“Believe in yourself… have faith in the talents, skills and dedication you know you have…”- Maria Shollenbarger
Maria Shollenbarger has ventured all over the world as a leading travel journalist, but she always returns to Italy. Currently based in Rome, Maria is an expert at uncovering the world’s most beautiful spots and secrets for travelers who want to experience the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. I always look to Maria for for advice and guidance on how to live your most authentic life… we are honored to share her most valuable thoughts with you.
Amy Powell: Is there one piece of advice that you wish your 9 year old self would give you today that would make an impact on your career?
Maria Shollenbarger: It sounds so cliched, but believe in yourself. Mostly because there might be times when it feels like no one else does, so you need to have faith in the talents, skills and dedication you know you have, and that you are bringing to the table. And also because I genuinely think that believing in yourself alters the quality of your work. You give your best when you believe you can do a good job. Also: BE KIND. To yourself, to others. It just feels better at the end of the day.
Amy: Was there a time you messed up and felt like you’d failed? how did you bounce back?
Maria: Absolutely — more than once. In some of those moments I was lucky enough to have a great manager or boss, who still had my back. Because — and this is how I bounced back from failure, and still do — everyone makes mistakes. A good boss, a good team, good friends: they all understand that. Everyone messes up. It’s very important to remember that, also because it’s important not to be afraid of failing. Once you have acknowledged a mistake, and even a failure, though, you do everything in your power to fix it, and then you move on. It can be hard to bounce back, so you just remind yourself, as often as you need to, that there’s not a person on the planet who hasn’t messed up. It’s what makes us human.
Amy: How did you learn to embrace risk-taking?
Maria: I am not the greatest at big risk-taking; it’s actually something I need to work on in my own personal development. For day-to-day work risks, there’s a sort general rule among business leaders: if you have done your research, and thought about it, and there’s about a 70 percent change you think you can succeed/know enough to succeed, that’s good enough. You have to make a call, and move on. But for bigger, deeper, life-sized risks — making major changes in your life — I found that what pushed me to take a risk was the feeling that staying where I was (and I mean mentally and emotionally as much as I mean in a certain job, house, or place) was actually worse than whatever was waiting for me out there in the unknown. As I get older, risks seem to get a bit easier. I think this is because as you go along in life, you start to look back and see that things tended to work out okay. If you took a risk and it didn’t pan out, most of the time it’s fixable. Remembering that can give you to courage to take the big risk in the first place.
Amy: What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how has it proven invaluable?
Maria: Lead by example. One of the best bosses I ever had once told me how important it is “to cast a good shadow”, which I took to mean the same thing. It sounds so basic, but it’s all true: demonstrate integrity. Be kind, and listen. Praise good work; be constructive and thoughtful when the time comes to talk to someone about work that’s not good — think about how to help them do better work. **And always, always remember that when you are in charge, the buck stops with you. Never point fingers and blame someone else. If you are the team leader and it happens on your watch, it’s your responsibility. I think leaders who remember this stay humble, and focused on what is important, and make themselves easy to work hard and well for.
Amy: What is the most fun part of your job?
Maria: Researching and reporting ‘out in the field’. Seeing new places, meeting new people, observing other worlds and figuring out how to tell the stories of them. I love landing in a foreign place with new sights, tastes, smells, weather, languages — and figuring out how to write about it in the truest way possible. My job involves all sort of aspects, from production to proofreading to filing expenses to interviews and, of course, the actual writing — which is, strangely, sometimes the most boring part, and certainly the most solitary/loneliest. Reporting — being out in the wide world, observing it, really looking at it with fresh eyes — does three wonderful things:
- It focusses me in the present moment, so I am not worried about the future or lost in the past.
- It reminds me of how lucky I am — sometimes the places I go are home to people who barely have enough to eat, or no where to live, or who have suffered through terrible wars. I am reminded that my life is incredibly privileged and rich in not just material things, but family and love. And
- It reminds me over and over again how incredibly precious and beautiful our planet is, and how endlessly beautiful people are, everywhere you go.