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An Interview With The Fabulous Ana Dutra, CEO of The Executives Club of Chicago

About me…

I am the daughter of a self-made man. My father hitch-hiked from the interior of Brazil to Rio De Janeiro when he was 18 years old because he didn’t have money for a bus ticket. He worked throughout the day to pay for his education at night and became one of the most well-known radio speakers in Brazil. My mother was the daughter of a physician and was very middle class. She married my dad and had three children. I am the oldest and interestingly I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up but I knew it had to be something global. I was always looking at all the places around the world on the globe and dreaming of all the different places I would like to travel to and live in. I started learning languages because I told myself that if I am to travel then I need to know various languages to communicate with people; that’s why I am fluent in so many languages.

Also, I started to look at what I was going to study and what I wanted to be not necessarily because I liked a particular course or subject; instead I was more interested in what was going to give me the opportunity to build a global career. I knew I wanted to be out there so I started my career with IBM which is a global company. My other options were to be a flight attendant or a diplomat but I later decided that being a diplomat is too bureaucratic and I didn’t want to do that. I took the first opportunity I had to work abroad and then finally married a man who is as adventurous and courageous as I am. That’s how we ended up here. Everything in life always has a combination of the vision, the intention and action and then a little sprinkle of luck because if that’s not there then it won’t work.

Some turning points in my life…

I always talk about the fact that when you are curious about something and you don’t know anything about it don’t be proud, ask questions. For me there were 3 questions that I asked which changed my life. I asked the first question when I was in college because I was studying to be a diplomat. I asked if I could shadow a diplomat so that I could see what they did because I had this vision that diplomats negotiate peace agreements and stuff like that. After shadowing for a while I realised that it was too bureaucratic for me and so I went to work for IBM. One day, a colleague walked into my office to say goodbye as he was going to the US to get an MBA (Masters in Business Administration). I realised that I had no idea what an MBA was and I didn’t know whether to ask or let it go but I decided to ask anyway.  By the time he was done explaining what it is, I knew I wanted to get one. I left the office and went to the US consulate and started researching to find more information about an MBA and that’s how we came to the US.

The next question that changed my life came about as I was in consulting and getting restless and bored with just giving advice and not actually doing things and making the decisions. I decided that instead of leaving my job I would ask my boss the question since he has been consulting for life. I asked him if there is any way I could stay on my job which is to advice businesses and also run a business and make decisions. He then told me that they have been talking about finding the right person to run the region so that’s how I got another job opportunity within the company.

The last question that changed my life was proposing to my husband since he was taking his time and I was getting a bit annoyed. He didn’t actually say yes right away since he was very fearful of commitment but after a few times he said yes. We have been married for almost 30 years now. I always tell him that the proposal was the hardest job offer to get! Haha

How I deal with fear and self-doubt…

Bertrand Russel the philosopher said ‘the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.’ So having self-doubt is okay but allowing them to limit what you do is not. In fact, there is data showing that self-doubt and imposter syndrome is way more prevalent in women than in man. There is a great book called the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ where the author shows that with so many women even when they are accepted to programs or get a job, what crosses their mind is ‘wow, I was able to fool them one more time’. I think that all of us go through that so we feel it, we embrace it and we let the butterflies fly. I have a friend who says that every time she gives a big speech and she feels butterflies in her stomach, she asks them to ‘just fly in formation’.” That means she acknowledges that the “butterflies” are there but she organizes them to fly “in formation”, therefore not allowing panic to take over and making sure that she is control.

If I am doing something that I feel responsibility for, be it a speech or teaching a class and I am not a little bit nervous then that’s a bad sign. I think that if I care about it then I should be a little bit nervous. Let me tell you a story about a client’s company. The company decided to start a breast feeding initiative to motivate women who have had babies to go back to work and be able to go to use a room in the office to pump milk. They wanted a sponsor for the initiative from within the company and it was a paid position. The response of the women was ‘I would so much like to lead this but I don’t know if I am qualified’, or ‘I only breastfed my child for two months and I never pumped milk in the office’. Basically, the women were all giving excuses but a guy came in said ‘I know I am not a woman but I have three children, I saw my wife breast feeding, I am all for it and I think I am more than qualified to take on this initiative.’ He actually got the job and is the head of the breast feeding initiative in this company! Whilst the women were second guessing themselves, he just said here is why you should pick me!

For me personally, dealing with the butterflies in my stomach depends on the situation. First of all, I am a big meditator so if I am really nervous, I will go somewhere by myself to meditate and breathe for ten minutes just to ground myself. That works for me. If it is a situation that I am talking to a larger audience, I literally look at myself in the mirror and I say ‘you are here for a reason, you are the speaker and not someone else in the audience because some people believe that you know a lot about the subject matter and you qualify to do this so don’t second guess yourself’. Basically, I have serious conversations and negotiate with myself. The third thing I do is to prepare. I prepare like there is no tomorrow so that for example if I am to introduce the CEO of a company, I would know all there is to know about the person.

Relationships with husbands when we are going across countries…

I would say choose your husband carefully. I got lucky because I didn’t have to think about it that way, I just fell in love and got married. But I got lucky because my husband never stalled my career. He is a physician surgeon whose job doesn’t include travelling. So while I was globetrotting, he was the person who was home. He also loves what he does so he is super busy and super dedicated. The way I am doesn’t puzzle him at all. We could both be retired and would both wake up at five o’clock in the morning. I told him today that I would get home around five o’clock and he asked me if I could get home earlier so that we can go have dinner or something. But if it doesn’t work out because he is in the operating room or attending to his patients, I am totally cool with that and vice versa. It gets more complicated when the two of you are in different wave lengths.

To mothers juggling home and work…

I will tell you one thing that I did which worked, one thing that I did which didn’t work and one thing that I wished I had done. The thing that I did that worked is that I am always extremely organised. My motto is plan in advance but then live one day at a time. Because you can keep planning but sometimes certain things come up like your child may throw up the entire night so you have to be with her which means you will be exhausted the next day. Have contingency plans, emergency plans but then be ready to do one thing at a time.

The one thing that I did and did not work was I overwhelmed my kids. This is because I was always the kid that got involved in everything so I pushed my own kids too much. At some point you have to step back and know that your children are not you, they are themselves and respect that. I have always been the type ‘A’ over achiever student so the day that my daughter asked ‘do you think I did enough to get a B’, I just wanted to put my head in the toilet and flush myself. I asked myself how I could possibly raise a child who is asking me such a question. But, at some point you have to take a step back and say this is her own choice. So instead, I asked her this question ‘why don’t you want to do enough to get an A’ but at the end of the day it’s her choice. Don’t try to project yourself, your dreams and personality on your children because they are all different.

I know that probably my kids didn’t do somethings that they could have continued to do because I pushed them too hard. One of my kids was an amazing soccer player but I was so hard core that at some point when she was 14 years old and had invested so much time in the soccer and was playing one of the top soccer teams, she said didn’t want to try out the following year and I knew it was my fault. Let them be. I am not saying you shouldn’t set expectations and standards but let them find out how hard they want to push themselves.

The thing that I wished somebody had told me when I discovered it is the importance of taking care of yourself too. I realised this when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because I had three teenagers, I was travelling like crazy and had a high pressure job. I now have my yoga, meditation and running. I wish that someone had told me that I need to take 30 minutes a day or even 30 minutes every other day to do something to re-energise myself and replenish my energy. I would have been a much better person if I did that because I was always in that mode where I worked more, slept less and ate less. But at some point you need to step back to reenergise and replenish then go back to the task and then step back again which is what I try to do now. I wish somebody had told me that 25 years ago; take care of yourself. Thank you.

Buy Ana’s Book:

Interview by: Ama Duncan, Corporate Trainer and Founder of The Fabulous Woman Network

Source: The Fabulous Woman Network Facebook page


While The Fabulous Woman Network strives to make the information on this page as accurate as possible, it makes no claims or endorsement of the accuracy of the contents of this interview and hereby expressly disclaims liability for any errors or inaccuracies contained therein.

This interview was sponsored by Corporate Training Solutions. Call us on +233244721062 for all your organizational training needs.

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