Seti Ghotbzadeh: A Life of Reinvention

February 14, 2014

a life of reinventionI met Seti Ghotbzadeh in a Creative Writing course at New York University some years ago.
My first impression of Seti is that of someone with a big life. At first, I was intimidated by her. Before long, I began to want to be around this person with a big life.
We’ve kept in touch via Facebook. I followed along until I started to see updates about what looks to be another reinvention of Seti.
When I started Second Breaks, I knew I wanted to interview her to hear more of her story.
Here is Seti in her own words.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your second act.

I own an on-line food business (Just Seti) that I established over a year ago but started working on it about 3 years ago.
I’ve done so many different things before this in the past. I was a real estate agent going to college (that’s how I paid for my education). I have a degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of California Berkeley, so, I’ve done design and construction work. I also worked for Clorox where I learned a great deal about customer interface, transportation, asset management, and audit.

My hardest yet most rewarding job though has been raising my one and only daughter as a single mother. During the most critical years, I was doing any and many different jobs that would allow me to be there for her when she needed me. –Seti Ghotbzadeh

When she left for college, I reinvented myself. I sat down and thought: “What do I really want to do? Who do I really want to become?”
The answers started with New York. I knew I wanted to move to New York even though the San Francisco Bay Area had been home for more than half of my life. And, I knew no one in NYC.
I had been dreaming of New York for years and always wanted to work on Wall Street, without knowing in what capacity. I was open to any opportunity. So, I moved from the West to the East Coast.

Wow Seti. What a HUGE decision. What did you end up doing once you got to New York?

My West Coast friends could not believe I made such a gutsy move in my early 40s without any “REAL” prospects. There was a betting pool on when I was going to return to SF.
Once in NY, I relished in a Hilton bed for 10 days wondering about my sanity. I concluded I only have one life, so let’s see what I can make of this earthly experience.
I spoke to a couple of head-hunters; one got me an interview within days. I went to my only interview on a Wednesday and started working at one of the four largest global insurance companies in the U.S. by the following Monday. Within 3 months I was working directly with the CFO of the company.

Sounds like you were all set in Wall Street then. How did you get started with Just Seti?

I was working in Wall Street when the economy collapsed. The downfall of the economy was the catalyst. It started me thinking that I want to be in charge of my own destiny as opposed to leaving it in the hands of others.
For a couple of years, I tried as many things as I could. Things that interested me. It was kind of like shopping for a suit to find which one fits best.
As it happened, I tried many things food-related. From working voluntarily in a famous friend’s pastry kitchen to helping out at a non-profit kitchen feeding terminal and/or long term ill patients and their families to marketing for a food organization. I also tried every cafe and restaurant as I could. The whole time I was observing and thinking how I would do it if it were mine.
One Christmas Day, I was on the phone with my best friend in Iowa and she reminded me about the Christmas baskets I used to have for friends and family every year, back when we all lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.
My friend talked about the cookies, the pasta sauce, the salad dressing which was her favorite and can still taste years later. She finished saying: “Why don’t you turn that into a business? Remember when strangers were trying to buy them from you at a Starbucks where you were meeting friends for a gift exchange?”
That conversation started the engine. I began researching and thinking about competing and surviving in a big city like New York. I admitted to myself that if the product is good, there’s always room for it any and everywhere. Spurred by this, I started developing products.
I knew what I liked. I also knew each of my past jobs had at least one relevant set of skills usable in this business. After all, transferable skills were the reason I had gotten my first job on Wall Street.
Next, I made business appointments with the friends I’ve made in the related businesses to get their help, wherever they could offer it — from legal advice to resource shopping, to packaging, to selling and more.
Then, I started testing recipes. Once I had a few good products, I offered to cater events for free as customer research.
Just Seti Pasta SauceI remained flexible throughout and valued every experience. I did not take anything personally. This made me more accepting of others’ opinions and comments. I knew that at the end of the day, I am the decision maker and the information will help me make better-informed decisions.
By the time I was ready to launch the business, I had a pretty clear idea of the big picture. But I left a great deal of flexibility for details. Past experiences taught me that this was a field of trial and error until one finds the best solution.
It took exactly two years, from my phone conversation with my best friend to officially establishing my business.

Was making the leap an easy decision?  What was your biggest fear/challenge?

The leap was easy because I did not leave everything to start this. In the years prior I tried so many different facets of this business in a fun capacity that by the time I was ready to turn it into “my business” I was familiar and quite comfortable with it.
I have no tremendous fears. Whenever I am starting something new, I always think I am at zero. So, I have nowhere to go but up.
Challenges are plenty, just like in many other parts of life. I have a huge market in which to compete. I have to offer top-notch quality merchandise, be in constant motion for innovative marketing and networking, while paying a great deal of attention to customers’ needs and desires.
As you can see from my past, I am not afraid of change or creativity.
I think the key to this comfort zone is knowing there is no comfort zone. That all is in constant change mode and one needs to be and stay flexible. I accept this and this acceptance brings me comfort. It also keeps me young and hip as a bonus, because I have to keep up with this super rapid changing world of ours!
I came to understand that baking and cooking (and doing it well) is my legacy. This is my way to honor the women who raised and nourished me. This is my way of telling the stories they told me while teaching all that they taught me. This is my vein to my roots.

How do you handle fears and challenges?

I think everyone deals with their fears differently. I also think we can learn from each other’s experiences. This is how I do it.
I hate being scared. So, instead of sitting and sulking in my fears and getting even more scared, I face it. I imagine the worst case scenario in meditation. I imagine a mental picture of it and really truly feel the emotions and consequences of such scenario and let it sink in.
Kind of like a breath! I invite the whole picture as an inhale and when I have absorbed all the details kind of like the oxygen, I then exhale the toxins out.
Once I process those scary thoughts they have much less power over me. In turn, I get a chance to face what I saw in my visualization and find ways through or around, the obstacles and use them to my benefit.

To simplify:  The monster under the bed only exists until you look under the bed and see the void! –Seti Ghotbzadeh

What advice would you give to anybody thinking about their second act?

You only have one life to live. So, do just that, fully live it.
If things do not go as planned, learn the lessons on how to make things work better the next time around without judgment and negative associations.  Just move forward and do that without regrets!
Seti, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful journey with us.


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A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Briefing Notes and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on helping experienced professionals navigate an evolving work landscape so they can continue their impact and relevance in a changing world.

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