.

How can leaders create a very healthy and uplifting culture?

To be fully creative, inspired and productive, employees need to align with the company vision and values and live it day to day. Leading by example is the best and simplest, yet possibly the most difficult way to lead and successfully engage employees. This means leaders need to be 100% authentic, in integrity and driven by a higher purpose. Through working with my career coaching clients, I have noticed a trend that is on the rise — employees, no matter how well they are doing, are looking for purpose and direct impact of their work on the areas of life, business and society that matters to them. If they cannot see that impact or the purpose of their current work does not align with their core values, they leave sooner or later.

A healthy culture is based on transparency, curiosity, innovation, growth — by this I mean not only profit growth, but structures and leadership that fully support personal and professional growth of their employees. An uplifting culture is a meritocracy and also a no-blame culture. It encourages full responsibility and the ability to own mistakes as well as achievements. Leaders who really make a difference are open, humble, visionary and can stand in vulnerability, accepting their own mistakes, weaknesses, and humanness.

If I could inspire a movement, what would it be?

The movement I want to inspire is already happening, but the massive wave that we are all battling to navigate does not allow us to grasp it fully yet. The movement is about connecting the head with the heart and building a more holistic, more inclusive, and more benevolent business and world as a whole. The movement will become increasingly apparent as more and more people expand their consciousness through meditation and other spiritual practices and learnings and realise that unity, not division, is what’s not only best for all, but natural. We are one as humankind and are we are also one with the planet Earth.

Unfortunately the ego-driven mind rooted in fear, greed, lack mentality and the need to compare has prevailed for a long time. This is changing and I firmly believe that change is afoot. If I didn’t, I would lead a very sad, hopeless life. I am doing my best to support that change and be the pebble in the pond sending concentric waves around me and expanding my reach over time. If everyone did their little bit in becoming a more conscious human being, we would be at a different level as species. Grasping the inevitability of interconnectedness of all of us and everything around us (both visible and invisible) is key. As Chopra puts it astutely — ‘When we breathe out, trees breathe in’.

How can people follow you and find out more about you?

www.whatwork.co.uk

LinkedIn

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