Shelley is currently working on a weekly video series with her choice-based tarot practice, as well as developing self-paced workshops that will show people how to use the tarot to aid in self-knowledge, personal growth, and empowered decision-making. That is her passionate, personal work and it’s in addition to her current day job as a contributor to ANSA and a freelance writer.
What is your morning routine?
I’m a single mom of three elementary-aged kids, so my morning routine is all about getting them up and ready for school. The alarm goes off at 7AM; usually my six-year-old twin daughter Olivia wakes up immediately and gets ready to go. Her eight-year-old brother Vincenzo is generally second, with twin Paola being the sleepyhead of the bunch. Once I’ve gotten them breakfast, dressed, teeth brushed, shoes and socks (hopefully matching) found, grembuili on (it’s a school smock that they wear in Italian public elementary school—we live in Rome), and made sure backpacks have everything they need for the day, we head off to school hopefully in time for the 8:30AM bell. By the time I get them off to school, I feel like I’ve already won a war, and usually I haven’t even had time for my first coffee yet.
What is your evening routine?
A bit of a reverse of the morning, with picking up kids from school and getting dinner, unless they have activities like dance or basketball that evening. I make it a point to eat dinner all together at the table; each evening we all say one thing we’re thankful for from our day. We eat dinner at the very American hour of 6:30PM, which shocks my Italian friends. They eat with their kids generally around 8PM or 8:30PM. I start getting my kids ready for bed at 8PM. After a story for each of them, and the p.j./teeth-brushing routine, it’s usually 9PM before I have a quiet moment for myself. By that time I want to dig into the latest news articles or a book, but often I fall asleep after I start reading.
What is your idea of success?
Being content with what I have and taking full responsibility for my role in creating the life that I live.
What has been your greatest achievement thus far?
Coming to Rome by myself at age 24 without knowing any locals or the language, creating a life for myself from scratch, and then staying and thriving after nearly 15 years.
What has been your biggest failure and how did you overcome it?
It’s funny, about failures, because the minute I identify anything I failed at, I immediately see the constructive things I learned from it. So in a way, failures to me reflect the polarity of life itself—there are two sides to every coin. My biggest personal failure is my divorce after 10 years with my children’s father. And yet, paradoxically, as terrible as that was and as much a true “failure” it is to not be able to make a marriage succeed in a traditional sense, it was a personal success in many ways and has been the single most important growing and learning experience of my entire life.
What do you feel is the biggest mistake people make when starting a business? Did you make it?
I don’t know if this is necessarily a mistake so much as it is a mindset shift that I didn’t have when I started my first business, but it was the idea that I should be seeing concrete results right away. I had an impatience for success as I defined it (i.e., making a profit) that wasn’t realistic. Building a business to the point where it generates clientele, profit, or other traditional success markers, is something that, at least in my experience, takes a significant amount of time. You may be working 12 hours a day at your business but not seeing much of a traditional return on investment for a year or more. What I didn’t understand is that the incremental building phase is part of necessary future growth; it doesn’t happen all at once. I think it’s important to recognize that if you’re in it for the long haul, you may not see a ton of activity or engagement at the start, but with consistency and a specific vision, the engagement eventually comes as a result of your initial efforts.
What is the trait you most admire in others?
I really admire people who are able to do their own thing without becoming discouraged by comparing themselves to others or by feeling they need to conform to the status quo. It’s not easy to be yourself, as trite as that may sound. So, those who do it, those who really are living according to their own inclinations in a way that allows them to be the fullest expression of their true selves, without hurting others—that.
What is your biggest professional pet peeve?
I don’t like sloppiness. It bothers me, as a writer, when people don’t pay attention to simple grammar rules or don’t proofread their writing. Perhaps this is how a dentist would feel about a patient who doesn’t brush their teeth. We all write, whether we’re paid to do so or not and whether we like it or not, so we should all take care to at least make our writing as clean and presentable as possible. I’ll admit that there’s a certain amount of innate talent involved in writing well, as with any craft. But a large part of writing well comes from learning and practice—it’s a skill that anyone can improve.
How do you define a great leader?
A great leader is someone who uses a core set of values as their compass and consistently acts according to those values. Whether I agree with the values or not, a leader is someone who is confident in what they stand for and therefore leads by example. It’s a slippery slope because I often think of historical or contemporary figures whose values are vastly opposed to my own, but who nonetheless had or have a large “following,” and I ask myself: are they a great leader even though I don’t think where they’re leading people is necessarily a great place?
After reflection, I have to say that for me, in order to be considered a great leader, vision and values must not be opposed to social justice, equality, inclusion, compassion, and kindness. The truth is that sometimes very “bad” people are incredibly talented in terms of leadership, but just because they have a large following doesn’t necessarily make them worthy of being considered great leaders. I think we also have to consider the ultimate impact that a leader has on his or her society and community—did they serve a good greater than themselves?
If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead) who would it be and what would you like the topic of conversation to be?
I’ve always been fascinated by Abraham Lincoln, for the challenges he faced both personally and professionally and for what I see as an incredible fortitude and calm under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. I’d like the topic of conversation to be about how to maintain personal conviction and integrity while also having to make very hard decisions and going against the grain. I feel that he was a great example of this, which to me ultimately boils down to what I see as courage.
Who is the most badass woman you know and why?
The most badass woman I know is my aunt, who left an abusive husband after 11 years of marriage when she had a toddler, twin infants, and just $40 in her pocket. She has been married just over 30 years now to her second husband and raised her kids to be empathetic, successful individuals who have gone on to create extended and blended families of their own. My aunt is badass because she follows the impulses of her inner soul and, while she does her best not to intentionally hurt others, she also knows about personal boundaries and makes it a point to create the life she wants to live. Her two greatest pieces of advice to me have been: “the door to your heart only opens from the inside” (in other words, we choose who to let in) and, “when you’re hurting, take it as a good sign that you have a working heart.” I love her positive, strong spin on life’s ups and downs. And her sense of humor is priceless.
What is your best negotiating tactic?
I’ll admit that I don’t feel negotiating is one of my strong points and I could certainly learn how to be a better, more assertive negotiator. However, I feel that my ability to empathize with others and connect with people on an emotional level is an asset. Negotiating is often seen as a skill that requires emotional detachment, but I think being emotionally aware is important in anything that involves a relationship between people.
What’s your best networking secret?
Not being afraid to make the proverbial first move. What’s the worst that could happen? Introduce yourself. Whether it’s through email or at a networking event, the important thing is putting yourself out there. You won’t meet anyone by staying at home.
How do you stay organized throughout the day?
What advice would you go back and give your younger self?
Don’t take everything so seriously. It all works out in the end, every time, even if it’s not the way you had hoped or planned. Life is cyclical and the ups and downs eventually become like waves, so try to see things from a long-term perspective. The tricky thing about “advice to younger self” questions is something I’m only realizing now at nearly 40: frankly speaking, I’m not sure I had the emotional maturity or life perspective to implement this advice at a younger age. There’s something about living an extra 20 years that must be experienced in order to be fully implemented.
Phone call or email and why?
Email because it’s faster and doesn’t interrupt anyone in the middle of something.
What are you most proud of in your life?
My children and my ability to mother them in a heart-centered way in the midst of life’s challenges.
What qualities do you believe make someone a great team member?
The ability to listen and incorporate constructive criticism without being defensive. In short, humility and a willingness to learn and grow.
What is the fastest way to turn you off in an interview?
Arrogance, or pretending to be something or someone that you’re not. Authenticity will go much further with me because inauthenticity is usually quite apparent.
How does someone impress you on an interview?
By being honest. If the job isn’t going to be a good fit, don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. If you don’t have the skills, don’t pretend you do. If you don’t really want the job but you need the money, don’t pretend it’s your dream job choice, because it will become apparent quickly if you eventually get hired, and it will be a problem for everyone. A job interview is like a first date, and the relationship isn’t going to go anywhere ultimately if both partners aren’t honest about what they really want and need, and how those wants and needs might be mutually beneficial or compatible.
Where do you get most of your information?
Online. The New York Times, ANSA (Italian news agency where I work), TIME, AP smartphone app, NPR One smartphone app, and through email from a large range of different online publications and websites both large and small that I’ve signed up with.
What apps could you not live without?
I think if it were up to me, I could live without apps at all, because I grew up before the digital revolution and so I actually like analog things. But it’s truly no longer possible to thrive in today’s world without them. That being the case, I’d miss Google Maps if I no longer had it.
What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?
Always stick to your core values and integrity, even if it means you have to stand up to your boss. I’ve had a couple of unscrupulous managers and I feel proud of the times I stuck to my guns and rallied against what I knew was dishonest behavior on their part. To me, no job and no boss is worth sacrificing your integrity. Stand up for your values.
What do think are the three most essential lessons you have learned in business thus far?
- 1 | Don’t get involved in office politics or gossip.
- 2 | Don’t make promises you can’t keep or deliver on.
- 3 | Professionalism is key; if you don’t know what it means to be professional, learn—your reputation depends on how you behave.
What is your professional motto?
Probably the same as my life motto: “This too shall pass”—meaning, there’s a solution to any crisis, so don’t lose your head in a panic. When it’s over you’ll have learned more if you managed to stay calm.
Who is your business crush?
I really like what Adam Braun has done with Pencils of Promise, because of the sheer scale he’s been able to reach and the human impact his organization has made and continues to make, without sacrificing core values.
Where would you like to be professionally in a year?
What do you regret most?
Every regret that comes to mind is immediately replaced with a reason why that particular experience was useful or meaningful, so I suppose I can say at this point I really don’t have any regrets. I feel like I’m always doing my best with the resources I have in this moment, so I don’t beat myself up about things I could have done differently. Hindsight is always 20/20.
How do you define happiness?
Living my life guided by a deep and meaningful sense of purpose generated from authentic core values.
What is your best remedy for FOMO?
I don’t have FOMO, I really don’t. I’m probably not on social media enough to have it.
What makes you badass?
Being honest, facing my fears, living my life in the most authentic way possible, and always trying to find the lighter side of life and recognize our shared human experience.
Websites: sparrowtarot.com, shelleyruelle.com
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