An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Be kind to yourself after having to push through something. Using your grit can be exhausting. When I was called on to fill in for my boss at a senior management meeting, it was exciting, but pressure-filled. My boss was awesome, and those were big shoes to fill at a very important meeting. I had to dig deep, knowing that what we had to present was not great news. My grit got me through it; my self-care helped me move on joyfully.
As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Dore’.
Marisa has had an unorthodox and interesting career leading to being a chief marketing officer and marketing and product vice president. She is currently a business consultant, advisor and mentor. She began working as soon as she could. She worked multiple jobs through high school and college with the goal of having a good job and being able to live without roommates. We are glad to report she surpassed that goal years ago.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
My career chose me, and I am grateful. I could never have dreamed of my success. I am a worker; I like to get things done. After years of doing miscellaneous retail, food service, sales, bookkeeping, quality assurance and print production jobs, by strange circumstances I landed my first career position.
It turned out to be a great fit, and I was on my way. The company was family-owned, wildly successful and was doing fundraising for schools and organizations. I was drawn to the company goal of helping to do good in communities. I stayed with the company because of the wonderful people that were my coworkers and leaders. Who knew that making copies would lead to great things?
Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First, can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The chip I had on my shoulder started in high school. I was often told I could not do things, which made me more determined to do them, including making the softball team and the tennis team. I was elected the tennis team captain in my senior year. Then I was kicked off the team for “not taking seriously” the role of leading the warm ups and introductions at matches. I did take them seriously, but thought they should also be fun, often giving our players pro-wrestler type introductions. This was my first experience with being in a leadership position. I was devastated, but it turned out great. My teammates refused to play unless I was brought back onto the team. I had to agree to be a bit more serious. I learned important lessons about balance, responsibility, support and humor.
My sheer determination and hard work in college and at jobs while in college helped me earn my bachelor’s degree in art and minor in business. The art people did not think I was good enough, and the business people thought I was a bit to nonconforming. Once again, I had to prove myself better and worthy. These are more valuable traits honed by grit. I did not have a career plan after graduation. I tried several things before landing on what I was meant to do.
My first career opportunity came by fate. I was staying with a friend, sleeping on the floor in my trusty sleeping bag, when a past co-worker called and said I needed to get my act together and get a “real” job. She had an interview scheduled at Entertainment Publications for a job in the manufacturing department, but she decided to get married and move out of state. She suggested I go to the interview in her place. Neither she nor I told them I would be showing up for the interview. We both had done the same job at another company, so I decided to go for it.
I sat in the lobby in the new ugly business suit my parents had bought for the occasion, with my extra short Annie Lennox hair, tapping my foot, waiting for her name to be called. When they called her name, I confidently walked up, but there was a woman I knew from college who said I was not the person she called. I explained I was there for the interview to be the manufacturing clerk. She was shocked, as were the others interviewing me. It took coming back four more times before they offered me the position, and I started making photocopies. My career had taken off!
Over the years, I was promoted several times, worked in many departments and eventually became the director of manufacturing at that company. Then I was transferred into marketing and product management by the new owners. That was my next best move, again by fate and hard work. It was not planned.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My grandparents were immigrants and farmers. They were hard workers and loving people. I saw their drive and listened closely to their inspirational life stories. As the last girl of three in my religious and close family, I felt like I always had something to prove. My oldest sister is a kind person and talented musician. The middle sister was great at school, sports and was a cheerleader. I had a sense of humor, a creative mind and was okay at math.
I always felt like I did not fit in, but I had faith. My drive came from being decent at things, but I learned early that it is not the cards you are dealt, but how you play those cards. I had to try harder, be more creative and learn from failures to be good or great. At a young age, I figured out that if you got up and worked hard you could compete. I enjoy a healthy competition.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
My grit lead to my eventual success because I said yes to anything I saw as an opportunity. They do not always go well, but that is okay. In my early 20’s I got a job over the phone at a printing plant as a quality assurance clerk. I was living in Michigan, and the job was in California. I packed my little car and drove across the country. My bicycle and half of everything I owned was stolen on the way. At the facility, I was introduced to the midnight shift staff — 30 men and several were second- or third-generation employees. I had the responsibility to shut down the presses if the quality got to unacceptable levels.
The guys were big and older; I was the only woman, young and short. I took my job seriously and had the authority on paper to shut things down, but had no idea how I could make that happen. The approach I took was to earn their trust, communicate often, get to know them on a personal level and demonstrate that I would be fair and work with them before shutting things down. On breaks, slowly they accepted my presence, and I even started playing football with them in between the huge reams of paper. At our holiday party, my table was covered with drinks bought by the guys, and I felt triumphant. We ended up with the best quality of all the shifts.
Grit on sandpaper has ranges — course, medium and fine. My grit has changed over my career. When I was at the beginning of my career, I was course. I felt like I had to work harder and get things done on my own to prove my worth to an organization. Rough sandpaper is used on rough wood, just as pure determination might be rough on others.
Medium-grade sandpaper is primarily used for removing planning marks. As a middle manager, my grit became more communal. I wanted my teams to do well and started mentoring my staff and others in the organization. I listened more and pushed more gently.
To finish a project, it takes fine sandpaper. In my later years, I have become more like fine sandpaper. I find joy in helping others to be successful, projects to run smoothly and efforts to be appreciated. I have experience with all levels of grit and consider it to be one of my best tools in facing adversity or challenges. I started with grit and am now grateful, though sometimes I have to still grit and bear it.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
- Celebrate your accomplishments, big or small — the first big budget project I was responsible for was a difficult and important piece of work. When my team and I got it approved, we had a team potluck. It increased our comradery and commitment to the budget. Grit is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.
- Challenge yourself to try something new at least a few times a year (say yes to things that will make you uncomfortable). Keep your grit going by exercising it. I recently joined a Zoom meet-up for improv games. The others clearly had been doing it together for some time. I was very uncomfortable at first, but enjoyed the event.
- Be kind to yourself after having to push through something. Using your grit can be exhausting. When I was called on to fill in for my boss at a senior management meeting, it was exciting, but pressure-filled. My boss was awesome, and those were big shoes to fill at a very important meeting. I had to dig deep, knowing that what we had to present was not great news. My grit got me through it; my self-care helped me move on joyfully.
- Recognize grit in others; seeing is believing! I have seen people who have overcome real and traumatic adversity who have reached deep to be successful. I find them to be so inspirational and motivating.
- Look for opportunities to help encourage grit in others. I have had some great young talent cross my path. Many of these people were underestimated and passed over. They kept at it and kept going. As a manager, I had the chance to make a difference in their career paths. When I am able to reward grit, my grit is re-enforced. And laugh often.
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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
I have been blessed with many encouraging people over the years, personally and professionally. The two biggest professional influences are Mark Metcalfe and Sheila Potiker. I am going to focus on Mrs. Potiker. She was the co-founder of Entertainment Publications, along with her husband. They started it in their home and sold the business for hundreds of millions of dollars after running it for about 30 years.
Mrs. Potiker was one of only a few successful business women of that time. She was a shrewd negotiator, stately, intimidating, brilliant, yet quietly kind. It was only because she enjoyed having company-wide events to celebrate successes and build teams that I got on her radar. There was an annual Halloween costume competition in which you could win gift certificates to high-end restaurants which at the time I could not even dream of being able to afford. I hated attention, I disliked Halloween, but I wanted that award!
I was able to make myself a real page-turning, full-body Entertainment coupon book costume. I won! I was working at the lowest level of the company and because I went out of my comfort zone and used my creativity, she noticed me. It was the beginning of her taking an interest in my daily work. Up to that point, I had felt like an imposter in my job. I went to work and did the best I could and pushed through due to my grit. Once she took notice and started mentoring me, everything changed. I felt like I belonged, then knew I belonged.
One of the best skills she taught me was to listen. I would be asked to accompany her to lunch meetings with vendors. I was not to join in the conversation unless I was asked to say something. It was made clear I was there to listen and then report back after the meeting what I had heard or observed. This became a very valuable skill. Not only did I learn the value of actively listening, I learned by observing her how to gracefully handle important negotiations, sometimes difficult people and how to control yourself. These are only a few of the great lessons she taught me. How lucky am I?
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have done my best to take what I have learned and help others be successful. If you can in some small way help another person be successful in whatever they pursue, who knows what impact that can have down the line. It has been a joy to encourage some overlooked or negated, talented people to get hired or promoted or helped to have opportunity. I am so proud of the young people I have been able to manage or mentor and see the good they are doing in the world.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In recent months, I have started conceptualizing a life choice-related to financial health learning tool. I believe education is as important as handouts in changing lives for the better.
I work with youth groups, teach art and crafts to grade-school children and volunteer for projects related to feeding underserved or ignored communities. These are the people who show true grit. I am always inspired after an event.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
The best advice I can give to help their employees thrive is, be kind whenever you can. Look for ignored or under-utilized talent and give them an opportunity; it will have an impact on everybody. Seek ideas from everybody all the time. Create open communication, be honest and give consistent updates and feedback, and encourage the same at every level of management. Find humor during difficult situations. Reward your employees’ success. Lastly, encourage acceptance and diversity.
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. :-
This is a simple idea that I have started doing in the last couple of months. When I am out in public and I am interacting with anybody, I say, “May I ask your first name?” Not how are you doing, which always gets a response of “fine, how are you?”
It is so interesting, the wide variety of responses. I love it. Even with masks on, more often than not comes a smile and their name. It makes people feel seen, appreciated and sometimes just surprised and they wonder why I asked. Most times, that is it; other times it creates a conversation. Try it. You may like it, and it does not cost a thing and only takes a minute.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many great ones….
Here is one of mine:
“I never know how much of what I say is true”
This is so true, not only of what I say but what others say. It makes me laugh every time I think about it. Not that people are lying, but it is more that we hear, see, absorb so many things almost every minute of every day. It is a good reminder to take a minute and think about what you hear and say, plus it is funny. I try to listen actively and try to speak with caution.
Another is “If you knock and a door that doesn’t open, build a new door”
Grit and Gumption, Grace and Humor
- K.P. & M. D.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.