The goal of the “Living in Your Top 1%” interview series is to break down the qualities of people who excel and to show that you can be successful and achieve personal greatness from any starting point in your life. The interview series looks at people from all different careers and industries. Some names will be familiar and others may not. The purpose is to understand and borrow from the “best practices” of winners to develop a roadmap to YOUR TOP 1%. We will share a new story each month.
This week’s guest is Violet Zaki, regarded as a master fitness instructor. She started her journey in Australia as an overweight teenager. She decided to take charge of her life when she was 15 and set out on her fitness adventure. Violet is an adidas Global Fitness Ambassador in Martial Arts and travels around the world introducing her programs and inspiring people all over the world.
I first met Violet in NYC while taking one of her classes at Equinox. She has amazing energy and inspires hundreds of people every week in her packed classes. She believes we all have one mind, one body, and ultimately one life to live. It’s how we choose to use these tools that makes the difference in our journey through life. We are responsible for the choices we make and how we influence others. Take charge of your life…dare to live an extraordinary ONE.
Alissa Finerman: What’s the most important strength you possess that allows you to be successful in your role?
Violet Zaki: Clarity, perspective, and being persistent in the face of challenges.
I have very specific goals so I have a clear idea of what success looks like
and how my goals fit into the big picture. This helps me evaluate my progress and course correct as part of the journey. Another part of the process is to be persistent and have the guts to face failure and to learn from any mistakes. Ultimately, these strengths help me instill the right beliefs and patterns of behavior to make changes.
AF: What does success mean for you?
VZ: For me, success is a product of my self-expression and creativity and is a reflection of my drive, motivation, and discipline. I always look for opportunities to step into my greater self and to find joy and inspiration.
AF: What role does mindset play in reaching one’s potential?
VZ: Mindset is key and there are several areas to consider which include:
* Self Awareness: reflects my core strengths, talents and abilities
* Focused determination: enhances my stubbornness by not taking “no” for an answer
* Curiosity: makes me take more risks
* Intuition: tells me to listen to my gut instincts when I’m not in an emotional state
* Accountability: makes me show up every single time to keep my commitment
* Integrity: keeps me honest, dependable, and responsible
* Emotional/Mental fuel: gives me the mental/emotional strength I need when I want to give up
* Willingness: opens my heart and mind to do whatever it takes to learn
* Assertiveness: reminds me never to act like a man in a skirt to achieve success
* Ability to pivot: keeps me on my toes so I know when to give up, stop what I’m doing and head in another direction.
AF: What motivates you on a daily basis to keep going?
AF: What role do goals play in your life? Tell us a few words about your goal setting process.
VZ: Goals give me a sense of productivity. Being an avid user of lists and someone who likes to stay highly organized, I create a vision board. I start by creating a list of what my big picture will look like and how I will be once I have achieved this goal and then I continue to chunk it down with my “to do” list and target dates. I review this monthly with a “status report” to evaluate my progress.
For example: GOAL: Become a Body language expert
“To do” List:
• Explore Classes
• Sign up for classes by Oct 2011
• Buy books on the topic
• Attend classes
AF: What challenges have you overcome on your path?
VZ: The biggest obstacle really was two-headed, one external and the other internal. In 1993, determined to challenge myself, prove my independence and evolve out of cultural/familial limitations, I set out on my own and moved to the U.S. (New York) as a first generation Egyptian Australian female at the age of 25, tethered only by an impromptu commitment to volunteer at a non-profit children’s summer camp run by the Association for the Help of Retarded Children (AHRC). Unsure what to expect, I hoped to establish a foundation in human services, backed only by my undergrad degree and a couple years experience in the field of disabilities in Melbourne, Australia. My ultimate aspiration, though, was to build a top-flight career in the fitness industry.
A seemingly insurmountable external hurdle surfaced in my effort to secure a green card, requiring eight years of simultaneous work at two jobs—career development counselor at my sponsor AHRC and volunteer fitness instructor at the YMCA—including a four-year setback when my day-job manager failed to file the appropriate paperwork before deadline. I certainly questioned my resolve during this period, especially for a brief time when I had little money to eat more than bagels at each meal after paying rent. But I stayed focused, set ascending goals, and made the most of the process, including obtaining my black belt at the YMCA (after being physically attacked in a NYC subway). This gave me a sense of safety and belonging while being a single Aussie female whose family was thousands of miles away.
Yet, like many people I have worked with on a daily basis for the past seven years as a full-time fitness instructor, particularly women, the toughest challenge was probably the internal one of building self confidence and self esteem – really believing I had what it took to excel at my passion and rise to take advantage of each greater opportunity that came my way. Even today, after many gratifying years rallying others to self empowerment, along with unimaginable achievements as a fitness personality, I still have to give myself a pep talk every now and then.
AF: What are some of your most meaningful accomplishments?
VZ: I am most proud of going from being a self-perceived underdog (I was underdeveloped as a child, viewing myself as the “runt of the litter,” and then somewhat overweight as a teenager) to becoming a support system for those who face similar personal struggles.
The ability to dig deep and become a successful, self-made professional female, especially when remembering the personal reinvention necessary at times along the way, is very much part of this gratification. I relate back to this and the feeling gets reinforced every time a student of mine shares the emotional, mental, and physical strengthening they are undergoing as a result of my teachings, authentic engagement with them, and efforts to create a positive environment allowing them to grow while still challenging them to get out of their comfort zone.
AF: What do the top performers do differently to excel?
VZ: People who excel: set goals, constantly re-evaluate, correct and change course, maintain flexibility, are kind to themselves, and have a mentor.
To learn more about Violet, please visit:
Alissa Finerman is an Executive Coach and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, speaker and author of Living in YOUR Top 1%. She works with managers, C-suite executives and teams to leverage strengths, shift beliefs and achieve meaningful goals. Alissa has an MBA from the Wharton School and a BA from the University of California, Berkeley. She has worked with Ross Stores, Petco, BNP Paribas, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Brookfield Property Partners, Neutrogena, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Dress for Success. To learn more about coaching with Alissa, please visit her website and follow her on Facebook