Want to know how to become a purpose-driven entrepreneur? Let keynote speaker, entrepreneur, and author Liza Pavlakos show you how!
Overcoming homelessness, abduction, intense abuse, and human trafficking, Liza Pavlakos rose from the ashes to become a highly successful entrepreneur and commanding speaker, inspiring over 100,000 global audiences. Her ability to ignite and inspire the inner fire in her audiences saw her honoree of the prestigious Golden Gavel Award, and she was recognised as one of the Top 10 Female Speakers in the world, in 2020.
In episode #4 of the Future Females Show, hosted by Media Personality & Transformational Coach, Susana Kennedy, and Co-Founder & CEO of Future Females, Lauren Dallas, Liza shares her tips on becoming a serial entrepreneur with purpose-driven businesses.
Tell us more about yourself and your journey.
I’m a mother, a keynote speaker, and a survivor, but most of all – I’m an entrepreneur. I have a very unique story, I guess you could say I’m like a cat with nine lives. I’ve had a lot of different things happen to me. As a child, I was sexually abused, and going into teenagehood I was raped by my cousin. I was feeling so miserable with how my family was handling the situation because they didn’t know how to deal with it. It wasn’t that they were bad parents, or horrible, or anything like that – they just didn’t know how to handle it at the time. With all that misery that was going on within me, I became a runaway, homeless teen at the age of 16.
At the age of 17, I got myself out of homelessness and started my own business – a catering business, and I fell hopelessly in love for the first time with someone who was really unhealthy for me. I was a 17-year-old girl who didn’t know what boundaries looked like and I was so vulnerable that I took on a lot of crap. This boyfriend turned out to be a nightmare. He was extremely violent and I lived in a space of such domestic violence that I had my face reconstructed. Just when I had the strength to leave it all, start a new life for myself, enroll myself in school, and pick myself up to become great again, I was kidnapped and almost murdered. As a 20-year-old girl, I was broken and crushed after having been through all these horrible, disempowering experiences.
At the age of 21, I became a mother and a single parent with no hope, no education, basically nothing – because nothing was working out in my life. But when I had my son, I realised that it wasn’t his fault and that he didn’t ask for any of this. Only I had the power to give him a better life and to help change the narrative of our story. So, I came up with the idea to start a business with a purpose. At that time, it was the Miss India International beauty pageant in Australia with zero startup and 4 000 people coming to watch the show. After that, I had this amazing opportunity to get into the food and beverage industry and take over a café and bar and make it amazing. After that, I met my partner (who is a tailor) and I turned his business into a really successful enterprise. I worked with people like Novak Djokovic, Michael Buble, and Beyoncé (we literally had lunch together!) but I eventually asked myself: Does this make me happy? The answer was no, it doesn’t really make me happy because I had this profound story where I understood what it was like to give up your last rights just before you’re about to get murdered. I told myself that no matter how successful my partner and I were in the tailoring business, I had so much more to give because I was really fortunate to be alive and to be able to share my survival story. I became a speaker, without any kind of experience, and I took the business from zero to becoming the first Indian woman in the world to win a Golden Gavel Award. I found my purpose, but I also knew that it wasn’t enough – there was more. So I came up with the idea to start up a coaching business, Positive Breakthroughs, and here we are!
Do you think that having your son was a turning point for you in discovering the gift in the things that happened to you?
My son was definitely a gift. The minute I got pregnant with him I knew that he was going to take me to the next level. He gave me this purpose and drive because I didn’t want him to have the same story I did, I wanted to be a parent that gave him an opportunity in life and to protect and shelter him.
Let’s take the notion of resilience even further. When you were in one of your lowest moments, what made you decide to bounce back rather than give up?
I will tell you a story about resilience. I was traveling with my team on an engagement and we had a stopover in the Middle East where we realised that our driver had been a human trafficker and a terrorist. He was taking me and my two Australian colleagues to the desert to get human trafficked. It was a God-sent blessing that we were saved by military intelligence, but when we were saved we had to prove that we were not Australian and American spies and that we were facing espionage. In order to get saved, my cameraman had to fly his drone up in the air and so, upon flying the drone, military picked it up and we got surrounded by military intelligence and eventually detained in military prison. We didn’t know if we were going to come out alive or what was going to happen to us because we were not speaking the language. I remember when we were driving to the prison I thought about when I was kidnapped at the age of 19 – at that time I was alone but this time I had other people with me for whom I was responsible.
So, I think resilience was that moment when I realised that I had to stay tremendously calm, not just for me but also for Rosie and Matt (my colleagues) who were like family to me. We managed to get out of prison and go back home, safely. Resilience was also when I made that choice to take the next flight to my keynote speaking engagement in Nigeria (while suffering from severe PTSD) and actually do the talk. I remember getting the most heartwarming standing ovation from the audience after I shared what had just happened to me and my team and I thought, this is resilience – stepping over your fears and changing the narrative of your story. If you are going through a really difficult time, don’t just sit there, stuck in that space. Continue the story but change it so that you come out a winner who inspires not only yourself or the people around you, but the world.
You stepped into the eye of the storm and still did what needed to be done, which was the right thing instead of the easy thing. Is that right?
Absolutely right. Three months after what happened, I went back to the Middle East. I made sure I went alone and that nobody came with me and yes, everyone thought I was crazy but I needed to go back and walk the streets. I had bodyguards with me, but I needed to go back. When I think about that Middle Eastern country now, I only have good thoughts because I was shifting the story.
How do you create a business that sustains your purpose?
I think it’s about finding a need and filling a need. Because I’ve had so many different businesses, I’m now able (with Positive Breakthroughs) to understand what franchising is because I’ve studied it, and done it. It’s about creating a business that is easy and where we give people opportunities. That is my passion – to inspire people and to give them opportunities – at a very low cost.
What is something practical that you wish to share?
Instead of post-traumatic stress disorder, let’s change it up!
- P for purpose: Find out what your purpose is in life and what really makes you happy. What will make you willing to take risks? And then do that!
- T for trust: Trust yourself because if you don’t trust and believe in yourself, nobody else will. It all starts with your relationship with you.
- S for success: It’s important to be able to visualise and see success. Once you have a visualisation of what you want to achieve it becomes a road map for what you have to do in order to achieve that success.
- D for discovery: It’s SO important for you to step on the other side of your fears because when you do, you’re going to find fearlessness.
Once you have this in order you are ready to reframe it. You are no longer a PTSD victim, but a PTSD survivor and thriver.
If you could go back to being that little girl and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
It would be to keep shining and following this map because like Dora the Explorer, there is also a map for you and yes, through that map you are going to go through jungles and dive through the ocean, but at the end of the rainbow there is going to be a pot gold waiting for you. Follow the map, be brave and don’t worry if you lose people along the way.
Watch the video interview here:
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