Look for opportunities to better yourself. Nurture your mind and your body. Never accept the state you’re in as being final. I truly believe that we can always reach further if we put our mind to it.
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 Marissa Cristina Grootes. Marissa is the creator and founder of STIL, a company that aims to design organizational products that inspires women to feel, work, and find their best selves. Born in Switzerland, Marissa moved to Canada as a teenager and now resides in Vancouver, B.C., where she runs her business. She’s been featured in publications like Fast Company, Domino Magazine, POPSUGAR, Huffington Post, and more.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Myname is Marissa and I started a company called STIL in 2015. I started the company because I was looking to buy a planner and I couldn’t find what I needed to organize my crazy schedule. I also wanted a planner that looked professional and that felt like something I actually wanted to use. I wanted to feel proud to bring it to meetings and to take with me every single day.
In addition, I needed something that allowed me to track my calls, keep on top of my finances, and all around just make me feel like I had my life together! Now, four years later, we have women all around the world that not only use our planners to schedule their meetings and tasks, but also to make time for themselves and their social lives. We help women get things done in a real way. We believe that if they can dream it, they can do it. We’re just here to help them get it done.
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?
STIL started completely by accident. I never intended on creating a company that revolved around organization, nor did I plan on becoming an entrepreneur. I simply set out on a mission to design the best planner for my life and myself. STIL was born out of a need for having too much going on in my life, and after I couldn’t find what I was searching for, I decided to create it myself. I never dreamt that I would one day sell it across the globe to thousands of women.
The takeaway is that I believe the best companies are started out of a necessity for something that doesn’t already exist. I solved a problem for many women that didn’t want a planner covered in flowers, butterflies, or lollipops, and that had more things on their plate than meal planning and grocery lists. These women wanted to track their finances, set realistic goals for themselves, and track their daily rituals.
The second interesting story from my career is the fact that almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The news shook my world to the core because I didn’t see it coming. The lessons and takeaways from this diagnosis have given new meaning in how I approach my business in a big way.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are so much more than just a planner company. We are a community. We share our struggles, we share our stories, and we share our tips so we can all make our own lives better. I’m involved in every aspect of what we do. The most important thing I do every single day is making sure I have a touch point with my customers and listen to what they have to say.
Most of our products are actually designed in collaboration with our customers and social media followers. We ask them for feedback, we ask them for changes and we ask them what new products they want to add to their collection. Essentially, we are what I’ve called a ‘direct-to-conversation brand’ because our consumers are so involved in the decisions we make. Whether it’s design or product direction related, they love being involved and heard.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Three years ago I met someone really special who changed my life completely — my partner, Arthur. We met on Bumble (as you do!). He’s had an incredible impact on me as a person and on my business. As an entrepreneur himself with a very successful business, he completely understands what it takes to grow and build a brand.
The late nights, the all-nighters and the early mornings; having a partner that is supportive of what an entrepreneur goes through is so important. You have to have the right support system in place before you decide to launch a brand. Arthur has been supportive of my business and my mission since day one, and it has truly allowed me to soar to new heights. He’s now also an investor in the company, which makes us officially business partners. Don’t get me wrong, it can get tricky at times to manage our personal and our professional relationship, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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?
I think everyone has a different definition of resilience because we all have different paths. In every story of resilience, there is some sort of trauma or incredible challenge, yet people rise and overcome it. They shift their perspective or pivot the way they do things. They are not averse to change, whether it be personally, emotionally, or even physically.
Resilient people see challenges and setbacks as an opportunity for growth that propels them forward in a way that they never could have imagined if the trauma didn’t occur in the first place. Oftentimes when trauma occurs, it’s easy to focus on all of the negative things; however, I believe our true power comes from being able to shift our mindsets and turn it into a positive learning experience.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
When I think of somebody that is resilient, I think of my mother. After my parents divorced, she decided to move the three of us (myself and my two siblings) across the globe from Switzerland to Canada, not knowing what the outcome was going to be. The reason for the move was because she wanted to follow her heart and rekindle a love interest from her early twenties.
Unfortunately, things quickly didn’t work out the way she had planned. My stepfather ended up being diagnosed with a brain cancer and passed away a couple of years ago. He struggled for many years, and after multiple surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy, he became a completely different man. During that period, my mother had heart failure. None of these things she planned for in her happily ever after, but she still managed to take care of us, to make sure we didn’t suffer, and she persevered through it all.
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?
The number one thing is that I wanted to start a business and I wanted to sell planners. Nobody in my family believed that this was something that I was going to be successful with. They said I didn’t have a business degree, I didn’t know how to run a company or know what it took to build something, and that it would be really difficult to make any money.
I’ll never forget when my sister, who attended business school, said to me, “You are doing the exact opposite of what they teach at business school. You can’t just dive into running a business without a business plan or knowledge on how to build and grow it.”
As discouraging as that I was, I’ve never been someone that listened to other people’s opinions. Even when I was working as a designer full-time, I barely listened to my boss! I think I was probably the worst employee ever because I always felt I knew better. So, naturally decided to start STIL anyway.
I truly had nothing to lose. I wasn’t afraid of failing. I had some money saved. I just knew in my heart that this is what I was supposed to do. What’s the worst that can happen, right?
A lot of people judged my business idea because we live in such a digital age and I was making paper planners. However, nearly five years later, I can’t tell you how many people tell me how much they love their planner. I believe having something tangible that people can feel, touch, and hold has made a meaningful resurgence in a whole new way.
Putting pen to paper is a therapeutic exercise, a break from social media, a place for you to jot down your thoughts, and put your mind at ease.
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?
I’ve had many setbacks in my career, but the biggest one I didn’t see coming. There’s no way I couldn’t have planned for the news in 2017, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. To this day, when I say the words, they still don’t feel real to me. It was the biggest punch in the gut that I’ve ever experienced. I was so angry and confused. I felt like I didn’t deserve this. I was a good person. I worked so hard to build my own future, and this just didn’t make any sense to me. How could this happen?
That day I felt like I lost a part of myself that I didn’t even know I had. And now it was my job to rebuild that part in a new and better way. All of the doctors told me that stress was really bad for my condition and that I would need to make some changes in my career. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly painful all this was to hear and process. I couldn’t stop thinking that I was a victim.
I essentially woke up one day and decided to snap out of it. What was I doing? I had built this amazing business that empowered women to be their best selves. It was time for me to show up for myself. What this experience made me realize is that my body and my mind are the most important things. Truly nothing else matters.
I realized very quickly that if I don’t make drastic changes, it would become extremely difficult for me to continue running a business. My world was crashing down and I felt panicked. I started by changing my diet and embarked on an intense exercise plan to get my body into shape so that I could be strong, both mentally and physically. This was my opportunity to be the best version of myself. I truly had no other option.
Today, I feel that this diagnosis has actually given what I do a higher purpose. The reason that people bring STIL into their lives is so they can have time to focus on themselves, their health, and to take care of their bodies. Because when you have an organized schedule, you also have room to schedule time for you — and that’s really all that matters.
You can’t show up for your job or your kids or your friends if you’re not showing up for yourself. Having MS has taught me that. It was time to practice what I preach in a real way. I’ve also decided to channel my stress into a positive experience instead of a negative one. I channel my stress into energy. This has given me more purpose, and I truly believe that this happened to me so that I could grow and learn more about my own power — and my resilience.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
When my stepdad was first diagnosed with cancer, he remained a happy person. He always made a point of making his illness into a positive, funny experience versus something that was incredibly sad and negative. He continued to live his life and do the things he loved. I think seeing that and being around that every day made me realize that being sick doesn’t give you an excuse to sit at home and sulk all day feeling sorry for yourself. It’s not what he did and it’s not what I want to do. He was my best friend until the day that he passed, and his legacy lives on through me every single day.
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.
1. Choose to be positive. Stay away from seeing a crisis as a doom-and-gloom type of situation. This will help you immensely.
2. Accept that change is inevitable in life (both negative and positive). The more you accept change, the less it will impact you when it actually happens.
3. Make decisive actions towards something you want in your life. When I was diagnosed with MS, I knew I had to keep my body and mind strong, so I completely changed my diet and fitness regime. That means committing to eating clean, whole, and nourishing foods as well as strength-building exercises three to four days a week.
4. Be ready to fail. I think sometimes we have to be willing to fall for a while without knowing if something or someone is going to catch us. It can be scary, but it will build your personal strength very quickly and make you realize what you’re capable of.
5. Look for opportunities to better yourself. Nurture your mind and your body. Never accept the state you’re in as being final. I truly believe that we can always reach further if we put our mind to it.
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. 🙂
I would like to challenge people to eliminate the word ‘busy’ from their vocabulary. I think too often we use it as an excuse not to see people, to take care of ourselves, or show up for things. With the right tools in place, and the right mindset, everyone can feel more organized and more at peace both physically and mentally.
I want to inspire as many women as possible to practice self-care and make room for themselves in their hectic lives. I think so often we neglect our own impulses and what our bodies are telling us because we’ve got a lot going on. It’s easy to put ourselves last.
We use the term ‘busy’ as a crutch. It’s almost like a diagnosis that you’ve given yourself that is preventing you from doing things. Whether that’s starting a side hustle or doing night classes, if you eliminate that word from your vocabulary, you’ll realize that you’re actually capable of a lot more.
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 🙂
I would love to have a conversation with Jaclyn Johnson. I’m currently reading her book and it’s super inspiring because it actually makes me feel less alone in my own journey. It’s made me realize that all of the mistakes I’ve made are just part of being an entrepreneur. I love listening to her podcast too when I’m working out that the gym. I always get new ideas and find out about new cool companies and powerful women.
She also has a really incredible story, and is someone that is also extremely resilient in terms of the things that she’s had her face and her life. I would like to go have brunch with her because I think we would be BFF’s immediately!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!