Andreeea Dutescu Vanacker of Successonality and Sparkx5 on overcoming fear and harnessing the power of failure

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Andreea Dutescu Vanacker is the Founder of Successonality Inc. and the CEO of Sparkx5. She is a seasoned Business Executive with a passion for understanding what makes people successful and how we can live a more fulfilled life. Andreea holds a Ph.D. in Economics, a Masters in Finance and Economics and has deep experience in business model reinvention. She is also the proud mother of two wonderful children who are a big source of her inspiration.

Looking back five/ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

Ten years ago, I was working as an Executive at an international organization and was doing a lot of thinking about how I could have more of a positive impact on the world. I had been working for that company for a number of years, and spent most of my time in the areas of business strategy, innovation and business model reinvention, managing a team of over 100 people globally. At the time though, I had recently become the mother of a wonderful little girl, which pushed me to wrestle with the question of how to have greater impact on others outside of what I was doing at the time. While I didn’t have the answer around what I wanted to do next, I knew that what I was meant to do extended beyond being a business executive.

Tell me about Sucessonality. What inspired you to get started?

I was inspired to start Successonality by my daughter. You never know what life will bring you when it comes to inspiration! I knew that one day, my daughter would be asking me about what it took for someone to be successful. As a parent, I wanted to find a way to share what I had learned through my corporate and life experiences and  to paint a picture for her around how to be successful. It was all about trying to inspire her to be the best person she could be, and this led me to write a book for her. When my son was born, I came to realize that the book was something that I needed to share with others outside of our family, and this is what made me publish it and start a business around it. That is how Successonality started.

From your work, what are the ways that people can build a personality for success? Is this something that you are just born with or can you learn a personality of success?

There are no limits around what someone can learn, do or be. People often don’t realize that all skills are learnable. It is all about having the right mindset and focus towards pursuing our dreams. Building a personality of success ultimately comes down to your habits, the way you think and what you do in order to propel yourself forward. It all starts with having a clear goal and aligning all your energy around achieving that goal. Having the right attitude/mind-set, being creative, perseverant and fearless in the face of failure are all things that give someone the highest likelihood of achieving success.

What have been some of the most important business lessons that you have had to learn the hard way? How have they made you more successful?

We all have a choice when it comes to how we think about and feel about our failures. We can think about them in a negative way or, we can think about them in a way that lets us explore new possibilities. When facing rejection or failure, it is often about how we reinvent ourselves and how we can take a fresh perspective on the overall situation. Having led teams during times of layoffs and budget cuts, I learned how important it is to only focus on what you can control instead of dwelling on what you cannot.

I also learned the importance of facing your fears and not letting failure define who you are. Early in my career, I used to be petrified of public speaking and was once asked by my company to deliver an important presentation in Europe, which didn’t go so well. Instead of giving up on trying to become a better public speaker, I pursued training and sought opportunities to give more public presentations. Years after my first negative public speaking experience, I was able to successfully deliver a very important presentation to a group of my company’s most valued customers with only 30 minutes of notice. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I just gave up on being a better speaker. Looking back, what I once feared so many years ago, I now greatly enjoy.

Were there ever specific times when you needed to help your team get over a big failure?

During the Financial crisis, I needed to figure out a way to help my team overcome their fear about the market conditions and give them the confidence that they needed to be bold and think differently. To do that, I took my whole team “fire walking” where we together, stepped across hot coals of about 500 degrees Celsius (1000 degrees Fahrenheit). This was an amazing but unconventional team-building activity that gave us all a renewed sense of confidence. Although we needed to go through HR and Legal in order to get their approvals, that experience ended up being very impactful for us, from a business and team cohesion perspective.

What does leadership look like to you? What makes a great leader?

In my view, a great leader is someone who can build trust within their team and encourage authentic conversations. Leaders need to recognize that they are far from perfect, and even though they are in a leadership role, there is always the opportunity to learn from their team. Introspection and self-awareness is essential. I’ve also learned that to be a great leader, one needs to start from a place of immense purpose and passion for what you are doing. Having a clear purpose – “a clear why” – serves as a compass for all our actions and decisions. Passion is also important when it comes to hiring, and I’ve learned that hiring for passion goes beyond hiring just for skills. Finally, great leaders coach, help their employees leverage and build their strengths, and inspire them to reach their highest potential.

What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

Years after writing my first book, I came to realize that we should always seek fulfillment before we seek success. We can achieve great material success in our careers but may never be fulfilled by what we do. Based on the work and research that I’ve done, I’ve come to realize that there are five key factors that lead to true fulfillment: 1) Purpose, 2) Career/Prosperity, 3) Relationships, 4) Health/Growth and 5) Quality of Life. I call these the Sparkx5 pillars, since life is about finding and living our spark in order to find true joy. For this to be achieved, a balance in these five areas is required. A person that spends all their energy working, may neglect their health and key relationships in their lives, and may even forget to cherish the beauty of life. Everything starts with finding a purpose that allows us to have a positive impact on this world, since true joy and fulfillment emerges when we bring joy to others. By working with a purpose-driven company that inspires you, and embracing the Sparkx5 pillars, I believe true fulfillment is within everyone’s reach.

Aubrey Chapnick