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Women In Wellness: Zainab Salbi of Find Center On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Live your purpose. I think it is vitally important that whatever we do in life is an expression of our own passion and purpose. Some can do that on a fulltime basis; some on a part time basis. For some, it is a hobby that can be done on the side. Whatever are the circumstances, expressing our life’s purpose is most essential for our wellbeing.

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zainab Salbi.

Zainab Salbi is a celebrated humanitarian, author, and journalist, identified by Oprah Winfrey as one of the 25 women changing the world to People Magazine, and by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of “100 Top Global Thinkers”. She is the host of Redefined podcast, chief awareness officer at FindCenter, and co-founder of Daughters for Earth. Prior to that, Zainab founded and ran of Women for Women International, a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping women survivors of wars rebuild their lives. Zainab is also the author of several books including her bestseller Between Two Worlds and her latest and her latest Freedom Is an Inside Job. She is also the creator and host of several shows including: #MeToo, Now What? on PBS and Through Her Eyes with Zainab Salbi at Yahoo News.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Two things that clearly defined my early life were the fact that I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, and the way my parents’ love held and protected me. My mother, a biology teacher, and my father, a commercial pilot, were unerringly loving and affectionate. They were also often joyful, at least for the first 10 years of my life, but then everything changed. Saddam Hussein, then the president of the country, chose my family to be his social friends — leaving them with the conundrum of either accepting the friendship, knowing it would put them closer to danger and fear, or rejecting it and endangering their entire family’s lives. There wasn’t really much of a choice. My life soon revolved around the man, the president, the feared dictator whom I was asked to call “uncle”. War arrived soon after. I was only 11 years old when sirens, bombs, and fire jets filled the skies. My mother performed puppet shows for me and my brothers to distract us with an entertaining story when the skies and earth were filled with sounds of explosions. It was then that I realized the critical role women play in keeping life going in the midst of war — something never mentioned in any political discussions.

Life changed even more dramatically in 1990 when my mother arranged a marriage for me to a man I had not met in America. It took me nine years and her dying to understand that she did that to save me from the danger of being so close to Saddam Hussein. I had the choice to say no, but when she cried nonstop and begged me to trust her — that it was imperative I leave Iraq and that this was the only way — I did. I came to the US only to find the man to whom I was suddenly wed to be verbally and physically abusive. I left him after three months with $400 in my pocket, estranged in a country that was at war with my own home country and no family support to go back to. I was only 20 years old when I started a new journey in my life as a young immigrant in America.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

I was only 23 years old when I started the global aid organization, Women for Women International. At that time, I was a young immigrant stranded from my family in Iraq who had recently escaped from an abusive marriage, with very limited work experience, and no money. All I had was a compelling need to speak up against injustices happening to women — even if they were in a countries I knew nothing about. I wanted to create an organization to support women in war torn countries. My friends laughed at me for my silly dream but all I needed was one person to believe in me, and that was person Amjad Atallah, the man I loved and had recently married after abusive marriage. I started Women for Women by asking women to sponsor one woman at a time, for only one year at a time. Women for Women donors were asked to send $30 a month the woman they were paired with and also exchange letters and pictures with her. The idea was that, while we may not be equal in our resources, we are similar in our stories and our emotions.

What started as a young woman’s dream, ended up directly reaching to more than 400,000 women in conflict areas and raising more than $146 million dollars in direct aid and micro loans to help women rebuild their lives and those of their families. I had unconsciously taken all the lessons my mother bestowed upon me to make sure that more women would have a path to strength and independence, and to living the lives they want with security and integrity.

More than anything though, the experience of building and running Women for Women taught me that if I can turn a dream into a reality, everyone can. Life can be hard and challenging but when we persevere in our dreams and conviction while staying open to learning, the impossible can become possible and miracles can happen.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Honestly the mistake I made was not in the early days of my career. Those days were full of energy, belief, excitement and very little doubt about making the impossible possible. The challenge came in the midst of my success. Though success came gradually at first, at one point, it took off faster than I had the skill sets to deal with it. Suddenly I was dealing with multi-million dollars budgets, hundreds of staff, frequent media appearances, and endless travel. My intuition saved me throughout, but that doesn’t mean mistakes did not happen. My staff was looking at me as the ‘big boss,” but I had no idea what that meant myself. I was trying my best, but I was learning on the job.

If I had to point to one big mistake, I would say that it was not knowing how to distinguish between delegating and abdicating decision making powers. The two are very different! Understanding that difference and its nuances is of utmost importance. It is crucial to create a balance between being a confident, decisive leader and allowing others to take charge of pieces of the work. And to be clear about where the delineation of responsibilities lies. Not understanding that difference led to confusion within our organization — about how to own one’s power while empowering others in the very same time.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I am part of a founding team of FindCenter.com, a platform designed to support individuals seeking spiritual knowledge and guidance for their personal growth and development.

The free platform has over 100,000 carefully curated pages of articles, podcasts, videos, quotations, and books containing wisdom from poets, mystics, spiritual teachers, psychologists, and more on the struggles we face such as anxiety, aging, losing a loved one, or struggling with change. At FindCenter, no one pushes one type of spiritual healing on you, rather you are able to search on your own in a safe place, free, communal space. This platform is about democratizing access to spiritual health creating a space where we can learn together from old and new wisdom and from each other’s personal journeys and discoveries as we walk the path of healing and awakening.

This came out of a loving and collaborative efforts with my friends Neal Goldman and Caroline Pincus who inspire me every day with their love and dedication to creating an unbiased home for all those who are seeking healing.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Well, I have my seven rules for a happy day that had made a tremendous impact on my life. They is simple, basic, and came out of isolation during COVID-19 when I was sheltering-in at home. This also happened to be a time when I was healing from a sudden illness that nearly took my life and left me having to relearn how to walk, talk, and even think straight. I came up with a list of small interventions that, when done on a daily basis, truly brought me back to myself, and continue to bring me more joy than anything has before.

There was a time in my life when I had a check list of what it meant to have a successful life — living in the city, traveling, and hopping from one activity to the other, career success, and beautiful clothes. Now I have a checklist of what it takes to have a fulfilling day and I am exponentially happier, having changed my perception of success and found a way to weave my personal wellness together with my career success.

I have also managed to keep up with my daily practice even as life’s external activities have ramped back up and as a more intense workload has again emerged. And it continues to work. I continue to find that, if I do these things every day, I am happy.

  1. Drink lots of water. I drink at least 2.5 liter of water every day.
  2. Eat healthy. I happen to love a plant-based diet, and I do know when I eat clean and healthy food, I am always a happy person.
  3. Have an appointment with my heart. It is my name for mediation. By calling it an appointment, I am more vigilant about creating the time to meet my heart in my meditation practice.
  4. Be in the presence of nature — this could be as simple as being in the presence of a tree.
  5. Do something in the arts. This could be as simple as listening to music.
  6. Connect with family and friends. The prioritization of connection to love from community and family is something that I had not always done in times where work was a priority. Right now, work is important, but community takes the priority.
  7. Live your purpose. I think it is vitally important that whatever we do in life is an expression of our own passion and purpose. Some can do that on a fulltime basis; some on a part time basis. For some, it is a hobby that can be done on the side. Whatever are the circumstances, expressing our life’s purpose is most essential for our wellbeing.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Honestly, that is exactly what I am working on now, at FindCenter. In order to prioritize wellness as part of our society, we need two crucial things: to make wellness easily accessible and free for all; and to not prescribe only one path for healing and wellbeing. Our minds, cultures, interests, and lineage are all diverse, and so are our attractions to the paths of healing that makes sense to us.

We need to get to a place where our social exchanges –whether they be virtual or in person — focus not only on our external accomplishments but equally if not more on our internal journeys and discoveries. We need to base our lives on finding our heart’s center. That is what I am breathing and living every day with my colleagues and friends at FindCenter.com

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Whatever you are working on does not require you to self-sacrifice!!!!
  2. Build a support system of mentors and guides around you. Leadership is like art. Some of it is natural and other parts of it require growing into, disciplined work, and learning.
  3. Your physical, mental, and even spiritual health is an integral part of your success, not separated from it.
  4. Sit on the chair of your own queendom.
  5. Own your voice with clarity, strength, and grace.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Oh dear, they are all interconnected for me. Our individual wellbeing is an extension of the environmental wellbeing. The more we are in alignment with our values and our internal and external desires, the better we will feel emotionally. This for me is a must!

Also, while it may be difficult to make all the changes necessary to achieve individual wellbeing and to develop more environmentally cognizant behaviors, I believe it is important to accept that judgment is not in the absolute. Judgment is in the consciousness we put in our food, in treating our earth, our bodies, our friends and family, our foes, and in treating our own precious souls with kindness.

We need to give love and kindness to ourselves and the people around us. It is a rather simple concept, though admittedly difficult to implement. But it is so necessary and so worth it.

I have what I call an 80–20 rule. It may not be possible to be in complete alignment all the time in a very commercial and rapidly moving world, but it is possible to be 80% in alignment, leaving some room for exceptions.

For example, I am on a plant-based diet, I have an electric car, I try my best to buy local food and flowers and buy ethically manufactured cloths. Through FindCenter.com, I am dedicated to making mental and spiritual health easily accessible to all and, through Daughters for Earth, a nonprofit I co-founded, I aim to support land preservations efforts by women around the world trying to mitigate climate change. But I am not always consistent in all my practices. I slip. I sometimes buy a shirt because I like it and forget to ask all the right questions about how it was manufactured. But, when this happens, I take a note of that, vow to try to remember next time, and move on and enjoy my shirt.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

I would love for everyone to check out our new platform — FindCenter.com, and my podcast Redefined that can be found at FindCenter.com or wherever you find your podcasts. I pour my heart out in the conversations I have with amazing people and am very proud of it.

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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