Jul 26, 2019
How important is culture to the long-term success of an organization? What role does being vulnerable play in leadership? How does story help weave and even make up our everyday experience? And what can putting ourselves out there with travel teach us about our own inner storyteller and context in the world?
Ben is in Ottawa to chat with Jana Dybinski, consummate traveler, thinker, innovator and VP for Marketing and Culture at Rebel.com.
About the Guest
Jana's bio on her website is just too good, so instead of any tinkering, we've copied it here.
Stories shape us.
My Irish dad was an astrophysicist. He told me about worlds
beyond our universe. He launched rockets, and once took a road trip
from France to Iran, where it was so hot that his steering wheel
melted. My German mom was a teacher - the kind that inspires a deep
and profound love of learning. She moved to California before doing
her Master's degree and traveled around in a Westfalia. One time
she charmed a stunt pilot to take her flying and barrel-roll his
plane. As kids, my brother and sister and I spent hours passing our
old globe back and forth, creating stories of the infinite
possibilities the world held for us.
No one was surprised when I saved all my spares to spend the last two months of high school exploring New Zealand alone, or when I came back to study journalism. After graduating I received a fellowship from the Aga Khan Foundation to work in Zanzibar, Tanzania.
The stories in East Africa were intoxicating. The women I worked with were changing the face of education in their communities by training teachers and building vibrant classrooms out of recycled scraps. They laughed infectiously at each other's jokes, and at my frequent state of bewilderment. Like the time in central Tanzania, when a baby was passed onto my bus, alone, with a note of his destination tied around his wrist. For reals. While I panicked, the other women on the bus took turns bouncing a stranger's baby, until hours later when he was unceremoniously released into the arms of someone waiting at the specified stop.
I was friends with a Massai warrior. One night we tried to
figure out how long it would take to walk to the moon. I called my
dad. The answer is 9 years. In Kenya I camped among hippos and
drank gin with a British expat who lived in a house with only two
walls. In Ethiopia I fed wild hyenas from a stick and a 7-year-old
boy showed me a cave with a floor made of human skulls.
A chance encounter with some fellow Canadians while stuck in an Ethiopia sandstorm landed me a job managing comms for the international organization CODE. I worked to travel. While hiking to Machu Picchu I learned about e coli and Peruvian hospital care. One time while smoking shisha in Istanbul with my childhood best friend I looked up and knew the Canadian guy walking past. The world’s like that. Small. Magical.
When a boyfriend broke up with me I decided to leave my coms job to go explore India. My mom thought I was being irresponsible, but I went anyway. A month later that boyfriend showed up and proposed to me on a train leaving Varanasi. We were travelling in third class and sharing a tiny space with an Indian family of 6, all staring and loudly eating papadum. It was romantic anyway. We got married a year later. Our vows were taken from pages of the journals we wrote for each other during those crazy colorful months in India.
I took a job at a digital marketing agency and learned new platforms for storytelling. It wasn't as purposeful as the international work, but it was fun and creative and I liked the psychology behind it all. I loved studying what motivated and inspired people.
By then my dad had lost his rocket scientist job. Consumed by
darker stories, he’d become a no-longer-functioning alcoholic. He
was always talking about how Bill Gates ruined his life, and also
that he invented the internet, neither are true. He’s never even
met Bill. It was hard to witness his suffering. Addiction's like
that. I got lucky with an incredible mom that made up for it, and
enough world experience to fully understand that all we ever really
control is how we show up.
My husband and I road tripped around California with paper maps. We watched a van speed right off a winding road and over a cliff near Death Valley. In Thailand we snorkelled at night in blue plankton. It was like a dream. I got knocked up and we bought a little 1.5 story house from a man who hoarded antiques and kept three intact bullmastiffs in the basement. It was a fixer upper. Our daughter was born on Christmas Eve in our living room. I’ve never felt so alive - so completely unleashed. She’s a wildly quirky and curious kid. At 6 years old she already has a daily ritual of creating art before sunrise. I wake up to her nudging me, the latest piece in her hands. Mornings are the best.
My digital agency job had warped into leading the marketing at Rebel.com. I worked with a talented leadership team to evolve Rebel’s outdated brand, vision and negative workplace into something to be proud of. Changing corporate culture is hard but purposeful work. We won awards for the transformation we created, and I geeked out over the philosophical side of inciting change within teams and organizations. I wrote articles and took stages to share our story of turning a bad culture into something really special.
All that learning around how to transform organizations and teams gave me a heightened awareness around the power of transforming individual leaders too. I got introspective. I loved my life and at the same time felt unsettled inside. My untethered traveler identity was diluted by all the other things I’d become - a female leader in a tech company, a corporate culture junkie, a speaker, a marketer, a wife, a mom. My family and friends told stories about my success, but I could feel something was still missing. It was like my intuition was yelling at me but I couldn't make out a word. I felt stuck and guilty for wanting more out of my easy, privileged life. I worried that if I didn't figure it out I'd have big regrets. I was deeply uncomfortable with my own pain, which I labelled as trivial.
I decided to patiently follow the whispers of intuition that I
could hear. They led me to pour thousands of hours (and dollars)
into the study of change at a personal level - into mastering the
principals behind positive psychology, personal development, self
connection, and the delicate art of balance. I hired a talented
coach who supported me to reconnect with myself.
I learned that we're not just shaped by stories, we're made of them.
The stories we believe. The stories we let others write about us. The stories we write for ourselves.
My story is about discovering how to connect with the evolution of yourself, and how to live audaciously in all your identities. My story is about a travelling explorer who's also a proud female leader in a tech company, a wife, a mom, a speaker, and a leadership coach. Because my intuition wasn't yelling at me at all, it was calling me - to share my story and support other leaders that are passionate about transforming themselves and their organizations, but stuck where I've been stuck. To do this, I co-founded a fun consulting company with a couple of my favorite humans, called We Human.
Mentioned in this Episode
The Quote of the Week
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and
- Brené Brown