I can confidently say that I am one of the leading voices in Europe on the topic of helping women to find, own, and unleash their voices.
For the past decade, I have been running workshops, training, and private events around Europe to help women to increase their confidence by mastering their communication and leadership skills.
Today, I call myself a Communication Architect and Leader in High Heels.
And this is my story...
I am Brazilian and I come from a matriarchal family from both sides, my fathers and my mothers. Women on both sides of my family are strong, resilient, hard-workers and restless. They are unstoppable!
I was raised to model them. As a child, I carried the "good student" label. As an adult, I carried the "strong woman" label.
Both labels are heavy to carry. They don't allow mistakes, they don't allow giving less than expected, they don't allow being "average", and their measurement's standards are quite high.
And, to make it even harder, the "strong woman label" requires to carry also a smile, good humor, high spirit, positive approach, no matter the situation.
Whatever is on the plate, the strong woman should handle it.
Despite being strong and resilient, those women in my family, my role models, had the particular characteristic of being evasive and indirect when they were pubicly asked to give their personal opinion, their own views on a subject.
(Let's "blame" the patriarchal system they grew up and lived in.)
My parents were hard-workers and did the best they could to provide private education to me, my sister, and my brother. However, they were quite conservative and very attentive to comply with the "social norms". Therefore, for them, we, especially the girls, had to be good, well-behaved, and avoid confrontations.
I was an explorer! I was curious. I wanted to conquer the world. My creative mind gave me wings. I was a handful for my parents. They didn't really know how to handle the daydreamer and rebellious young lady they had put in this world. As a consequence, on my teens, I was given another label: rebellious!
I was about 14 years old when I decided to become an architect. Due to determination, commitment, and hard work, three years later I was accepted at the University of Architecture in my home town, Goiânia, in the heart of Brazil.
I will never forget my own reaction when, by getting to know better my new colleagues at the university, I had a realization: "I am normal!"
I found my tribe. Daydreaming was welcomed. It was a handy skill to propel my creativity. I could then express my ideas freely, through my drawings. Very suitable for a young lady who even being considered a "rebel", had never learned how to express herself at ease verbally.
I was, and I am an extrovert. And, as an extrovert, it is easy to be the center of attention. To the world, extroverts usually play the role of entertainers, being funny, strong. However, inside, it can be a different story...
When I finished university I was given the opportunity to expand my knowledge through professional experience in architecture in Valencia, Spain.
My extroverted manner made the first connections easier, however, I had to deal with another culture, different habits, and the most challenging situation in my life: my opinion and views about subjects were constantly requested.
And, I had enormous difficulties to "expose" myself, to share my views openly.
My evasive responses didn't impress my new Spanish friends. However, I guess they accepted that could be related to cultural differences. But, I felt constantly challenged by their inquisitive questions.
One day, a colleague at the university told me "Tulia, nunca te mojas!"
Meaning, "Tulia, you never say what you really think."
I was embarrassed but, I didn't know better.
Despite all, honoring the label of being a strong woman and great achiever, I paved a successful career throughout my years in Europe. Going from architecture in Spain to exploring the IT market in Ireland, and becoming an entrepreneur in the early 2000s.
Until one day... life pulled off from under my feet the comfortable rug I had crafted with care and determination throughout the years...
Let's do some time travel.
Place yourself back in 2009, in the beautiful Barcelona. At that time, I had a charming Brazilian Jewellery store in the Medieval Old Town in Barcelona. After the International Economic crisis had hit the world in 2008 with devastating consequences, it then hit my own world in 2009, also leaving devastating consequences.
As you might imagine, under such a crisis, no one really needed to buy jewelry. And, from one day to another, I had no sales. And, instead of looking for specialized support, a coach, a mentor, to help me to strategize the best way to get out of my mess, I did what I knew best: I kept working, harder and harder. I invested back in the business all my last savings hoping that I could keep it moving forward. Which didn't help at all!
Friends would ask me, "Is everything ok? How is business?"
I was close to bankruptcy and I kept saying, "everything is fine."
A close friend, the only one who knew the reality of my situation, one day came to me and said, "Tulia, I don't know if I admire you, or if I think you are absolutely insane! The world is falling apart around you, and you keep showing up, in high heels and smiling!"
"What else can I do?" I answered.
I was doing what I knew best. I never learned how to ask for help. I was raised to handle on my own what was put on my plate!
It was devastating, I knew I was in serious trouble, however, I couldn't make it pubicly that had failed. That I was a failure! I didn't want anybody to know that. I was convinced that I would figure a way out!
Things didn't improve. No sales.
And, at the top of it, angry suppliers demanding to be paid. I was unable to negotiate with them. The more pressure I was under, the more I gave in. Taking my last resources to pay everyone, even when that meant not leaving much left to meet my own personal needs.
And that led me to dig a bigger and deeper hole under my feet...
In the midst of the mess, I found a part-time job in IT, which gave me a means of survival while transitioning to the closure of the store.
However, I needed more. I needed to do something else that would take me away from the toxic environment I was living, daily, while closing the store. I needed something to lift my spirit.
Through a friend, I was introduced to Toastmasters International, which is a not-for-profit organization focused on communication and leadership development.
From the beginning, I got hooked. I signed up and became a very active member. In the beginning, it was my scapegoat from my messy professional environment.
However, the more I got involved, something profound started happening...
As I always been good in showing up strong and confident, even though I was only a few months within the organization, I was asked to be in charge of the educational program of my club, in the role of Vice President Education, and in the following year, I became the President of Prestigious Speakers Barcelona.
But.. the truth was, outside I was looking strong, but inside I was shattered.
Even with those recognitions, I felt like a failure, I had the impostor syndrome, I saw myself falling apart.
I knew deep down that I had to find "something", a new meaning, a new reason, purpose, so I could find a new light at the end of the tunnel. Which, at that moment looked quite dark...
It hit me when, in a women's conference lunch, I was asked to stand up and introduce myself.
Picture the scene: women gathered around big tables, in a fancy hotel in Barcelona. It was lively, it was noisy. All the ladies talking simultaneously. A few ladies introduced themselves before me. Nobody could really hear them. Then it was my turn. I stood up and started talking. And at that moment, something "magical" happened...
Every single person in the room stopped talking and looked towards me. It felt weird. All of sudden a complete silence, and more than one hundred eyeballs looking at me.
My introduction didn't last long, however, I had the feeling that the time had stopped, that everything was frozen in time. I sat down, confused.
I knew that I had something to learn from that experience.
Besides toastmasters, I immersed myself in expanding my learnings in communication, leadership, public speaking, self-development, business development (well-needed), etc. I became an avid reader, and I found comfort and hope in books. Besides, I felt that a new door was opening for me. I still didn't know exactly where. But I knew I would find it.
My enthusiasm for my new learnings gradually led me to start sharing them with others; first informally, and later, formally. By the end of 2009, I had closed my store and by early 2010 I transitioned to becoming a communication, presentation and public speaking trainer.
My big discovery was that every training I gave to others was also helping me to discover my true voice. I discovered the power of the stage as a platform not only to entertain but also, and most importantly, to help others.
Gradually and intuitively, I started receiving some signs that I should direct my focus on supporting women, especially. Initially, I didn't want that. I was one of those women who usually say, "I rather work with men."
Well, I believe it is easy to understand why. I've been raised surrounded by women who were hard towards each other. I feared I would repeat the pattern.
Yep! That was me.
It took me a few years to "accept and embrace" the calling...
Through the process of finding my own voice while helping others to find theirs, I observed that the quality of my relationships improved. I felt more confident and more relaxed to the fact that I was no longer feeling intimidated or challenged when my views on a subject were asked.
In parallel, I started recognizing my "old pain" in many of the women around me. Women who were amazing, bright, intelligent, sexy, successful, strong, who, like the "old" me, would shy away whenever their opinions, views were asked. Or even, behave like a child, sound like a child, when felt insecure.
That started bothering me. I realized I had to do something about it.
In 2014, when I was living in Zurich, Switzerland, I decided to focus on supporting professional women to find, own, and unleash their voices.
By then, I understood that was my calling.
That same year, I launched the event - AWE Summit - to give voice to women. A platform where women would come on stage to share their stories and with that inspire others. I wanted to give them a voice. A voice that took me too many years to find and own.
In 2015, with the intention of helping women to discover their female leadership style, I published my first book - Leading in High Heels - which is a collection of my own experiences leading other women and being led by them. It is a "cookbook", with good and tested recipes for inclusive and effective leadership.
However, I felt that like me, women needed special support to find, own, and unleash their voices, and in 2017 I founded the Speak Up & Lead Academy to help women to increase their confidence by mastering communication, presentations, public speaking, and leadership skills.
I believe we all have a mission on this planet, we are not here on holiday.
It took me too many years, denials, and evasions, ignoring my calling.
First, because I didn't recognize it; secondly because I resisted it. I didn't want the responsibility. Because working with women would mean a constant self-checking. And I was not keen to be looking inside myself too often.
It was easier to carry the strong woman label.
But... life has mysterious ways to put us on track.
Once I accepted my calling, my mission to work with women, everything connected "magically", and I started recognizing my path in a much clearer, pleasant, and relaxed way.
With the added benefit of taking away the enormous and heavy label of "strong woman" from my shoulders and from my life!
Well, I'm still a strong woman, and will always be. However, the big difference is that now I accept my mistakes. In fact, I celebrate them as learning opportunities. I'm not afraid or ashamed of making mistakes anymore. I learned that it is ok to show my vulnerability, and I celebrate it too because it makes me more human. I learned that I don't need to know everything. And accept that in fact, I will never will. Who does?
I'm no longer the pleaser, however, I'm still pleased to help others whenever I can. With the distinctive difference that I now first analyze if helping others in a moment in time is in alignment with my priorities and needs. I can not give give give, unlimitedness. I have to nurture my resources first.
I need to be and feel plenty in order to give plenty.
My mission became to bring more women's voices to stages globally. This way we can build more diverse and inclusive environments and, together, speak up and bring more equality towards all areas of life.
Today, my greatest satisfaction is when I see "my ladies" owning the stage, making themselves heard and visible to the world by sharing their gifts with grace and grit.
My motto, in alignment with that girl who was a daydreamer, to whom her creativity gave her wings:
"I'm a creator, if I don't find a door, I build one!"