Being Intentional and Building a Career to Make An Impact ep. 21



My guest in this episode is Maria Xenidou. After twenty years, in product development, technology, innovation, and marketing roles on three continents, today, Maria advises enterprises on their growth strategy through marketing, innovation, and M&A (mergers & acquisitions). Maria is also a teacher, a connector and a storyteller on a mission to empower people to design their learning journey and build the life and career they want. She blogs on LinkedIn daily, and she is the host of the Impact Learning podcast, where together with her guests, she explores the future of learning and work.

In our chat, Maria shares corporate journey and how change snuck up on her 2015. She explains how it took her 2 years to embark on a journey of discovering what would be next for her. We learn about portfolio career and impact learning. She shares how journaling and self-coaching helps her determine her path for making a change in the world. Listen to this episode for some concrete examples of how we can help people by making contributions that have impact.

Impact learning is our ability to design our learning journey, to make choices about what things we learn so we can ultimately create work that we are proud of and make an impact. Maria Xenidou

Timeline of the Chat

2:00 – Maria introduces herself
2:44 – The decision to become a corporate scientist and her journey in that career
6:29 – On being intentional and learning from others
8:36 – How change snuck up on her and why she left her corporate career
11:41 – What is impact learning
12:55 – What is a portfolio career and how it connects to impact learning
16:06 – How Impact Learning started and finding collaborators for impact learning
19:26 – Advocacy and supporting organizations
21:22 – How we can contribute and help
21:48 – How Maria built Impact Learning
24:59 – Challenges on her journey and finding impactful work that matters
28:22 – What makes a good project and choosing what to work on
30:29 – How to build skills and avoiding overwhelm
33:51 – Maria’s role model and mentors
36:41 – Her approach to coaching and views on self-directed learning
38:49 – The three questions she asks herself when stuck.
40:25 – Book recommendations
44:02 – Where and how to connect with Maria

I focused a lot on learning from others, so I can keep evolving and improving the things that I wanted to. – Maria Xenidou

Contribution and impact does not mean that we necessarily need to have the title in the structure. If we all contribute in small ways, it adds up. It compounds. – Maria Xenidou

Recommended Podcasts

Recommended Books

Transcript of the Chat

Read the transcript of the conversation

Damianne President: [00:02:03]To begin, if you could tell us where were you born and where do you live now?

Maria Xenidou: [00:02:20] I was born in Athens, in Greece. I was born and raised there and now I live in New Jersey in the US.

Damianne President: [00:02:26] What’s your PhD in?

Maria Xenidou: [00:02:28] Okay, so I did my undergrad in chemistry. I love Chemistry, and I did my PhD in polymer synthesis and material characterization. So overall, all these, we call it material science.

Damianne President: [00:02:44] I listened to several of your podcasts, Impact Learning, in preparation for chatting with you today, and you mentioned that you initially intended to be a professor, but you became a corporate scientist instead. What led to that decision?

Maria Xenidou: [00:03:01] I like to teach, and that has not changed. So I wanted to become a teacher, and after I did my, you know, advanced graduate degree, I wanted to become a professional. What changed was I did my postdoc, my postdoctoral studies actually in the US, at the corporation. It was the corporate research labs, so still, you know, research, but it was, applied. So that got me exposed on important projects that I was solving real problems. You know, we were modifying different properties of materials that we actually, you know, buy and use. And I was intrigued by that. And I realize how much joy I get when I solve real problems. And that’s why I decided to start my career in corporate as a scientist, and that’s what I was doing. I was basically using my polymer chemistry, my material science knowledge to solve problems.

Damianne President: [00:03:56] You have some quite impressive credentials. You talk about how for you, it wasn’t really about the titles, but you were really excited in the roles that you were able to take on because of those titles or in the different jobs that you had. Could you briefly share your corporate journey with us?

Maria Xenidou: [00:04:16] Yes, of course. So I started as a scientist, what we call, you know, technical contributor. I was the person who was doing all the work, the research for the project. And very quickly I realized that I liked working with teams, with other people. So I became a group leader, had responsibility for a few people, then a group, a manager, and then, you know, ultimately with different kinds of jobs in technology innovation, product development research, and later on also marketing. I assume a larger responsibility so I became a vice president of marketing and innovation there. Comment about that I don’t really pay attention to titles is because to me, what matters is the kind of work I do. Before I became vice president for a certain role. I was offered another vice president role, but it was in a different kind of department. It was the kind of work that it wouldn’t help me to learn and advance my skills, but also make an impact the way that I was envisioning. So I turned down this promotion. Of course, the other one came very quickly. I’m glad that I was available because I took on a role that I really loved and I went to Asia. But this is what I say, I reaalised that credentials and roles and titles matter. They’re important, but to me, they matter more when we are able to use them to do work that we want to do. And to have leverage and influence the organization. So I enjoyed being a vice president, not because the title sounds good, but because I had influence on a lot of decisions, projects, and resources. And that was what I wanted to do at the time while building teams and creating, you know, good work for our customers. And I was able to do that well in a corporate environment as a vice president. So I love my job. But I did not enjoy the fact that I was a vice president. It’s just the title.

Damianne President: [00:06:14] The thing that really struck me when I was listening to you talk about your journey is that you’re very intentional, or at least you come across as being very intentional as you wait for the right thing. You plan for the right thing, you’re in the moment, but you’re also thinking about what’s the thing that will help me grow, where I can contribute, where I can make the difference that I’m trying to make in the world. And I really appreciate seeing how you’ve done that because I think it’s very inspirational.

Maria Xenidou: [00:06:48] And you know what, Damianne? One thing that also surprise me now that I think about it, is that I was intentional early on in my life, and I went back and, you know, basically started writing and reflecting to figure out, is it something I was born with? I am very intentional. And people also say that I’m very focused, but I think they go together. Basically, I act out of intention. You know, I act with intention. I think the reason is because growing up, I was in an environment that we did not have a lot of resources. It was low income, working class family, very good family, and I’m very fortunate. I was born and raised in this family, but I knew that every action that I took had to have an impact, had to create a change, whether it was a small change or a big change, or giving me access to resources or helping me figuring out how to do something that I did not know. I think that’s it. So being in an environment that I did not have a lot and I was seeking to create change, to make things better, to involve things for myself and my family, I think this is, at least that’s the story I tell myself, this is how I can explain why I am very intentional and I’ve been very intentional early on with school, with college, with everything. I’ve always been very intentional. I learned a lot from other people. If I can say something that’s very characteristic of how I approach life and work is that I learned a lot from others. So I don’t know how much of that I had like in my genes and then they were cultivated and nurtured because I focused a lot on learning from others, so I can keep evolving and improving the things that I wanted to.

Damianne President: [00:08:27] So after 20 years, I believe working in corporate, you got to a point where you found yourself at a crossroads and you read Linchpin by Seth Godin and it really resonated with you. You seem to have gotten the idea that it was no longer a right fit for you, what you were doing. Share with us, what did you decide to do then?

Maria Xenidou: [00:08:54] Yeah, so first of all, I took quite a bit of time, so before I knew that I was thinking about a change, it was happening. I have figured it out that it probably started around 2015. And this is because I journal a lot. So when I go back and you know, read what I wrote, the questions I was asking myself, it was clear that I was looking for something different. So I started quite early. The change did not happen until 2017 and when I read Linchpin, it was basically a book that was written for me. You know how you read this book and you say, okay, this, this is like me. This explains everything that I went through. And it made me realize, and again guided me to also reflect on the things I was doing at work, at corporate that I was very proud about and I was getting a lot of joy versus other things that I was not. So building global teams and creating products and innovations and commercializing with customers and gaining business, I mean I miss that even now that we’re talking about it. I really miss it. I love it. I love it. I was fortunate to work on many different projects that I actually, you know, with my teams and with a lot of great people, we did that. But there were other things like how the whole system, the corporate system was less flexible than the system that I was used to, the system that I joined back in, you know, 2000, so this was something that I did not like. The fact also that a lot of things were about doing things faster, cheaper, and try to streamline things and things that of course they’re important if you are a large corporation. I don’t oppose any of that. They are, but they were things that they were consuming my time and my effort. That they were more, you know, on optimizing and reducing cost and doing things that I did not get to create new business or, you know, grow the business. Being in corporate 20 years ago that I joined was a great time. It has changed. And with that, my interests and how I want to leverage my experience, my skills, my gifts, the things that I want to learn, what I want to create impact on has also social changed. So again, leaving corporate is not for everyone and being at corporate and working in a corporation, may be the best thing to do if the person wants to do the things that the corporation as a system expects you to do. For me, it was a crossroad and I decided to separate ways. And I’m very grateful I did that and very happy about it.

Damianne President: [00:11:30] You seem to really be driven by impact and by influence, and this led you to create impact learning, and I know that I’m missing a big chunk, because of course you went through a journey. It wasn’t one day I’m out of corporate, and the next day I’m going to start something new. In fact, you talk about the importance of the time you took for resting, which was several months, but I’d like to get into what is impact learning.

Maria Xenidou: [00:11:57] So impact learning is our ability to design our learning journey, to make choices about what things we learn so we can ultimately create work that we are proud of and make an impact. There is intention on this journey, so we make choices to learn, to create experiences that we learn and do work that makes an impact and that’s why it’s called impact learning, but it’s all about doing work that matters in creating an impact.

Damianne President: [00:12:32] The first time that I heard that term portfolio career was actually from listening to one of your podcasts, and it’s funny how you talked just now about how when you read Linchpin, it felt like the book was just for you. Because I listened to that podcast episode and I was like, how come I didn’t know this existed? Because it feels like something that I’ve been interested in looking at for the past couple of years as well. And it seems to be a good time for me to have discovered or encountered it. What’s the relationship to you between, I guess we should first define what’s a portfolio career?

Maria Xenidou: [00:13:11] Yeah, so a portfolio career is basically different projects we do throughout our career that we learn, we build skills, we create work that someone needs. So we solve a problem, right? And as we do that, we build skills and also make an impact. But we don’t do it by just doing the same, let’s say, work being an engineer, for example. Although an engineer works on many projects, right? So you can also think about that. But a portfolio career, the core essence behind that, I think is our ability to choose different kinds of projects that will help us learn, do work, and evolve our career, but also make an impact. So when I think, to answer your question, how are they related? So for me, the way to bring the impact learning vision to life, it’s through portfolio career. I talked a lot about that during the episode, and I need to say that there are lot of things I learned, I learned through books that I read but also I learned from David Nebinski, who also has the podcast portfolio career and talks a lot about it. And if people want to learn more about this, because that’s the focus of his podcast, they can listen to that.

Damianne President: [00:14:22] And I’ll definitely add that to the show notes At first, when I heard you mentioned portfolio career, I thought it was just having a bunch of different things. And then as you explained I realized oh no that’s not it at all. It’s focusing on one project at a time, is what you said, but it sounds a bit like scaffolding so…

Maria Xenidou: [00:14:44] There are many people who separate work and career, so let’s say, and when we talk about work is because they earn their living through their work, but their work and their profession, their career, or what they are more passionate about are very different They don’t have any overlap. For many people, the portfolio career applies because think about that as a big platform that we can do different things. So someone can be a podcaster, an author, a writer, a coach an advisor and all the things that say for me that would be things I’m doing and I want to continue to do and they’re all aligned one way or another with the impact learning idea or in simple terms with learning.

Damianne President: [00:15:35] So I guess we can think of them as being pieces to a puzzle or parts of a map or something like that.

Maria Xenidou: [00:15:40] That’s a beautiful metaphor. Beautiful.

Damianne President: [00:15:42] With impact learning it sounds like one of the things you’re trying to do is also find maybe small grassroots companies or organizations to support and to work with. Can you tell me how you find or how you choose those collaborators?

Maria Xenidou: [00:16:04] So first of all, with the podcast and with the impact learning overall activities, in addition to helping and teaching others whether it’s students or professionals to design their learning journey, I also tried to offer resources. Resources would be you know a workshop that I know it’s good, it’s going to help them, or access to resources in a way that they’re either free, available and many people that don’t have access to resources can get them. So that’s another way that happens and sometimes it happens through a story or through en connection that I have or just sharing this on the podcast or sharing this what I blog. A separate aspect is trying to offer directly resources in a financial way And this is where the impact learning fund came about which I created last year. And the idea for that is that I will, through the impact learning fund, support nonprofits and organizations who, again, offer access to resources to people in need, most of that aligned with learning but it could be also other things. Because it’s not only learning and training; It could be another way that someone learns a certain set of skills and then they can do work. So anything that helps people to move their work forward, it involves learning and training. So this is how I look for organizations. As I create income from impact learning portfolio career projects, all their income who go there That’s what I decided to do last year. I wanted to get it started so I basically took their last year of my salary as a vice president, and I basically depositted it in the fund and I started supporting nonprofits. To go now to your question, how do I choose them. I choose grassroots in more of what we call the long tail, the smaller ones. Because we all know the big ones, and they are doing excellent job, and I’m very grateful, and they are solving big problems, and they have also a lot of marketing budget so it’s very easy to find them. They do excellent campaigns so they raise funds. It is much more difficult for smaller ones. So I’m on the board of the school fund. We basically support the secondary education for high potential students in developing countries. It only takes a few hundred dollars for a school to be able to afford, you know, the cost to go to school for secondary school. So I’m on the board on that, and also I support them through the school fund. That’s an example. I also support another one is Movuno who is teaching now farmers, and that’s the model of skills, right, so they can harvest better the land they own. So it’s not learning about going to school or getting a degree; it’s about getting them skills and how to manage their farm in the best way so again they can create the best outcome from their work. And they need skills from that, and they need training, and that’s what they do. These are just two examples of organizations. I’ve just started this journey so I’m really looking to learn more, to find more, or you know the smaller organizations that I can support and contribute my part. But it’s a long journey and I’m very grateful, honored and privileged to be able to contribute.

Damianne President: [00:19:28] Do you see yourself in an ambassadorial role for some of those organizations that you’re on the board of, or in terms of helping generate funds from perhaps other listeners?

Maria Xenidou: [00:19:41] Yes but I have not really thought about it in a formal way and tried to advocate. So actually, at the beginning of this year, all the episodes, I have guests who are either the founders or the executive directors of the nonprofits I support. There are just a handful but it’s a way for me to bring to the listeners the story of the organization that I support and encourage them to contribute the best way they can. Again, it’s not a formal ambassador, but it’s an advocate the best way I can right now. And it can also evolve. I want to do more not only financial contribution, but also, you know, my skills, my experience. So the best way I can contribute to help them, whether it’s being on their board or being an advisor, the best way I can help is by leveraging, you know, skills and experience I have.

Damianne President: [00:20:31] This is a theme that comes up again and again as you speak in that it’s not about the title but it’s the role So you’re not, you may not have the title of ambassador, but you’re certainly an ambassador for these organizations with the work that you do

Maria Xenidou: [00:20:48] I love words and I love titles but I cannot be excited about a title, but I can be excited about the impact of the work. We tell stories about the the work we do so…

Damianne President: [00:20:59] I’d like to kind of point this out because I think it could be potentially inspiring for listeners because sometimes people might not do something because they say Oh I’m not a ________. But I think all of us can find opportunities to make actions, to make change, to help out where we can even though that might not officially be our title or our role.

Maria Xenidou: [00:21:18] And also we can always contribute It doesn’t always have to be, you know, financially. We can always contribute and help. We can share a free course on our social media profile, and people can learn about it, and maybe two or three students can find it, or we can quote someone, or we can give some advice and help someone who need that to move forward. Contribution and impact does not mean that we necessarily need to have the title in the structure. If we all contribute in small ways, it adds up. It compounds.

Damianne President: [00:21:53] How did you decide on this approach. Tell me the parts of learning impact and please share how you decided on this approach.

Maria Xenidou: [00:22:02] Let me try to break it down in a few distinct pieces. I explored things, I explored opportunities and that’s part of how I see my life and work. I keep evolving as a person and also as a worker, by exploring different aspects. Either they come my way or I become aware of, and then I pursue them intentionally. When I thought of the impact learning, it was not even called impact learning. Back then, I was thinking that I want to share resources with people in need, because I was born and raised in a low income family and learning and education changed my life. As a person but also my lifestyle, the ability to do the work that I do. So it affected a lot of my life. So first, I wanted to do something to create an impact but at the time I did not know what all these different things I could be doing. Could I write a book and tell my story? Would that help someone? Maybe. Could I blog and share some of my lessons? Maybe. But then, this is where I think exploratory learning and learning through projects, not only by reading books, and I read a lot of books. So I took workshops I started with the Akimbo workshops by Seth Gordon. Very quickly, I could see that he’s doing good things in the future of learning. So out of curiosity, I decided to explore it. The Podcasting Fellowship was completely accidental because it was all curiosity. It actually never crossed my mind to become a podcaster. But I thought how wonderful to figure out how he’s starting a new workshop from scratch. I took the first one. It was curiosity and my willingness and my curiosity to learn. Because of the kind of workshop, I had to define a project and work on it. So I started my podcast. So to understand the principles, it’s learning through exploration, and figure things out as we go but also being involved in projects that I actually do my work. So I create something that I can say, here it is; I created my podcast or I’m writing a book or I am coaching. So it has to be, going back to the intention, has to be specific. Because if I’m general, general for me is I’m reading books. And I don’t mean it in a bad way because I actually do read a lot of books, not always say 100% knowing what I’m going to get out of the book. But I usually have a problem and I’m trying to solve it. Overall I think the way I’m figuring this out, because I have not completed that; it’s still evolving, is I’m learning through exploration. I am learning things that they may not be exactly 100% aligned but I’m willing to explore it and I’m doing the work so they’re not theoretical things They are like real projects.

Damianne President: [00:25:03] As you’ve been on this journey, what challenges have you had to battle?

Maria Xenidou: [00:25:13]One challenge that I actually am in the middle of it right now, and it’s probably a good thing to talk about because it’s fresh, is as we get into the portfolio career, because it’s different projects, projects start, continue, but then at some point they may complete; they may come to an end. The same way there our things I might have been doing that I still love doing but I may not be able to continue to do them because I want to start other things. Because portfolio career, and the same thing with impact learning, to continue to evolve and change ourselves in our work, we need to continue to level up our skills and experiences. So if I continue to do the same things I’ve been doing, let’s say well the last two years, that means that I’m not probably going to have enough time to do something new that will help me, again, gain more experience, develop new skills and perhaps expand or level up the impact of my work. So I think the big challenge, and I think it’s a challenge for for people who are dealing with different projects, is that find the time that and make the decision to say either you know I give this project now to someone else, or I completed, or I contribute to this project maybe in a different capacity, so then I can be involved in something else. I think that’s the big one that I’m constantly think about and it’s not something that I want to stop thinking because I actually need to have that in my mind every time, the same way I also try not to get consumed in things that they don’t have a lot of impact. I always ask myself are there other people that could be doing what I’m doing,and if the answer is yes and I know these people, that means that I need to create an opportunity or help them figure out how to do it and then I go and do something else. Because to me, that is impact, that is change, evolution, but it’s not about just wanting to always change and evolve. It’s about how can I increase the impact of my work. If I have taught three other people how to do what I’m doing and they are doing it as well or even better,great. They can do that and then I can move on and do something else, and that’s also impact learning and portfolio career.

Damianne President: [00:27:46] As you’re speaking, I’m wondering. At some point, do you run out of things.

Maria Xenidou: [00:27:56] Yeah

Damianne President: [00:27:57] I’m just thinking out loud

Maria Xenidou: [00:27:59] That’s an excellent question. We run out of things to do or create if we are looking inwards. If I am connected with the people I want to serve and help, there is always another problem to solve. So the projects, that’s another thing, so the projects are projects that I like to do because I learn, I develop skills I do work that I’m proud of, it’s exciting, I create an impact. It’s all good. But that’s not a good project A project that solves a problem is a good project So I don’t think I’m going to run out of projects, although it might happen, but I think the way to think about this is I will always look to solve another problem. But of course the key question now is, again, is this project more attractive or more impactful than the other projects. And that’s another challenge when you asked me about what are the challenges. So another challenge is am I afraid I’m going to run out of projects, no. What is challenging, and I’m putting a lot of effort and emotional labor on and thinking, is which of the projects that I could work on, let’s say this year or this quarter, is the most impactful, that leverages in the best way my skills, my experiences, and what I have to offer so I can solve the problem.

Damianne President: [00:29:24] As you’ve explained it, it sounds like it’ll be more of an issue of what do I choose, as opposed to there aren’t any.

Maria Xenidou: [00:29:32] Yes exactly. And it’s not trivial. What do I choose is difficult. It is Challenging. That’s another thing, that I think; it’s on the top of my mind.

Damianne President: [00:29:40] Actually, for some people it’s paralyzing. I think, for some people, when there are so many possibilities, it’s easy to just get stuck in the decision phase. And one of the things that I hope people get from this podcast is commit to something, out of the options that you have, whatever criteria you use. But at some point, you have to pick something. Because if it’s the wrong choice, it will reveal itself to you as you go forward, and if it’s the right choice, well that also will be revealed.

Maria Xenidou: [00:30:15] Beautiful

Damianne President: [00:30:16] How did you develop your skills? If somebody is thinking that there are so many things that I don’t know, and there are so many resources or opportunities for me. What might they start? What would you advise?

Maria Xenidou: [00:30:34] Yeah. It’s very very common and probably now more than ever before because we have this abundance of resources and options around us and the information that we get access to. So it’s very easy to be confused or overwhelmed. I try to think in a simple way. So, first of all, what kind of work do I want to do, meaning what kind of problem am I going to solve. Am I going to develop a product, am I going to develop the code for software? What am I going to do? I always look at what is the work and the problem I want to solve. Then I look to see, either I talk with people or I find information that’s available, usually for free, what kind of skills do I need to do this? If I need to be a writer, of course I need to write. If I I don’t have any of these basic skills, I need to find what I call the basic, intro kind of training. A lot of these things are free. But then, all that part can be done quickly. Because there is information available and all of that is free. And you don’t have to ask permission. So, literally, this phase, what I call exploratory, it has to be quick. Then, there is no way to find out if we’re going to like something unless we do it. And this is why I encourage people, whether they are young students looking to see what they want to do with their career, or professional as at any stage of their career. The next thing is figure it out a project that you can contribute to. Can you work for someone? Can you collaborate with someone? Can you find a way to get access to see what this kind of work looks like in real life? And some of these things may be internships or projects that you helped someone for two months. Or it could be something that you get paid, but you need to have certain skills to get paid. So it starts with what do I want to do; what problem do I want to learn? What skills do I need to develop and then what is the project opportunity that I can get involved to start building these skills and learning from other people. I always say go and find someone who does what you want to do and offer to work for them. Help them. It could be a friend of yours that they are doing something with a business and you can say can I help you, because I actually want to launch a business? I’m not a business owner; I don’t have an MBA. I think if this person helps a friend who is building a business, they’re going to learn a lot of things. And then they learn other things. That’s how I think about things, and I don’t think it’s it has to be complex. It’s not easy. We might decide that we want to do something and after we try the project, the first project might not work, the second might not be interesting. So it depends how much we really like this kind of work. So a little bit of persistence may be also important. But this is the way. I would look for experience; I will look for opportunity to do the work I want to do.

Damianne President: [00:33:33] I think you’re in a unique position to be able to talk about change because you’ve lived in quite diverse countries, you’ve changed careers, you’re embarking on this quite dramatic journey, we might say. Is there anyone who inspires you with change?

Maria Xenidou: [00:33:53] So my role model is my mother. And I’ve talked about it a lot of times because my mom was poor, and she joined the working class, and also she raised three daughters on her own, when my father died. So when we talk about changing the world that we live in in our life and the life of the people who depend on us, I was very fortunate to have this role model living in the same house with me. That’s my mother. It’s showed me that everything is possible and that we can learn and figured out how to do certain things, intentionally or because we have to to improve our life. Because ultimately this is what it comes down to. You know, work is what we do because that’s what we like to get involved and do every day. But ultimately, we’re talking about our lives and the lives of the people who depend on us, our family and friends. I have a lot of people that I call them mentors that I learned from but I don’t have one person that I can learn everything from. I speak very passionately about my mom because I’ve lived with my mom, and so she’s been part of my life. She’s the reason I’m talking to you today, but there are many people I admire, I learn, I respect because of the impact they create. So we talked about Seth Gordon. I am inspired by his work and commitment to the future of learning and building communities. Jacqueline Novogratz, she has founded Acumen. It’s another beautiful organization that supports people in need to learn and develop skills to improve their life and work. That’s also a person that inspires me and I listened to her and I think everything is possible, and I can help and contribute to people the way does. Not in the same way, but she inspires me and I look up to her because she’s an amazing person. She has and continues to create impact on the lives of many people. And these are two examples, but I learn from many people. I don’t have one person that I can say, Oh this is the best person I would work for. I would love to work for Seth, I would love to work for Novagratz, I would love to work for many people. Going back to what I would love to do, I would love to work with them or for them so I can learn from them. Right? That’s how I see role models and mentors.

Damianne President: [00:36:13] Maria I want to say thank you because you are one of my coaches in the podcast fellowship, which was how this podcast came about. So thank you very much for that. And I have found that definitely having coaches that have been through the journey, or who could even help with asking questions, benefits me. Do you use coaches at all or have you?

Maria Xenidou: [00:36:39] Yes it’s a very good question. So all of us can coach if we are just a little bit ahead on the journey. Sometimes it could be, talking about podcasts, just a few episodes ahead, because we have figured out a few things, and then we can solve them and share them with someone else and we’re going to help them. Right? So everybody can teach and coach others. I don’t have a coach, maybe the way that others think of, but it doesn’t mean that I later on I will not have a coach. I do a lot of self coach so I had an executive coach just before I became a vice president and in his words, he said Maria you coach yourself. But that’s not enough, and again I don’t exclude that at some point I may have a coach. I do have a lot of mentors that I learned from actively, like I really study what they do, their actions. I try to figure it out how they made decisions. So I really learn a lot, going back to being very intentional So my mentors, they’re all virtual mentors, they don’t know that they’re my mentors are people that I learned from, but actively. Like if I have a problem and I think someone is really good at this, I’m going to study everything about this person. I’m going to figure out how he or she thinks. I know it sounds a little bit crazy when I say it like that, but I study. I study Seth Gordon, I study Jacqueline Novogratz, I study the people that I love their work. So that’s one thing. And the other thing is that I have a process and journaling. Daily writing helps me, that I reflect. So when I’m stuck, because we use a lot of coaches when we are stuck, that’s one way we use them, I sit down and I write. I basically I ask myself three questions and I figure out why am I stuck. And then I go out and find resources. Again, today there are more resources than they were 20 years ago, that I can figure it out what I need to do next. Because it always comes to that. Okay what’s my problem, why am I stuck, why am I frustrated? I write it down. I write quite a bit, I get to the bottom of it. I talk with a few friends, you know maybe on my accountability group, mastermind group. So it’s like I’m connected with other people, so you could consider that also peer coaching. And then I try to find resources myself or through others, that I can identify the first next step, one or two actions. And then I trust that my work will lead me to solve my problem. Again, I’m not excluding that at some point I may say you know what I need to coach because I’ve never done this specific thing and I need someone to coach me. I don’t say that this will not happen and this could happen in the future. But there are a lot of ways, which I think is part of evolving ourselves on a deeper level, that we can and we should direct ourselves. It’s part of what I call self directed learning. So if I don’t know something, a quick search will point me to some resources, a couple of books, not a lot of research, until I figure out what’s the next step, what’s the next action that I can take.

Damianne President: [00:40:04] I’m building a library of books from guests to Changes BIG and small. Do you have one or two books you might recommend for listeners that are interested in finding their own truth, or making changes that are necessary so that they can live in their truth?

Maria Xenidou: [00:40:41] So one beautiful book, I’m reading it a second time, is Ultra Learning. I read a lot about learning, and it is by Scott Young, and he’s talking a lot about what we call deliberate practice, which is a lot about habits, but it’s about also leveling up skills. It very much support what I was talking about, so in a portfolio career and in a learning environment, we always need to look for opportunities to level up our learning so we can develop new skills. And usually that means that either we’re doing new kinds of work or we immerse ourselves in a new environment. So that’s a beautiful book. It’s a big book and I’m reading it second time. I just love it The other thing similar to, if we want to continue to evolve ourselves, it’s also directs us, like how do we do. It’s the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. They are, I call them in the same generation of authors, because they do excellent work guiding us whether we’re working in a corporation or we’re freelancers or entrepreneurs, how to really keep evolving ourselves, change you know the way we think and act, but also taking action so we can create the change we want to create for ourselves, and then those we want to serve and for those, you know, we shared our life with.

Damianne President: [00:41:46] Maria, I want to tell you how inspired I am by you. I think that you’re doing excellent and very important work, and I’m definitely going to continue listening to Impact Learning. As I was listening to you interviews some of the people with different organizations making change in the world, I was thinking there’s definitely space for each of us whether financially or in some other way. And that’s something that I don’t think enough of, and I’d like to encourage listeners to think about it some more and to find ways that they could participate in helping make a difference in somebody else’s life as well, especially in education, which I think is so important.

Maria Xenidou: [00:42:31] Thank you Damianne. And what you said is also something that is why we are podcasting, and why we are talking with each other and sharing our stories. Because very often, it’s more easy or straightforward to see how another person created change and how they started. And, you know, listen to their story cause you don’t find that on their website, so it’s really understanding how this started, because this is also quite inspiring and motivating. Because when we think about what other people do, we often think that wow these people are amazing. Yes they are amazing, but they also started doing work and they started probably in a way that you and I can also start. And that’s why I find stories of other people really impactful, especially people who are not the billionaire and everybody else that they have all these resources and everything that none of us has. We’re talking about people like us, but they have been on a journey that we want to be on. These are the people that I would talk to, I try to you know learn from them, and I have them on the podcast. I try to support, contribute to their work, learn from them and then try to also figure out how I can contribute my part. But it’s not as difficult as it seems when we really talk to the person and figured out how this started, and they took one step after the other.

Damianne President: [00:43:56] Definitely. Where can listeners learn more about you and connect with you?

Maria Xenidou: [00:44:01] So they can find Impact Learning on all their podcast platforms, they listen to their podcast. And also I blog daily on LinkedIn. They can find me, and as I said a lot of things related to learning are there and also my experience and resources, so I share it as well. This is where they can find me. And if they want to share, to send me an email if they have a suggestion or a question about the podcast they can send me at

Damianne President: [00:44:36] Perfect. Thank you so much for chatting with me today. It’s been a wonderful opportunity.

Maria Xenidou: [00:44:41] Thank you so much. It was a a privilege and a gift to have this conversation with you Thank you so much.


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I'm a curious problem solver.

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