Understand that sometimes we create our own stress. We all do it. “I need to nail this presentation”, “I have to solve this problem”, we obsess and set impossible bars for ourselves. Then when we can’t meet those unrealistic expectations, we feel overwhelmed. Stop trying to be the perfect person, instead set out to be the perfect you.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewingGeorge C. Mazzella.
A passionate product and business leader. George is currently the Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder of The Suite, a career management platform & network for executives. Prior to founding The Suite in 2019, he spent several years in the executive recruiting space where he was fortunate enough to advise some of the world’s leading VC & PE backed businesses on talent. In addition to his responsibilities at The Suite, he spends time mentoring and advising companies on growth, as well as product innovation within the HR Tech space. Additionally, he currently serves as the Chair for the Engagement Committee at Safe Horizon, the largest victim services non-profit in the United States.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Isuppose you could say that my journey to where I am today was pretty rough. I grew up in Brooklyn, raised by a working class family of mostly Italian descent. I didn’t come from money and didn’t go to the best schools, so when I was graduating high school, I didn’t have many options in front of me. When I was in my second year of college, I had a son. I had to get two jobs to support him and his mother, but I remained a fulltime student and graduated on time. Desperate for money, I took any job I could get. My wife jokes that there isn’t a job I haven’t done, and she’s probably right. I’ve worked in restaurants, cleaned toilets, spent time in construction, and even worked as a security officer. I didn’t have time for soul searching, so I never really figured out what I wanted to do after graduation, and since money was always tight, my focus was always on making as much money as possible. After all, diapers are pretty expensive… After what must’ve been a dozen dead-end jobs, I ended up falling into the world of recruiting after a large recruiting firm found my resume online and called me in for an interview. For me, it was a place where through grit and talent, I could decide my own future, and I loved it. It wasn’t until several years later that I started to recognize all the things that are wrong with that industry, but that’s a story for another time.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I was never really the type for role models, or idolizing the achievements of others. I’ve always been driven to constantly improve and push myself past my limits. I suppose you can say that my desire to always reach the next phase of growth, to become a better version of myself, is what has driven me to reach the point that I have today. It is also what keeps me driving forward relentlessly towards my goals that I still have yet to achieve. There was a speech given by Matthew McConaughey that summarized it perfectly. In his speech he states that he is constantly striving to be the man he will be 10 years from now, but as he grows the bar grows with him and therefore he will never stop trying to improve himself. This has been my mindset since I was a child and one I hope to pass on to my son.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I owe most of my success to my amazing wife. She has been my biggest supporter, my trusted advisor, and my closest confidant. During the good times she forces me to celebrate my victories, and during the bad she is there to catch me when I fall. We all fall right? But that being said, it’s certainly a lot easier to fall when you know there is someone there who will catch you. When I first thought of stepping into The Suite fulltime, I was terrified, but seeing how much she believed in me and my dream was enough to make me take the leap. A year later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. In fact I finally feel like I am doing what I was meant to do.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
During my time at one of my first jobs out of school I worked for a boutique search firm in their NYC office. The company was filled with 20-something year olds and the culture of the office really was that work-hard, play-harder vibe that young professionals gravitate towards. Anyway, at one of our team happy hours after being dared, I consumed more martinis than any person probably should and the night went from office banter, to a friendly martial arts sparring session with one of the Managing Partners. I wish someone got a video of it though. To this day he and I still get quite a laugh out of that one.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Success can mean so many things, but if your success is to follow the path of entrepreneurship, my advice would be to embrace the discomfort and prepare to fail over and over again. People romanticize the founders’ journey, but in reality it is a lonely war of attrition with yourself. Yet in fighting that battle and conquering your inner doubt, it can be one of the most rewarding things in life. Remember that if it was easy, everyone would do it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Leaders eat last was one of the first leadership theory books I read. A colleague of mine gave it to me after he showed me a Ted talk that Simon Sinek gave. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that resonated with me quite as strongly or as quickly as that did. Coming from the world of recruiting, I had contacts in dozens of organizations and you would hear the same things everywhere. Sharp elbows, politics, backstabbing, discrimination, over and over, even companies who advertise themselves as “Best places to work for X”, would have employees describing them as toxic workplaces. Understanding what makes people tick and how to get the most out of people has always fascinated me. Now as an entrepreneur I have the opportunity to build an organization that can rise to that challenge and create a true culture of empowerment.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
This was a quote from one of my favorite college professors and it has stuck with me through the years: “Heroes aren’t the people who wear capes, a hero is the person who journeys into the darkest tunnels of life where all the bad things live and comes out the other side. They may have scars from what they encountered, but scars are proof that you were stronger than what tried to harm you.”
There are a lot of quotes that I save and re-read from time to time, but this one has always been my favorite. Life is hard and sometimes it can feel like you’re getting beat up from all sides, but when you stick with it and keep driving forward you will make it through, and you’ll be stronger than when you started the journey.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on setting our future product roadmap and I couldn’t be more excited for all that we have in store. When we first launched we wanted to give executives access to job listings at their level and remove the noise that other mass-market sites suffer from. Since then, we’ve developed several products that were designed to champion the jobseeker and empower executives to advance their careers and expand their networks. From our networking platform where members can connect and leverage one another, to our compensation tools that provide guidance on salary and equity packages, every tool we’ve developed at The Suite has been with the executive in mind. What’s next? You’ll have to follow The Suite to hear updates on our latest feature releases.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
Everyone feels stress and I think it’s important to first point out that if you feel stress it’s because you care about what you’re doing. If you were indifferent, you wouldn’t feel anything. For me I like to break big things into small goals. If you set out to accomplish everything all at once you will end up accomplishing nothing at all. 1) Break larges mountain-like tasks into smaller hills. It’ll be much easier to climb that way. 2) Second I would say ask for help and forget about pride. Lean on those in your circle to help you in moments when you need it. Things get easier when you let someone take some of the pressure off you. 3) Understand that sometimes we create our own stress. We all do it. “I need to nail this presentation”, “I have to solve this problem”, we obsess and set impossible bars for ourselves. Then when we can’t meet those unrealistic expectations, we feel overwhelmed. Stop trying to be the perfect person, instead set out to be the perfect you.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
I credit much of my ability to remain calm and process these situations to my fitness routine & moments of preparation before the big events. Little has changed from the days that I played football and funnily enough, the butterflies you get in your stomach before a big game are not all that different to those you feel before a meeting with potential investors. To overcome those feelings I 1) listen to music that gets my heart pumping and my energy up. For me it’s usually the Rocky soundtrack. 2) I clear my mind of thoughts about the meeting or event and I only focus on my breathing. This helps me get rid of negative thoughts or “what ifs” that may be weighing me down. 3) Once my mind is clear I begin picturing what it will feel like when I win, or do well, or whatever else fits here. I remind myself why I am here and that I am the best person to do this. Those who have spent time with me before these big events will attest that I remain silent until the moment the meeting is set to begin. Then and after a deep breath, it’s showtime.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
I follow the navy seals breathing technique of 4 seconds in, 4 second out. It’s super simple to do and it works. As I’m doing this, I visualize possible outcomes and how I’d respond. I like to be prepared for anything and with this technique, I can’t say that I am caught off guard often. Preparation is key.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
I wish I could say what it is that lets me focus, but I’ve always had this weird ability to just laser in on something. My wife likes to tell the story of when we moved into our apartment and I didn’t eat or sleep until we were unpacked. Ever since then, she follows me with bites of food and practically forces it down my throat whenever I get into one of those states. It’s definitely helped me in building a business. There are a lot of boring, labor intensive tasks in the beginning and it takes a lot of grit to power through it.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Most of my habits revolve around fitness. I have always been focused on my fitness dating back to my high school football days. For most people working out is an important part of life, for me it’s essential. I guess it goes back to my answer earlier about who inspires me. I really am always trying to conquer myself and push my limits. Whether it’s work, or fitness, I approach both with the same level of intensity.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop great habits is to force yourself to do them. You don’t just wake up and pick up good habits. They’re drilled into you through repetition. It’s the same thing with bad habits. It is about pushing yourself to do better, but remembering not to punish yourself when you slip up. We are creatures of habit and anything you do repeatedly will become a habit, so it’s best to fill your time with things that are beneficial for you mentally and/or physically.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
Flow can only be felt when you are doing something you are passionate about. When there is the alignment of vison & values, your work can create that state. However, you need to spend the time figuring out what it is that you are passionate about, and then commit yourself to pursuing a career in it. So many people fail to find purpose, most of the time it’s because they fail to explore their true self or they fail to act when given the opportunity to do something great.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
As a country we have taken such amazing strides in raising awareness of sexual abuse and misconduct, but one victim who has yet to get the focus they deserve is young boys. 1 out of 6 boys is sexually abused before they turn 18 and so rarely do you hear that statistic shared. If I could inspire a movement it would be to raise awareness of this issue and create a program dedicated to helping those boys through what is the darkest time of their lives. To remind them that they are not alone. To teach them that they are strong because of their trauma, not in spite of it. To show them that true strength is not the ability to ignore pain, but the ability to live on despite it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I have always admired Jack Ma. His beliefs on culture, his ability to create innovation, and his grit to build a company no one believed would flourish, are all things that I try to model myself on. A meal with him would be an honor.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow The Suite on social, or if they qualify, sign up for membership to not only follow, but benefit from our work.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.