Recipe for Success: How to Overcome Failure & Make Your Dreams Come True, Greek Style

Posted June 19, 2013 by Kristen J. Zavo in On the Ladder

Last weekend I attended the first ever S.H.E. Summit in NYC, a 2-day women’s leadership and lifestyle event presented by Claudia Chan, featuring speakers on a variety of topics including work issues, finances and wellness.  Agapi Stassinopoulos, author of Unbinding the Heart – A Dose of Greek Wisdom, Generosity, And Unconditional Love, was one of my favorite speakers, and just the antidote for anyone experiencing a challenging time at work or in their personal lives.

Agapi is a force to be reckoned with, a fireball of positive energy – I am so glad that I got to see her in person, hear her story and be inspired by her words.  While I’m not sure if Agapi’s S.H.E. Summit speech will be posted, I found a similar talk of hers here if you would like to listen to it in its entirety.

What really spoke to me was Agapi’s belief that certain characteristics and actions were required for success. Since she is a proud Greek that will go on about her love of her culture, her family and of course the food, I’m going to call it her recipe – her recipe for success, for overcoming failure and making your dreams come true. It’s one part confidence, one part trust and a whole lotta generosity. Let me explain.


Agapi loves to start off her talks with the “Just The Way You Are” song by Bruno Mars.  In today’s society, it is easy to get caught up in measuring our value by what we accomplish each day, and our successes in comparison to others. But according to Agapi, what makes us “amazing” is not what we do – but who we are.

Success means something different to everyone, because we are all different people with different talents, dreams and ambitions, and that’s okay! Learning to be happy with yourself and confident in your abilities – and then encouraging the same in your family and friends – is the first step to happiness and success.

Trust  (& Banishing Self-Doubt)

Agapi told us about her dream to be an actress, and how for years she went to auditions, only to be turned down. Her mother would always tell her not to worry, because it meant something better was to come. And in retrospect, Agapi can see that each “failed” audition was actually leading her closer to her true calling. She can see now that you have to trust. Agapi tells people to:

Trust that you are exactly where you need to be in your journey.

Trust and doubt go hand in hand because with trust, there is no doubt. Easier said than done, right? We all have self-doubt at one time or another. According to Agapi, doubt is the #1 killer of the human spirit. She tells us to banish it, shake it off (literally jump up and down and shake your body!), and when that doesn’t work, call someone in your support group (best friend, mom?) and tell them how you are feeling…and then it is their job to remind you why you are doing this and how great you are.


After another failed audition, this time where she was told she was too good for the part and would outshine everyone else, Agapi was understandably distraught. But instead of doing what many of us might have done – closed ourselves off both literally and figuratively – she started talking with a woman on the bus and shared her story.

Turned out, the woman was a big fan of theatre, and specifically of the play Agapi had auditioned for. Before she knew it, Agapi was performing a solo act for her new friend on the bus. One thing led to another and she realized that she could make her acting dreams come true. Agapi was so good that people were happy to come see her do a one-woman show. Agapi’s willingness to be open, authentic and generous with her gifts led to her dream of acting finally coming true.

Generosity comes in many forms, not just the tangible. Being generous with your love, time, advice, support… It is Agapi’s belief that all these things come back to you tenfold in the long run.

Make It Your Own

As is the case with cooking or baking, after learning the basic recipe, it is normal to add ingredients and tweak it to your own individual taste. Now that you’ve got the basics, I’d love to hear, what would you add to this recipe to make it your own?


About the Author

Kristen J. Zavo

Kristen J. Zavo is a product development, strategy and innovation professional, with a special interest in the retail industry. Having always been interested in the people side of business, Kristen loves to explore, reflect on, and share stories about the challenges and adventures of being a businesswoman. No topic is off limits - whether it's how to handle being the only woman in the boardroom, or figuring out how to to pack all the "essentials" for a 2-week business trip in just a carry-on! Outside of work, she loves exploring new places, spending time at the beach and meeting friends to workout (spin or yoga, anyone?!).



    Thank you for sharing Kristen. Agapi has a way of getting to the heart of it all, and her words of wisdom touch all senses. From one of my favorite chapters in her book, it inspires to “Change the Channel” so whenever self-doubt shows up, I change the channel.

      Kristen J. Zavo

      Rose, thanks for your comment. “Changing the channel” is a great way to remind ourselves that we are in control of our thoughts – whether positive or negative. And when we recognize the latter, we have the power to (& must!) change it!

      Not sure if you have seen it yet, but Agapi just published a post this week in the Huffington Post specifically about overcoming self-doubt ( I highly recommend!

    Lydia Stearns

    I came across this post searching for how to deal with a failed dream. I was the girl in class that everyone envied because I was always at the top of my class. I had the best job and a hard work ethic. When it came time to graduate and apply for jobs, I was really struggling with why I had gotten top 3 in every interview, but never got a job. A month later applied for another job and got a phone call that I had received the position. I was excited until the next day I got a phone call that my name was being pulled due to a bad reference. A bad reference? I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I called everyone on my list and met with several people who claimed to never give me a bad reference. Turns out my boss of 4 years was lying to my face the entire time. My boss, having extreme social status in the town, had ruined my dream. How was I ever going to overcome this. I decided to apply for another position at a place I did not have any interest in. I got the job on the spot, but a month later quit because I was so emotionally distraught and confused about someone I trusted so much who would ruin my career. How do I overcome this? Choose another job? But I’ve worked so hard to get where I am. I am great at what I do. I am passionate about this career! I have lost all self confidence. Reading this helps me realize that I need my confidence back. But how do I get there? How do I overcome this?

      Kristen J. Zavo

      Lydia, thanks for sharing. I’m so sorry to hear about what happened with the bad reference – the good news is that you now know what (who) the issue might have been with the previous missed opportunities, and can just take him off your reference list. What I would NOT do is give up on your dream. With the bad reference out of the picture, I would continue to network with people in your industry and apply for jobs that you are truly interested in, while remaining open to opportunities that you might not have considered before. Your passion will make you stand out amongst other candidates. I’m rooting for you – best of luck!

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