Coaches / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Elena Stefanopol, Career Coach at Inner Stories

Elena Stefanopol is the founder and career coach at Inner Stories, where she helps candidates leverage their own unique story in their job search and ongoing career.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I experimented for a while before finding what I really wanted to do. I did a bit of project management, L&D and eventually opened a new branch of an NGO back in Bucharest. I started with a team of 4 and grew it to 40 in a couple of months.

It was intense but so fun and rewarding to see how our strategies came to life and shaped the culture of our team – that’s how I fell into recruiting which I’ve been doing for the past 7 years now.

I worked in London for a few years before moving to San Francisco and recruited for companies at different growth stages from early stage startups to more established ones across tech, gaming and non-profit.

Beginning of this year I started my own career coaching consultancy – Inner Stories – where I help candidates leverage their own unique story in their job search and ongoing career.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My most productive time of day is between 3 and 7pm so I save that for focus time. Mornings are generally for catching up with family (because of the time difference), coffee and planning the day. I try to get my exercise in before lunch so I can get it out of the way.

After lunch, I’m mostly on calls with my clients and my focus time is spent on developing new materials, research and business housekeeping. My goal is to tick off everything on my to-do list by the end of day.

As soon as that’s done, I turn my attention to the million other things I’m interested in – painting, reading, learning about the science of happiness (my current one), riding my motorcycle, playing with my cat Reggie, or whatever intrigues me. This is my exploration time – anything can happen.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve always been an advocate for flexible and/or remote working so being able to make my own schedule now is a dream. I’m definitely a result oriented person; I don’t care about the how and the when as long as it gets done.

I know what I need to accomplish in a week or in a particular day and as long as I get those done, there is a lot of flexibility for any spontaneous video calls or just allowing myself to listen to my body and my mood.

When I was an employee, I would be upfront about my schedule preferences and would try as much as possible to organize my day accordingly.

It’s of course a bit more difficult with all the meetings happening but once you find your groove and let your colleagues know, it all starts to fall into place. I definitely appreciate the flexibility that most companies and teams have now. I think that’s crucial if we want to be inclusive of everyone (“if” shouldn’t even be there in my opinion).

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I feel the term “work-life balance” has had a wild ride with so many definitions and do’s and don’ts. I really like this question – what does it mean to you – because this, as everything else is relative and personal.

I went through a whole process of figuring out what it meant to me and I think it’s just the kind of thing that keeps evolving as your life and your circumstances change. Life is not linear and work certainly doesn’t stop at 5pm.

What helped me was letting go of this idea of separation between life and work. Work is part of life and life is part of work. To balance all of that, I first need to clarify my priorities on both fronts while allowing flexibility for any unpredictable events.

At the end of each week I do a tiny retrospective and see what worked and what didn’t and go from there. It’s a process. As long as you’re moving in the direction you set for yourself and you’re enjoying it, that’s a pretty good balance.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I like to set my goals every year and then figure out which month I can focus on what so that I don’t fall into the “do everything at once” trap.

I also love and highly recommend habit tracking if you’re looking to build a new one or change an old one.

I’m also competitive and I learned how to use that to my advantage (aka to trick myself into doing what I don’t really like which is working out ). I’m a big fan of challenges. Since the shelter in place started, I did a 30 day yoga challenge and it felt great. On to the next one!

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

The Person You Mean To Be by Dolly Chugh. Her approach to fighting bias is actionable and just doable for anyone! You can’t argue with it, you can’t say it’s too hard or whatever excuse.
If everyone would read it and follow her advice, the world would be a much nicer place.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Plan my day in the morning. If i don’t do that, my day will pass me by.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Sallie Krawcheck – CEO and co-founder of Ellevest.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

What works for me, most likely will not work for you. Figure out what’s important to you and design your days around that. Try out different strategies, schedules, planners, etc. until you get the right mix for you.

Before you go…

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.