Beautiful Reframe: How To Find A New Way Of Being And Living With Lizzie Azzolino
Cultivating self-trust and tapping into our innate wisdom is the key to unlocking our full potential in life. When we give ourselves permission to listen, we access the answers we've been seeking all along. For today’s episode, our guest is Lizzie Azzolino, a former Brand Design and Innovation Consultant turned Leadership Coach and Facilitator. Lizzie is on a mission to help people tap into their innate wisdom and unlock their potential as leaders. Today, she shares the flash points in her life and how she developed a different way of being and living. She shares her personal experiences and life lessons, offering practical advice to help you deepen self-trust, tap into innate wisdom, and find new ways of working. Tune in now and start your own self-discovery journey.
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Beautiful Reframe: How To Find A New Way Of Being And Living With Lizzie Azzolino
It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Lizzie Azzolino. Lizzie is a former Brand Design and Innovation Consultant turned Leadership Coach and Facilitator. She's on a mission to help more people see that the answers we are seeking are already inside us when we give ourselves permission to listen, that's the key.
With a degree in Journalism, she's passionate about combining the power of story design, innovation, and an expansive leadership development toolbox. That is to help leaders, teams, and organizations connect to their innate wisdom, deepen self-trust, and more confidently generate and activate new ways of working, leading, and building sustainable companies.
Through her company Work With Lizzie, she's working with organizations including Airbnb, Autodesk, Electronic Arts, and LinkedIn and design innovation consultancies such as Fuse Project, Fictive Kin, and IDEO. She advises early-stage and hyper-growth startups and partners with communities such as Summit and Women in Innovation. She frequently speaks on and facilitates topics of personal storytelling, building and leading portfolio careers, and the power of intuition and business and the future of leadership. That's quite a lot. I am so thrilled and honored to welcome you to the show, Lizzie.
Thanks. The energy you read that with got me excited. I was thinking, “That’s fun.”
There are so many amazing companies and this type of work you are doing in your journey have been powerful, too. Bringing that all together into the work you are doing now is so cool.
Thank you so much. Yes, I think the companies are amazing and I think what stands out for me are the one-on-one individuals that I have met along that journey. We have been in a place where it's we glom onto these company names. As you were reading my bio, I was feeling like, “They are the companies, but I remember the people.” I love that your show is all about getting to know the truth of a human and their story.
Everything happens to the conversation and it's like you can't connect at the company level. You have to connect at a personal level. I think that's the intimacy we are looking for. I’m looking forward to diving into your story and we are going to do that here in the space through what we call flashpoints. In a few moments, we are going to turn it over to you and allow you to share what you are called to share. You can start wherever you'd like and share what you are feeling. We will stop along the way and see what themes are showing up. Why don't you take it away from here and see what's showing up for you?
I have to admit, I know you told me about this concept of flashpoints. Through the introduction, you reminded me of the name of your show, Virtual Campfire. I believe it is how we got connected because I noticed the name of your show and it resonated with me because I do this thing. I don't know if you relate to this in any way. Something comes to mind for me that feels markedly important and then I read it on a Post-it and then it sits with me for a while. That becomes the thing that I live with and I remind myself of it until something else comes up that's important. There's one that's coming up for me that's related to a flashpoint.
On a Post-it, I wrote, “Less laser, more campfire.” I remember sharing that with you at one point when we first spoke. The reason that came up for me was if you had known me years ago, you would have experienced me as a strategist. I’m a former brand design innovation consultant/strategist. That was not only my job, but that was how I lived my life. I was a strategist. I thought very linearly. I had these very specific definitions of what success looked like. Everything was so outcome driven. I was fiercely independent and like laser-focused on the next thing to do and to accomplish.
That worked well for me up until the point that it didn't. One of the biggest wake-up calls of my life was several years ago now. I had woken up on a Sunday morning and I was about to go meet my friend Martha for brunch. I leaned down my wooden stairs with my socks on, which was a huge mistake. I was looking to see if my sunglasses were at the bottom of the stairs. I slipped and I fell and I started falling down the stairs. I hit my head several times and then I finally caught myself on this railing. With this fierce strength, I sat up and caught myself from hitting another step. I sat up and felt so incredibly shaken and almost in awe and wonder at the fact that I was still breathing. I thought everything seemed okay.
I got up slowly and I remember thinking like, “That could have been one of the worst moments. Am I okay?” I remember walking to brunch to meet my friend Martha. I sat down and I told her what had happened. I felt not quite in my body. It was like I was still coming to terms with what had happened. She said, “You seem fine. Maybe you should go to the doctor and get things checked out.” I did end up committing to making a doctor's appointment the next day on a Monday. By the time I made it to the doctor, I was convinced that something was wrong. I felt so out of my body. I remember crying nonstop at this doctor's appointment because I was convinced that I had this traumatic brain injury. Something was wrong.
I remember the doctor looked at me and she said, “You might have a minor concussion. You are probably just shaken up. Nothing's wrong with you. Go home.” I went home and I felt like something was off. Over the course of the next two months or so, I lost rapidly about 40 pounds. I started to lose vision in one of my eyes. I started to get this numbness in my fingers and my toes and then it started coming into my neck and I started getting these excruciating stomach pains. One thing led to another and my body started to fall apart.
Now as I look back at this time, it was my body telling me, “You are not paying enough attention. You have been living your life in this one very specific way.” For me, it was a journey of asking myself to work on myself in a way I hadn't done before, which was not live life in my head but to start to feel my body. I think it was my body waking me up.
I will attempt to get us to a little bit more of a closing point on this piece because of the way the place that this piece ends and what launched me into this new chapter of my life. I went from doctor to doctor looking for answers as to what was wrong. I was told everything from, “You might have multiple sclerosis,” to “You should see a psychiatrist,” to “This is a hormone problem,” to whatever it is. Finally, I had a hematologist oncologist tell me a couple of days before Christmas in 2019 that I had early signs of multiple myeloma, which is an incurable bone marrow cancer.
It was like in that moment, my world stopped in my early-30s. I thought, “I am not going to be here much longer.” For about a month, I lived in a pure state of terror and shock until one night. I was sitting out on a bench near a park at my house in San Francisco around midnight, which is only something you do when you think the world is ending. I was looking up at the stars and I remember my body being in a total state of shock and this very rigid feeling. For the first time in my life, I felt myself surrender because I thought there was nothing for me to figure out. There's nothing left to do. I have tried to do all of the things.
It was at that moment that I felt the most blissful feeling of my life. I felt like this is what life is all about. I started to connect to my body and trust my body in a different way. There's a lot I could share here and I’d be happy to go into it. I would love for you to guide the direction that we go. Many years later, I don't have multiple myeloma. I don't have any signs of cancer. I have never been healthier. It was the biggest gift of my life to be awakened to the opportunity to connect to my body differently and develop a different way of being and living that was so not laser and so very campfire.
We started off with a bang here and I am so grateful for you sharing that. There's so much to what you shared, which is there's this element of sometimes we need a real shaking to get out of our slumber. That's what this was. It was a waking up. It's unfortunate sometimes when you go through that journey and I have heard it time and time again.
I used to work in the industry of biotech industry and you hear the stories of patients who navigate the trials and tribulations of like, “What’s wrong with me and why can’t anyone get it right?” It's not the doctor's fault. It's hard to understand what's going on. To persevere through that journey and continue to say, “I know that there's something wrong here and I know that what you are telling me is not right.”
It takes a lot of courage and perseverance. I give you a lot of credit and honor you for that sense of knowing that there's something happening and then that surrender, which is so beautiful. It’s almost like we need to have more of those moments where we can say, “Let go of the tension and see what happens.”
Thanks for reflecting that back to me. This is a focus group of one maybe controversial opinion, but I think that what helped me come to this place now is not to say, “No, there's something wrong,” but to say, “Guess what? Maybe there's nothing wrong.” Maybe my body wants to heal and maybe the only thing that I need to do is get on board with my body and be like, “Let's do this.”
I think we all do this. It's only human. Historically, I’m probably more “guilty” of this than most people, but to feel like I need to think my way through everything and to find all of the answers. I think the truth is there's this amazing thing that happens when we give ourselves a moment to pause, feel, see, listen, and connect differently and we notice the answers are right here. We just need to give ourselves permission to see them. It's honestly the hardest thing to do.
What you did was something that I like to call a beautiful reframe, which is this sense of one could mire in this wrongness, but the wrong is a right. I love that reframe.
All the conversations I’m having these days with, seriously, everyone, there's this constant both and things that are happening. These two things are seemingly opposite. They are both true at the same time. That's both hard and then awesome.
I can't wait to hear about the next part of your journey because I know that this was an opening up for you, but here's what I want to explore. During this period of exploration, of a journey to finding out the true diagnosis, what was going on in your work life at that period? Were you as dedicated or were you like in a fog? Tell me about your work experience during that time.
It's hard for me to remember. Leading up until that surrender point, it was like I was having an out-of-body experience. It was like I was going through my robotic day and then I wasn't connected to it. There was a point when I truly could not focus on things. It's like my brain completely changed and that was why I temporarily lost my vision in one eye, which came back.
Work was a thing that was happening in the background, but it doesn't feel like a part of that time of life for me that I remembered as well. What I can tell you is as I started to connect to this different type of experience of myself. One of the critical things that helped me make this shift from like, “I’m going to trust that my body wants to heal itself,” was reframing my story.
I noticed that for about a year, as I was searching for all of these answers, I was living in the story of I am sick. Something is wrong. That was what I was feeling. It's what I believed. It was deeply ingrained in my bones and it was also the thing that I told people. It was like everyone who knew me knew that I was sick. That was my story. That was how they saw me. That was my identity. That was the energy that they surrounded me with. That's a lot to hold. I had this realization that when I changed the story, I told myself about who I am and what is happening, and what is possible for me, my experience changed markedly. Rather than I’m sick, I started to say and believe and feel I am healing. My body wants to be healthy.
You can imagine someone who for a year, they think that I have this terminal cancer and I am sick. I was very frail at the time. I truly was. For me to then show up the next time I saw them and say, “I’m healing, my body wants to be healthy,” the joy that they met me with. The love that they met me with was like through the act of changing the words I was using, I was creating a different type of energy and living in a different type of energy. That was such a profound experience for me that I started to believe this is what I need to start to do for more people because I want to continue to discover the power of changing your story to change your life and change your experience.
I know you asked what I was doing for work then and from that point on, a lot of what I started to do was blend the power of story. The coaching toolbox I had and this design thinking toolbox that I had and this Journalism degree that I had to work with people, teams, and organizations to not just articulate the story of who they are now, because I think that there's a lot of importance in doing that, but write the story of who they are ready to become. It’s like through that process of starting to shift the language we are using and starting to imagine this possibility that we start to see that is very present now when we change our perspective.
Write the story of who you are ready to become.
I want to pause it for a moment here because there's so much you shared in a short period of time. I will start with the power of the word manifest. Some people say you can't manifest anything. That's not possible. The reality is what you demonstrated and this is a real flashpoint. The definition of a flashpoint is the ability to say, “This was my experience and now I’m using my experience to then do something else with it that can change lives.” Beautifully done. What I was getting at my point here is the manifestation is about the mind-body connection. Changing your thoughts changes your body and how it moves into the world. The science behind manifestation is about changing your thinking can create a shift in your body.
It does. People who are reading may be familiar or may not be familiar with Joe Dispenza. You are smiling and laughing, like all of the things that happen when you get it. He talks about how we change our brains. We truly can change our brains. I don't know any of the names, but any book by Joe Dispenza is worth picking up if you are interested in this topic.
Joe's books have been mentioned on the show more times than I can count. Another book that came to mind and you didn't mention it, but The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer, which is a fantastic book.
I don't know the name of it, but I know that it has a horse on the cover. The experience that I had reading it was about this unleashing of a new way of living in a new way of life.
It’s The Untethered Soul.
At this moment, there are a lot of talks right now about change being constant. Change is happening so fast and change is hard. My take on all of that right now is not that is not true, but I believe that the process transition is hard. Transition meaning like a physiological shift from one state to another state. The only way to do that is to let go of something to make space for something new that is unknown. That's scary, hard, and freeing. It's like all of the things that, to me, is what it means to be alive, to be in this state of transition.
Change is constant. Change is happening so fast. And change is hard.
I’m finding myself in the middle of one of those moments right now, which means I can't fully articulate where I’m headed or what it means, but the question that I keep sitting with is who am I? I think that that's what happens in a moment of transition. What's been powerful for me is to notice that through so many traumatic experiences in my life and then so many beautiful moments in my life, I think we spoke about one. I have learned more about who I am. I have become so aware that I’m in this state of living even more into the wholeness of who I am.
The biggest piece that I’m curious about is what does fun Lizzie look like? A lot of my life has been serious and deeply profound and very spiritual. I’m like, “What does play and fun look like?” This is the moment that I’m in right now, which feels. I’m going to name this. This feels very vulnerable to say. It feels scary and hard right now in this time when I think that the cultural narrative as things are hard. Life is hard. It feels very scary for me to say, “I’m on a mission to have fun right now,” and to feel joy.
I thank you for sharing that because there's something about what you shared. It has me thinking about how, if you look back on your journey and you think about what you are living on, I don't want to call it borrowed time, but this is like bonus time in a sense. You were told at one point or you were led to believe that you aren't going to be here and now you are here and you are having this sense of like, “I can control time now.” You can control how you receive time.
There's something about that which is powerful. We all think that we have to manage through change and change is hard, but it's all perception. It's about how we want to play with time. We can decide to slow things down and not necessarily receive change as challenging. We can see it as it's happening and I’m here.
Almost be like in the matrix and allow yourself to slow down and allow yourself to receive every moment as it comes and decide whom you want to be next at this moment. Hopefully, I didn't lose you in this process. I’m sure we didn't lose you, but I’m sure some people won't 100% get where I’m coming from. The key thing is that we are in more control than we think of how we experience our time.
A lot of what you are speaking about is this fact that I’m sure many people can relate to, which is we spend most of our time thinking about the future or living in the past. This is hard, but the most joyful, blissful, and amazing moments in life are the ones when we allow ourselves to be fully here and meet each moment as it comes to us. Just be here. That's what comes up for me.
You need to have a bracelet made up that says, “What would fun Lizzie do?”
It's going to be on a Post-it for sure.
That way, you can play with that idea of like, “What do I want to do next? How do I want to make the most of that next moment at being in the present moment?” Allow that to guide you as you go along. It's not foolish. It’s more intentional.
It's so much about being intentional. We often think of being intentional as serious intentional things, but they don't have to be serious. Humans are funny. We are funny and we are serious and funny people. I was listening to a podcast. I don't remember what it was, but someone who was interviewed said, “Everything and everyone that comes into your life is here to be a transformational agent and to teach you something.”
That's another thing that helps me. Admittedly I’m fearful of this moment that we are in. There is a lot that's scary that's happening right now because it is so uncertain and it's easy to get buried in that. It's easy and it happens to me too. To be here now and play with the things that come across your path and ask like, “What do I want to do with this? What's an experiment I can try? What feels good to me? What feels right to me right now,” and don't worry about tomorrow so much. There's something that feels creative and playful and way more approachable about that way of living.
I want to take a different approach here or take us to a different place and I want to take you back into your early childhood and maybe explore what would young Lizzie ever imagined she'd be doing at this stage in life.
I know typically, that's a playful place to go for people. It's not for me. I grew up in a very challenging household and so a lot of my strategy ways were deeply ingrained in me at that point. However, the “fun Lizzie” and to be honest, as I feel into this, it was not fun. It was for an objective. My play was playing teacher and it was very serious. It was a methodical playing teacher. There was a lot of wisdom in that because I’m only coming into this place now where it's I have worn a lot of hats. Formally, I have never been a teacher.
I feel like I am becoming my biggest teacher in life and everyone is becoming a teacher for me. I feel a lot of resonance with that idea, with exploring more of what a different type of teacher could look like. I think what's coming up for me, as I say that out loud and I have never said that before, is the best teachers are powerfully vulnerable about the things that they don't know. That is something that I have gotten to be much better at, even over the course of a year alone.
The way that this lands for me on so many levels is this sense of like you have come to this place where you need more of this in your life now more than ever. It took a lot of challenges along the way to have you truly live into your full self and now you are living your full self. There is still more to go. It's like you are at this place of now, still exploring and living into this, “Whom do I want to be? It's okay that I don't have it all figured out. I can still figure it out and there's so much that I can lean into.” It's energetic.
My day job is executive coaching. One of my very first coaching teachers years ago, I remember she said to all of us, “Most people live thinking, ‘When I get this promotion, I will be happier when I buy this house, I will be happy,’” or whatever it is. She’s like, “There's no island that we get to where it all works out.” There's no island in the sun where it all works out. There's no place to get. There's no place to go.
I don't know about you, but it feels like I get energized by working toward a specific outcome. It does get exciting to have a destination in mind. I don't want that to go away. I also think if the destination is unclear or if you feel like you are grasping for something, that's when I know I need to remember that I’m not trying to get to some island, but maybe the island is much closer than I think.
It's like there's a sense of wanting a direction, but not necessarily that you don't want it to be too rigid, either. That island, even though it's close by, it also doesn't have to be so 100% clear that it's like if it doesn't end up being this exactly, then you are going to be let down.
This idea keeps coming up in conversations with most clients I’m working with. If any of them are reading this, all fifteen of the clients that I have spoken with, now they are going to know my dirty little secret because I said this to one person and I was like, “I needed to hear that message.” Now I have been building it into every conversation. Here we go. I feel like all of us both individually and then collectively, in so many ways, are in the midst of creating a new future for sure.
I think we all know that things are now and they will continue to look very different than they did now. In these times when the future is so unknown, whether it's for us individually or collectively. The best thing that we can do is think about we are building a bridge but not to draw the bridge now, but to be like one stone at a time. Let's place this stone and live on this stone together for a little bit and see, “Do I like this stone?” Maybe you don't like this stone at all, so you want to build another one quickly, but maybe there are some stones that you want to stay on for a while and bring some people along with you. I like that idea. It's like the best way to start is to start sometimes when you are feeling stuck.
The engineers reading this are like, “No way. We need to have a plan. We need to make sure it’s structurally sound.”
I know. I need more engineers in my life. I think that that's been another thing for me. It's like I am trying to intentionally surround myself with people whom I would typically disagree with. I’m trying to see things from their perspective. Maybe they are things that I want to throw away, but at least I want to try them on.
I love the way you described the bridge. It's the right way to think about it because if we get too stuck in our plans, it becomes so challenging to be unattached from them. I think it's well said. I have one last question to ask you. I'm curious. You have been on this journey to getting to doing this work now that it's called your heart's work. What are the lessons that you have learned along the way that you want to share with people that you haven't already shared? Are there things that have challenged you and you say to yourself, “I’m glad that I learned that lesson?”
Five thousand things are coming to mind, so maybe I will share this. Maybe this feels the most resonant. I think in my bio you mentioned that my business is called Work With Lizzie. That is a very new thing. For anyone who doesn't know me well, they may think, “That's pretty ego-driven.” It was the scariest thing in the entire world for me to name my business Work With Lizzie. It was something I did for myself. I still am having trouble with it, but I know it was the right thing to do. The reason I did it is that it was like a call to action for me and then an invitation for anyone that wants to join me to stop feeling like they have to fit yourself into a box.
There's a lot of safety in boxes and I think that they are good things. It can feel lonely not to put yourself in a box to feel like people don't easily understand you and what you are doing. Work With Lizzie for me was I’m going to show up as like all of myself. As I have been practicing doing this more and more. I’m finding that when I work with all of who I am, the work that I’m meant to be doing happens as if by magic. I am trusting that this is a process that will continue. I know you said I’m doing my life's work. I have been on a journey of doing more and more of my life's work, but this isn't it. I don't know exactly what it is. I think at times I have found it, but there's more. I told you I’m in this moment of transition, so I don't know what it is, but I do feel a deep longing for something more.
It can feel lonely not to put yourself in a box to feel like people don't easily understand you and what you're doing.
I want to pause to say I love the name Work With Lizzie because it works on so many different levels and it works for me. I will tell you why. First of all, you said you want to have more fun and this is fun. It's not very stodgy. You could have gone with Fun With Lizzie. That would have been fun too, but Work With Lizzie is like it allows you to keep the door so open to whatever that work looks like. No matter what you are doing, it's about working with you and it's not working for you. There’s an element of being alongside with you in this process of working that has a magic to it. There's something so energizing, to be honest with you.
I took some notes because that was so helpful for me. Thank you. I’m appreciating that. Work With Lizzie is fun. Maybe that's what I was up to. The biggest lesson for me is when you feel stuck when you feel stagnant or lost. Maybe start to notice the box that you might be putting yourself in and start to get curious about like, “This box has worked well for me up until this point, but now I’m starting to feel some of the limitations of this box. What would it look like to maybe create a new box?”
Maybe this box is the circle. Start experimenting with what that looks like. I think the last lesson that I continue to learn time and time again is don't do it alone. By it, I mean life and work and anything. Especially in the hard moments, they can feel isolating. They don't need to be. You are so not alone. Opening up and doing it with someone else, I think that's what life is all about.
I think that's a great way to come to closure, the insight that we are not alone. You can find people who will support you and champion you. Whenever you are feeling that sense of like, “I’m like the solo entrepreneur.” Even if you are a solo entrepreneur, you can always reach out to other people and get support. It's well said.
It's so great to know you can be an independent solo entrepreneur. That's amazing. You should do that. You also can do something different. Thanks, Tony.
This has been truly amazing. Thank you so much for bringing all of your stories and your vulnerability to the space. I know we shared a lot and I’m so grateful.
As am I. Thanks. I like this campfire thing you got going.
Thank you. Before I let you go, I want to make sure that you share a place where people can find you. If people want to reach out, obviously they can go to Work With Lizzie, but any place else?
Thank you again and thanks to the readers for coming on the journey. I know you are leaving with so many great insights and thanks for coming along with us.
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