To Be Successful, Know What You Don’t Know
Natasha Questel is Vice President of Marketing at Earth’s Own, where she oversees the marketing and strategic innovation teams for Happy Planet and Earth’s Own’s plant-based beverages.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Natasha and hear her story. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: Where did you grow up? Describe your early childhood and its significance on your life.
Natasha Questel: I grew up in Trinidad in the Caribbean. In my early childhood, I remember loving when the power or water would go out — we’d do homework by candlelight or take a bath with a half bucket of water, Making do with what we had felt like an adventure and we learned quickly to appreciate the little things. There were not enough high school and university spots on the island, so I also learned to work very hard for the privilege to be a girl in school getting an education. Having less unlocked passion and determination in me to really push hard to open doors that were closed to women and people of a certain race or class in Trinidadian culture like me.
Griffin: When did you first get the whisper you belonged in business?
Questel: When I was about seven, my dad who was a manager at a canning company, took me to his office and gave me a sample Coke can to use for collecting coins. I was very proud of him and I was always sneaking around and reading his business and marketing books. When I was 11, he died very suddenly, leaving me with a hole in my heart that I helped fill by continuing to read his books. That was the first whisper I got that I knew I belonged in business.
Griffin: Was there an early teacher that inspired you? Who and how?
Questel: From a young age, my mom has always inspired me. She raised six kids, mostly as a single mom, which is not an easy feat by any means. After my dad passed, she took on odd jobs, rented out our home (including her bedroom) so she could support me in becoming the first person in my family to attend university. She is almost 80 now and she still goes to work every single day. I don’t know anyone who has the courage, strength or work ethic that she possesses.
Griffin: What’s a great piece of business or life advice you received, who gave it to you, and how has it enhanced your life?
Questel: One of the best pieces of advice anyone has ever given me was from a former leader at Johnson & Johnson over two decades ago — “Know what you don’t know.”
It’s OK to know that you don’t have all the answers and to admit it – but it’s not OK to be totally oblivious of the fact. It’s so much more liberating to just know your limits and recognize where and what someone else can teach you to help you grow.
Griffin: Please give me the top three bullet points in your Personal Leadership Credo.
- Be yourself – for me that means I’m OK being female, unmarried and an immigrant from a minority ethnicity.
- Be vulnerable in leadership – you earn more respect, power and relationships when you allow yourself to let people in.
- Have fun – if you are having fun and laughing, you can take on anything.
Griffin: Describe a painful setback in your life and what it taught you.
Questel: A few years ago, my 17-year relationship and the startup job I loved, both fell apart in the same year. I was a single mom to a young child, broke and unemployed in my forties. It taught me that you can always start over and that sometimes when life breaks you into pieces, there is no limit to the depths of courage and strength you hold within. This experience ingrained in me that you will come out so much stronger, grateful and alive.
Griffin: What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?
Questel: Don’t ever be afraid to take a leap of faith. If you were to jump off a cliff in real life, you would be terrified and that’s OK. To me, fear about a decision is an indicator that you might be close to a breakthrough moment in life. Some of my scariest moments — like leaving Trinidad to go back to school in my forties (Stanford) — were filled with gut-wrenching fear but were also the best decisions I ever made. When you have the courage to make a jump, even if you fall, you train yourself to just jump higher.