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Rather than waiting to be picked, Vanessa Paesani takes a ‘pick-yourself’ approach

Vanessa Paesani. Photo illustration by Belle DeMont
Vanessa Paesani. Photo illustration by Belle DeMont - Belle DeMont

Imagine a future without restrictions


For Vanessa Paesani, 2018 was the year she declared her mission statement and opened herself up to opportunities that would bring it to life.

“I realized my core values are justice and integrity,” says Paesani. “What that means for me is trying to find a way to solve some real problems in the world, and I think representation is one of them. My mission is to create a future where gender doesn’t restrict opportunity for anyone. The surprising part is, once I got clear on what legacy I want to leave, things started showing up. It’s been a year of living entirely outside of my comfort zone.”

Blending meaning and money

A year ago, Paesani launched a project called Amplify East, designed to amplify voices of remarkable women in Atlantic Canada. The year 2018 saw the project take the form of a website and online storytelling; in 2019, it will be expanded to a podcast.

“One of the things I’d love to see change is some of the discourse and the way we talk about gender and limit both genders as a result of the way we do that,” she says.

This past year also saw Paesani take on a leadership role at a business accelerator called Be. For. Change., which helps people who want to make an impact, and scale and grow their companies.

“It used to be that if you wanted to create impact, you had to make a vow of poverty — and if you wanted to create wealth, you had to sell your soul. At Be. For. Change., we believe in a middle ground and, we’re also proud that 50 per cent of our members are women.”

Finding inspiration and perseverance

Paesani is a diehard follower of Seth Godin and says his mantra, “Pick yourself” sparked an inspiring realization.

“In the past, I was waiting for someone to tell me it was OK to work on some of these really big problems,” Paesani says. “After following Seth Godin for a decade, I finally came to the realization that no one was going to pick me. I had to pick myself.”

Paesani has found one of the more challenging aspects of picking yourself is to remember to have patience, too.

“People who want to create change need to balance the drive to make the change with the patience to know it is going to take some time,” she says. “It’s important to raise your head every once in a while, and realize how far you’ve come. Taking those moments to appreciate progress and victory is really important.”


Seeking parity

The more Paesani thinks about gender parity, the more she finds herself tuning in to the divisions between us and the opportunities to overcome them.

“It feels like common ground is getting further and further away, and while I think that’s really scary, it’s also an opportunity,” she says. “In my personal conversations when I’m about to respond with emotion, I try to stop myself, ask why, and respond with curiosity instead. I find when I do that — and truly try to understand the other person’s perspective — there is a lot more in common between us than there are differences.”

Her call to action

Be curious about yourself, the world and other people.

When you’re curious about yourself, you ask: What role am I playing in the world? What are my values? What legacy do I want to leave?

When you’re curious about the world, you ask: Why are things this way? How might things change? How does that intersect with my values? By getting curious about other people, you can find common ground.

“Finding common ground is the most important thread to pull through everything we do,” says Paesani. “How do we have those types of conversations more often?”

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